Author presents book on search for sister lost in Vancouver

The United Churches of Guelph and area are presenting an evening of music that features Maggie de Vries from Vancouver, author of Missing Sarah: A Memoir of Loss, and a local band from Guelph, Corduroy Road.

The evening is to celebrate the turn around over the last year of the Chalmers Commu­nity Services Centre and the inauguration of its two new locations, Chalmers Down­town at 40 Baker Street, and Chal­mers West, on the property of Three Willows United Church, on Willow Road. The outreach ministry dedicated to feeding the hungry was founded at the Chalmers United Church on Quebec Street by Pat de Vries, mother of Maggie and Sarah de Vries.

In mid-April 1998, Sarah de Vries disappeared from the corner of Princess and Hastings in Vancouver. She became one of the many women who had vanished from the Downtown Eastside, women – most of them prostitutes or drug addicts – whose fate was all but ignored by the authorities. Years went by, women continued to disap­pear, and there were no answers for their families.

The women who disappear­ed did have families. They were loved, they had friends, and they had lives that began long before their terrible end. Maggie de Vries was one of those family members.

Although Sarah and Maggie de Vries shared a comfortable, middle-class upbringing, Sar­ah, adopted as an infant, was black, while the rest of her family was white; and so she alone was the victim of racist taunts and prejudice. As Sarah de Vries reached adolescence, her troubles grew. She ran away from home. She became addicted to drugs. She ended up on Vancouver’s Downtown East­side.

Missing Sarah: A Memoir of Loss, which includes material on the Robert Pickton trial and which was published this past July, incorporates excerpts from Sarah’s journals. It is Mag­gie de Vries’s story of her search for her sister. From those journals, and from the recollections of people who knew Sarah during her 14 years downtown, emerges a portrait of a bright, funny, and sensitive woman who found herself trap­ped in a downward spiral of self-loathing, prostitution, drugs, and violence.

From the moment Sarah disappeared, her sister never stopped looking for her. Even after Sarah’s DNA was discov­ered at Robert Pickton’s farm, and hope was replaced by grim certainty, Maggie De Vries continued her search.

This time she was looking for answers. Why did so many women have to disappear be­fore the authorities took notice? Was there any way Sarah could have been saved from her life on the streets? And what can we do to help those women who are still trapped, by chance or circumstance, in the same bleak world Sarah de Vries once inhabited?

Maggie de Vries is a child­ren’s author now living in Van­couver and she has taught in a number of places, including at the University of Guelph.

The celebration evening comes because a year ago it seemed Chalmers Community Services Centre was doomed to close its doors. But, over the last months new partners have been found. Both locations offer a number of services but the main ones are a food pantry (formerly the Fair Share Food Shelf) and clothing exchange as well as personal support, referral, and community for a significant number of people who live in and around the city.

The evening on Oct. 15 opens with the Corduroy Road, fol­lowed by a presentation by Mag­gie De Vries with a ques­tion and answer period. She will be signing books as the band provides a second set. Their CD will be available for purchase. The cost is a nonperishable food item and $10 for adults and $5 for students.  Tickets are available from any United Church or at the door.

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