Childhood Revisited in New Westminster


This is a photograph of my eldest sister, Heather, when she was in her early twenties. Note the blue Volkswagen in the parking lot behind her.  This was the 1970’s. I don’t know exactly how old she was in this shot but at the time she worked for the New Westminster Public Library where I believe she was the assistant to Alan Woodland, the long time head librarian there.  Oh, how she loved to read. She had a bedroom all to herself back then while the rest of us shared and her light would be on into the wee hours, her nose in a book she couldn’t put down.

In 1991, at 43, she died of breast cancer.

When I first approached the New West Public Library about showing my slides and doing a talk on Georgia O’Keeffe and the Ghost Ranch from a trip I’d taken there in 2006 and 2007, I never mentioned anything about Heather.  Why would I?  That was another lifetime ago. But, in communicating with Debra Nelson, the community librarian, I did finally mention that I had a connection to New West, that I’d grown up here, and my sister had worked at the library back then.

When I presented my talk for the second time last night, Debra gave me this colour photo of Heather that she managed to hunt down from the archives. Seeing it was a bit like ingesting Wasabi. First, a sharp pang of regret and then pleasure at the memories that came flooding in.

Heather loomed so large in my childhood (there was a 13 year age difference between us). This picture catapulted me right back into the big old house I grew up in across from Moody Park in New Westminster. I have such strong memories of her there from my childhood and how she would always talk about the goings on in the library (you can’t imagine what happens in that supposedly quiet place). Sometimes, she’d even bring a few of her co-workers who became her friends home for lunch.  So much has changed since then. Neither Heather nor my mother or father are still alive.

It was a really great little gift to receive. Thank you Debra.


  1. I remember your sister Heather as she was a friend of my sister Barbara. Heather probably got her love of libraries from Miss Drummond at Herbert Spencer as my sister did and Barb did get her masters in Library Science and worked at UBC for decades. I have been a guest sitting at your dining table as a guest of June and Joy when you were a small child. I was amazed at two sets of twins but guess what I am now a Nana to an identical set of boys and a fraternal boy/girl pair bringing me so much incredible joy. I came across your writing while searching for something else and enjoyed it very much. I am a bit of a rolling stone as well and curiosity sometimes thrillingly lands me in uncomfortable situations which is fun in retrospect but terrifying in the moment! I’ve decided this isolation is the “pause” button in life and I’m using it to edit my possessions and simplify my estate and I do this as a loving gift to my children who are scattered all over globe when I encouraged them to “fly”. I know I will get out there again when the world is safer or when my itchy feet can’t be contained so I’ll take my chances. Until then the purging continues and it has a thrill itself because we really need so little in life. Keep writing!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment which I just noticed. My twin sisters would be curious to know who you are but maybe they could guess by your first name only. I will ask them. That’s so amazing you have two sets of twins as grandchildren now. What fun! And so rare! Thank you, Marjorie for sharing.

  2. That is so interesting; you have, geographically anyway, come full circle, now living in your childhood town; visiting/speaking at the Library where Heather used to work. I can tell it stirs up a lot of memories; I hope most/many of them are good memories. I wish you well with your 2nd O’Keefe “lecture” (or has it already come and gone??) Either way I’m sure it was/will be a good experience for you and your audience (I wish I lived closer!)
    all the best,

    1. Thanks Anne. Yes, it would have been nice to have you in the audience. Gwen was there as was her friend Karen. And Keiko and George surprised me by showing up from the West End so that made my evening.
      I read your comment on my iPhone while sitting at the Quay in New West (love watching all that activity on the river and all those tug boats and even saw a seal). Your comment about coming full circle resonated with me and immediately I began to have some very interesting insights related to how the move to Salt Spring may have been the first step in shedding a way of being that accompanied the first half of my life and returning to New West being required to shed it fully (or perhaps incorporate it completely thereby making it null and voice). Perhaps by coming back here and observing this place with fresh eyes and experiencing all the memories that arise around every corner it seems, I could let go of them, kindly, once and for all because I like to think this isn’t the last resting place. 🙂
      Just a temporary interlude I think. If the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour it’s unlikely I’ll be staying here for the rest of my life but we never know.
      As you know, I’m working away on this manuscript, and your comment has taken me down a path of some interesting insights that I needed to race right home and write down. That and the fact that I thought I forgot to even close the patio door before I went out. That too. So, thank you, Anne.

  3. Gayle, such a thoughtful gift. Wonderful to see photos of loved ones that we haven’t seen before.

    You know, growing up I was always a bit jealous that you had older sisters. Funny how memories can be tucked away one moment and with just one small reveal, an entire time can come flooding back to us.

    Heather would be proud of where your writing and photography have taken you, and that you’re sharing some of those experiences surrounded by the books she loved.

    1. Jo-Anne,
      Thank you for commenting. It’s so weird to be back here in New West but then again, that experience last night couldn’t have happened anywhere else and yes, it is amazing how some photographs, especially those that we’ve never seen before, can take us right back to another time and so vividly.

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