In 1980 having made a commitment to write a book, I moved to a float house anchored just down the bay from a logging camp, a BC Hydro dam, and a fishing lodge at Clowhom Falls. This small community was situated at the head of Salmon Inlet, twenty-five miles by boat from the town of Sechelt on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast.
This was not an easy transition for me. I was used to working in offices and living where you moved from one place to another on solid ground, not in an open boat with a motor that sometimes ran and sometimes didn’t. I was also not accustomed to a house that bumped against logs and threatened to break free and float down the inlet during stormy nights. I was also afraid of the dark, afraid of the woods, shy around strangers and broke.
Fortunately, there were some terrific people living at Clowhom and whenever I felt unable to cope, one of them would appear with a kind word or an offer of help.
One of these people was Mary Shaw, the wife of the BC Hydro caretaker, Bert Shaw. The day we met Mary was having coffee in the logging camp cookhouse. She invited me to come up to her place near the dam any time I was lonely. It took me a few days to work up the courage to do so, but when I arrived she welcomed me into her bright, happy kitchen with such warmth and kindness that I instantly felt as if I was part of her family. I soon discovered that Mary was a perpetual mother—if someone needed comfort and nurturing, she was there to deliver.
It was Mary who got me a job at the logging camp, so I could remain at Clowhom. She also introduced me to John, the caretaker of the fishing lodge, who eventually became my husband. For seven years Mary and I were neighbours, sharing dinners, going for long walks up the mountain, and sometimes just watching a good movie together. During that time I learned a lot about her life.
Born Mary Ellen Goddard in North Vancouver on September 18, 1925, Mary was the second youngest of seven children. Her father was an abusive alcoholic and she was not close to her mother. Still, she and her sister Alice found much to amuse themselves during their childhood in Kitsilano, and later on Hull Street near Trout Lake. Among their escapades was walking along a narrow gap between two Interurban tracks. Whenever two trains passed the girls would have to duck down between the tracks to avoid being hit. When the girls were teenagers, their Grandmother Goddard moved to Roberts Creek where Mary and Alice would arrive on the Union Steamship for long, fun-filled visits.
After leaving John Oliver High school in grade eleven, Mary worked as a bag sorter at a Broadway junkyard and later as a waitress at the Blue Owl Restaurant in Stanley Park.
When Mary met Bert Shaw on the tram on her way home from work one day, she fell instantly in love. They were married at the High Church of England in downtown Vancouver and their first son, Kenneth, was born in 1944. Bert was there to greet the new baby, but he was away with the merchant navy when their second son, Ray, was born.
Soon after the war ended, Bert found work at a logging camp at Elk River on Vancouver Island and Mary went with their two babies to live with him there. She always remembered sitting on a packing box sobbing because she didn’t want to be so far away from everything that was familiar to her. But in typical Mary fashion, she quickly made friends with the other women in camp and discovered new ways to have fun. By the time they left Elk River, five years and two more sons (Robert and Leslie) later, Mary had become so attached to the community that she cried because they were moving to Comox.
Mary and Bert’s fifth son (Ron) and only daughter (Judith) were born while they were living at Comox. Later the family moved to another logging camp at Fanny Bay, then settled at Nanaimo where Mary became head cashier at Steadmans, and later worked at Sears.
On Boxing Day in 1971, Kenneth was killed during a robbery at the garage where he worked. He left behind a widow and two small children. It was a blow that almost levelled Mary, but somehow, she managed to rise above the tragedy and give herself over to living life as fully as possible.
From Nanaimo, Mary followed Bert to Tofino where she loved to walk on the beach and along trails through the woods. They were there in 1976 when Bert obtained the BC Hydro posting at Clowhom Falls. At first there seemed to be nothing in this remote settlement for Mary, but as usual, she soon got to know the local inhabitants, made new friends and found ways to have fun despite the isolation.
I didn’t see so much of Mary after Bert retired and they left Clowhom in 1987 to live in Sechelt. Mary was busy volunteering at the Legion, playing bingo and cards and travelling with Bert or Alice or the Red Hats Club. At the same time, John and I were busy raising our son. Eventually, our son left for the city and health concerns began limiting Mary and Bert’s activities, and once again my visits with Mary grew more frequent. Sadly, our meetings were too often connected with funerals, for tragedy was never far from Mary and Bert’s door. In 1997 Judy died, and in 2004, Les passed away.
As I watched her cope with each tragedy, I came to really appreciate Mary’s resilient spirit, for with each blow she picked herself up and carried on. When Bert died in 2009, she told me that a great part of herself went with him. Unable to bear living in their big house alone, she sold out and moved to Totem Lodge, an extended care home near St. Mary’s Hospital in Sechelt.
For many a lesser person, this move would have marked the end of happiness, but for Mary, it was a new adventure and she made the best of it. She still kept up her social life, attending Red Hat lunches, visiting the Legion and going on all of the outings offered by the home. She made it her mission in life to coax a smile from every person she met. Even when her son Robert died in 2011, Mary carried on, always grateful for the good things that came her way and refusing to give in to self-pity or bitterness.
Last week Mary finally let go of her hold on life, and her smile that brought so much comfort and joy to others faded away. She will be missed, but she will also be remembered as a woman who was determined to find the best in all that life delivered.
Rest in peace, dear Mary.