Beryl was colouful, outspoken, at times irreverent, with keen intellect and a sharp wit. She laughed often and easily. Her communication style was unambiguous; her written words memorable.
Born in Oldham, Lancashire, England, and later moving to Doncaster, Beryl lived with her parents and 3 brothers Eric, Gordon and Rex. As a teenager, she attended a private vocational secretarial school, in Doncaster, and thereafter moved to Manchester to work. Wanting a change, she emigrated from England to Canada, in 1954, settling in Vancouver where her brother, Eric, resided. She worked for the Polio Foundation, then for many years at UBC as secretary to the Dean of Science. From early activities she made lifelong friends, volunteering with The Little Theatre Company sewing costumes, and hiking in the local mountains. Taking early retirement from UBC, in 1982, she embarked on a more flexible career operating a stylish bed and breakfast from her spectacularly located waterfront townhouse in South False Creek and publishing the quirky The Creek newspaper. She flourished.
Beryl was a pioneer citizen of the South False Creek Community (SFCC), moving to newly constructed Spruce Village in 1978 where she lived for 40 years. She left her mark on the SFCC with her long standing contributions to civic, community, arts, people and environmental affairs. Well known as the Editor-in-Chief of The Creek for 20 years commencing in 1983, under her stewardship the newspaper weaved together the fabric of the uniquely interconnected South False Creek and Granville Island communities. She wrote with self deprecating style, humour and passion about local matters, civic issues, arts and community events, promoting local businesses, telling personal stories about herself and others. Upon retiring from The Creek she was bestowed an honorary Citizenship to Granville Island in appreciation of her contributions to the two communities.
An avid reader, cat lover, CBC radio listener, resolute environmentalist, regular lecture attendee, stalwart traveler, aquafit and weight training class participant, she was engaged and busy, frequently out three or more nights a week. Her interests were diverse including theatre, opera, classical music and choral ensembles, civic concerns especially regarding her adored SFCC. Beryl was social, enjoying friends and neighbours, keeping in touch with family and many acquaintances in her sphere.
A committed sun worshipper, for more than a decade Beryl, rented out her townhouse and decamped to Mexico for a month. She enjoyed a good adventure. They were numerous: Cariboo Cattle drive twice, African safari, Kootenay camping trip with nieces and grandnieces, Arctic tour, Galapagos boat trip, Passion Play in Drumheller, road trips to the Maritimes, New England, southwestern US. Her last vacation, in 2018, was with her niece Andrea, to see the fall colours in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.
In May, Beryl received a devastating terminal lung cancer diagnosis. Expressing she did not feel courageous, her actions suggest otherwise. She absorbed her diagnosis with immense dignity. Respectfully, she accepted direction and support from her healthcare support teams both at VGH and at home. Her final weeks were spent receiving palliative care at home, where often she kept her back door open signalling she was up for visitors, whom she relished.
Beryl expressed immense gratitude to her older brother, Eric, who forged the way to Canada and supported her move to SFCC emphasizing, “IT CHANGED MY LIFE!” She expressed immense gratitude to her broad South False Creek and local Spruce Village communities. She died feeling treasured and loved by many.
She leaves family, who loved her deeply, her beloved Spruce Village community, the SFCC and many other friends and acquaintances to grieve.
Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye. Cheerio, here I go. I am on my way. Ta, ta for now and see you anon.
– Jan Rea, Beryl Wilson’s niece
July 25th, 2019. Still smiling and bright-eyed, Beryl in her final days with long-time neighbour Rosemary Alder. She was delighted to be receiving healthy, tasty meals prepared and delivered by her neighbours, friends and community. Good food was always a priority; perhaps that contributed to Beryl’s longevity.
Many years ago Beryl had broken her foot and was laid up for a time. In the following issue of the Creek, Madam Editor named Rosemary Alder “neighbour of the month” for keeping Beryl well-fed during her recovery.
It was through Alder that I met Beryl. She needed a cat-sitter to watch her loyal feline friend Chico while she went on her annual retreat to Mexico with a suitcase full of books.
The first time I met Beryl at her home on the seawall of False Creek, I was struck by her deep, resonant voice. A voice for radio I thought. It had “timber”, as we say in radio. Beryl had been a loyal listener of CBC Radio for years. She recognized my voice from my news reporting at Canada’s public broadcaster.
Her commitment to public broadcasting was deep, perhaps because of her English roots. That, and our shared love of books and words made it easy to converse with the intellectually curious, well-informed and well-read woman even at the end of her life, lying in bed smiling, possibly because of the morphine but hopefully because she was happy to see me.
I mentioned to her that I had just returned from a writer’s festival on Denman Island and had heard a reading by Beverley McLachlin, the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Beryl said “I have her book”, pointing to the bookshelf. Of course, she does.
I was often caught off-guard by Beryl’s wit, hers much quicker than mine. On a later visit to her bedside, feeling grateful she was still with us, I commented with a smile, “I knew you would still be here!” She took a slow, deep breath and looked me in the eye, with a deadpan expression, and said, “Why? Are you going somewhere?”.
It took me a second to understand what she was saying, so she repeated it, “Are you leaving?” I chuckled as I realized what she was saying, and not saying. She had complained earlier about feeling discombobulated as her short-term memory was failing. But even with all that, clever Madam Editor outwitted me.
Brava Beryl. Rest in Peace.
– Theresa O’Leary
Like so many I was touched by the passion and humour of this community builder. As neighbours, we met in the early 80s and would conspire to create community events such as the first carolling event ending up in Granville Island Hotel. She wrote a few articles about me supporting the beginnings of the Vancouver Youth Theatre in the Creek.
I sat on the FCCC Board and Program Committee with her and thoroughly enjoyed her forth right approach to all matters.
A little piece of me died yesterday upon hearing the news and I am eternally grateful to have had her in my life.
I first met Beryl Wilson, that I clearly recall, when I was about 9 yrs old – 1961. Beryl was at the time a new friend and work colleague of my mother Carol Roberts, they were working at the Polio Foundation, I believe.
- February 2019 – Post- Spruce Village AGM at the Granville Island Hotel, with some participants who stayed for mix & mingle
- February 2019 – The AGM celebration continued at my home and this is Beryl holding court
- September 2017 – With neighbours at the Spruce Village Annual Garden Party
- May 2018 – Volunteer Days at Spruce Village
- 2018 – Spruce Village’s Garden Party. We celebrated Spruce Village ‘s 40th birthday and Beryl was our celebrity. She blew out the candles and said a few words.
- 2017 – Spruce Village’s Garden Party
I considered her an icon and cornerstone of our Village. She was the repository of our history and all the changes over the 41 years she lived there. When I served on Council, I would ferret out her sage advice and counsel.
She is keenly missed and fondly remembered.
– Ginny Halloran
Beryl admitted that, ignoring all other considerations, her first job on rising from her bed was to pencil in her eyebrows! Only Beryl.
– Morag Cuthbertson
I met Beryl about five years ago at a political fundraiser somewhere in Surrey. I was brand new in the neighbourhood and interested to meet people so when invited to replace another guest who was ill, I accepted. I happened to sit beside Beryl during the evening and we hit it off immediately when I told her of my interest in death and dying. Rather than changing the subject, which often occurred in polite company, she said she was very interested too and wondered about the taboo on the subject. We had a lovely conversation.
Beryl was subsequently one of the first participants to enrol in my Art of Dying workshop at the Roundhouse that spring. She astonished the group when asked what had brought her to the group by saying she was interested in dying but not quite sure how to do it! She continued to add lively perspectives to our discussion through the course. We have had numerous cups of tea in her cosy living room or out in her garden and our conversation has ranged beyond dying to many topics of interest to both of us. She once said she thought one had to be a good conversationalist to keep people coming to visit. It certainly worked for me!
I shall miss her presence in my life. It was a privilege to know her.
– Susan Wright, Henley Court
It was with great sadness that I heard about the passing of Beryl Wilson. I lived in Vancouver in the 90’s and spent most of that time working on Granville Island in various capacities, the majority of which was running my own graphic design studio on the upper floor of the Netloft across from the Public Market , after two years working for CMHC Granville Island.
Beryl was such an important part of the life of the community – a connector, storyteller and of course source of news, comings and goings. I was privileged to get to know her when she was a frequent visitor to the Information Centre on Granville Island, and I also designed a number of the advertisements that appeared in the Creek newspaper (in fact it was quite delightful to peruse the Creek archives and discover some of those designs all these years later).
Of course one of the most vivid memories of Beryl was the time she decided to enter the digital age with the Creek newspaper and purchase an Apple computer to help her do so. One day on a visit to Granville Island we got chatting about it and I offered to help her set up the computer as I was familiar with the machines and it seemed like the right thing to do to help her out. I thought it would take about an hour. Little did I realize that the result would be Beryl and I staying up all night putting out the first edition of the Creek created on the computer. I will never forget some of the choice words she had for the computer, but she was always kind and patient with me as we worked to deadline to get that edition out. It is a great memory for me and I was glad I got to spend that time with Beryl.
We stayed in touch after that as I was around Granville Island right up to the week I moved to Toronto in 1999, and of course she always mentioned that night and was generous with her thanks for getting her through that first step into the digital age. Unfortunately I lost touch with Beryl after my move “back East”, but I would have been interested to hear what she thought about the world we live in now, with social media. “fake news” and the decline of print newspapers.
Beryl’s passing is a huge loss for the False Creek and Granville Island community. She was a special person and of unique character, and someone who presence was pivotal in creating the community atmosphere there that can be hard to find in the middle of a big city. She will be missed by all who knew her.
– Charles Finley
Soon after Beryl’s visit to VGH, occasioned by unusual shortness of breath, she told me she’d expected to return with an oxygen tank. Instead she came back with a diagnosis of terminal cancer.
Her first reaction, she said, was to tell her family that she wanted “a complete embargo” on this news. Only certain family members were to know. When one of her nieces asked her to list the friends who should also know, she replied that she didn’t have any friends.
Everyone who’s had to look at cancer up the nose will recognize the instant desire to try to get on top of the situation. For an independent, self-reliant person like Beryl, it was a fierce and driving need to control, if not the illness, at least the knowledge of it and the pattern of its unfolding. That I understood.
But having no friends?
We were talking in the newly set-up hospice in her Spruce Village townhouse, a conversation often interrupted by a series of people coming and going through her open door.
“No friends?” I asked her. “So what are we? Fog?”
“I see people at meetings”, she said.
I asked her if she thought it might be passing strange that people at meetings were traipsing in and out her door bringing food, flowers, cards, hugs. She had no response but her eyes welled with tears. She said she’d had no idea that anyone thought of her at all. She was genuinely both surprised and moved by the attention.
Someone recently – I can’t remember who – said that Beryl was “resolutely single”, and indeed she was. She chose to have the freedom and independence to live in the public realm, that is, to participate in the world around her, to engage issues beyond her private life, to favour the political over the personal, to study, to listen, to learn, to help and to lead.
Beryl’s community was as important to her as she was to the community. And though, in my last visit, I had the chance to tell her that she was, truly, the matriarch of False Creek South, I wish I had said more and said it earlier. I regret that she had believed no-one thought of her at all, but I’m grateful for the chance to have conveyed at the end what so many of us felt, and that she was clearly so glad to hear it.
– Sharon Yandle