R.I.P. Alice Munro (1931 – 2024)

“Compared to Anton Chekhov for her peerless short stories for which she won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, Alice Munro (left) has died.FULL STORY

 

R.I.P. Sheila Baxter (1933 – 2022)

February 16th, 2023

Sheila Baxter, the first writer to receive the VanCity Book Prize for best book pertaining to women’s issues by a British Columbian, died on December 19, 2022 surrounded by her close family in Vancouver.

Baxter wrote her award-winning title, Under the Viaduct (New Star, 1991) to recognize the plight of the homeless in BC and that publicized the lives of her neighbours who were living in Skid Row hotels, under bridges and on the streets.

Born on September 22, 1933 in London England, Sheila immigrated to Quebec, Canada in the fifties. A self-described “literacy guerilla” who was involved in poverty issues since 1970, Sheila Baxter co-founded Chez Doris, a drop-in centre for street women, and later, having raised five children, she volunteered as a counsellor and welfare advocate at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre in Vancouver. A single working mother for many years, she had been on a handicapped pension due to a back injury since 1983.

Poverty rights activist Sheila Baxter (centre) celebrates with friends at the entrance to the Carnegie Centre as the first recipient of the Vancity Prize in 1992. Photo Alan Twigg.

As an anti-poverty activist, Sheila Baxter interviewed poor women in 1986 and published No Way to Live: Poor Women Speak Out (New Star, 1988). Her third book, A Child Is Not A Toy: Voices of Children in Poverty (New Star, 1993) was followed by another rallying cry, Still Raising Hell: Poverty, Activism and Other True Stories (Press Gang, 1997). It highlighted community initiatives in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver for improvements in health, education and housing, and other interviews with her activist colleagues. Baxter also tutored at the Carnegie Community Centre and contributed to the Carnegie newsletter.

Sheila Baxter’s play Death in a Dumpster (Lazara, 2006) was developed in St. John’s Church / Friends for Life Mask Workshop and first performed by the West End Public Theatre on May 6, 2005 at St. John’s United Church in Vancouver. Produced and directed by Ian Wallace, and featuring Baxter as a member of the cast, the fictionalized drama recalled the death of a homeless man who was crushed to death in a garbage dumpster. The main character, Danny, a young fisherman from Nova Scotia, discovers he is HIV positive and hitchhikes to Vancouver to find his mother, who abandoned him as a child.

The play caught the attention of Libby Davies, former MP for Vancouver East, who reflected on Baxter’s story: “When a dumpster becomes a refuge, what is the meaning of life in the city? Death in a Dumpster will tell you. Poverty is only a word but it is very loaded with life, death, grief, family and denial. This play is about that word.”

Rolf Maurer, who published three of Baxter’s books, said it was “a gift to have had a chance to work with Sheila,” adding that she was a force and inspiration to many. “It’s easy, reading her books, to see why. The scenes that are described, the stories that are told in those books are never just hers, they are the voices of the people she lived with and among, reflecting their experiences, and that she thought needed to be heard.

“Her strength was not just her own, but the strength of all those people in her books and plays, the community that she was such a big part of. She leaves a hole, but the place is better for her having been through it.”

A celebration of Sheila Baxter’s life and achievements will be held on April 1, 2023 at St Andrew’s Wesley United Church at 11 am and all who would like to pay their respects are welcome.

A recent photo of Sheila Baxter, shortly before she passed.

9 Responses to “R.I.P. Sheila Baxter (1933 – 2022)”

  1. Pj flaming says:

    Sheila was a warrior and a poet with a gapped tooth smile and a wicked working class wit. Sheila and I and many others were Downtown Eastside Poets, touring thru BC with roadie journo and friend, Bob Sarti. She invited me to publish an article on Homelessness and Privatisation in her book Under the Viaduct when I worked at ELP with Swans (Jean Swanson). Our Agit prop theate was pithy and to the soul. We achieved much. Changed laws! Built allies! Challenged the corporate agenda! I miss her hugs. And her grounded wisdom. It’s been too long. Love ya Sheila, look after yerself and the lost souls you always help.

  2. carla Francis says:

    HI, I’VE KNOWN SHEILIA A LONG TIME … SINCE I WAS LITTLE GIRL. SHE WAS ALWAYS FUN WHEN WE WENT CAMPING. I ENJOYED WHEN SHE BABYSAT ME. LEARNED LOTS FROM HER. THERE’S SO MANY THINGS I CAN TELL YOU ABOUT SHEILA BUT NOT ENOUGH TIME IN THE WORLD. LOVE YOU. WILL MISS YOU. THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES. FROM CARLA FRANCIS

  3. carol says:

    Sending regards to the Baxter family from the Francis family. Now Sheila, Aunt Jackie and Joanne Johnson are together again fighting the government and helping people. Love ya auntie. From Carol.

  4. Jacqueline Wigg says:

    Hi, so sorry to hear the sad news of Sheila, passing away. I would love to have met her, there is a strength in the Swann ladies, I believe they had tough upbringings. My Mum, was the cousin of Sheila.
    King regards
    Jacquie

  5. Leith says:

    I knew Sheila as a McGill MSW student doing my field placement at the Greater Montreal Anti-Poverty Coordinating Committee. Sheila was a force in the anti-poverty movement and was fearless when it came to addressing oppression and all the other “ isms.” Sheila put me in charge of organizing women struggling with the child welfare system (called S.A.C) She taught me the ropes about what to do in demonstrations when police came. Amazing lady who I later worked with at Family Service Association after graduation. It was here that Sheila spearheaded the movement to organize homeless women after the murder of a woman we named Doris, whom I knew from the streets around St Urbain. Sheila had this amazing energy to spark the undecided into taking action. A true community organizer who taught us so much about how to stand up to unjust power. Rest in Peace Sheila, you were a great dancer and the life of any party back in the day.

  6. Jennifer Cunnings says:

    Giving thanks for your dear mum! For her advocacy of others, for her persistence, her feisty spirit, her love of children and all the light and love she brought to our world!

  7. Linda Laframboise says:

    So glad that we got to know Sheila. Ed and I send our deepest condolences.

  8. Blair Hewitt says:

    Plays like “death in a dumpster” do bring some humanity into this nightmare of a world. Sorry to hear that she has passed away. My love to her friends and neighbours. Blair

  9. Suzanne Chavarie says:

    Thank you,
    for this lovely tribute to my mom!
    It’s so beautiful. Made me smile too..
    With gratitude!
    Sheila’s daughter Suzanne

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