In Memorium: Sheila Nickols

Sheila in 2014 when her book “Looking Back” was published.

Sheila Nickols, Past- President of the Maple Ridge Historical Society, museum curator and history writer passed away on October 31, 2020 at the age of 85. She was so many things to so many people that we have asked those who knew her best to contribute their thoughts and memories.

Mentor

When I moved to Maple Ridge in 1990, I was a stay-at-home Mom with two young daughters. We had moved from Richmond seeking some land and a community. In Richmond, I had served on their Heritage Advisory Committee for several years and so when I saw in the local paper that an HAC was being created in Maple Ridge, I volunteered. I thought that and the Quilters Guild would provide me with two groups of people I would readily identify with.

That first Heritage Advisory Committee included Sheila Nickols, Beryl Cunningham and Bernice Gehring – the triple whammy of local history.

At the time, Sheila was curator at the Maple Ridge Museum. My career so far had been in archaeology so other than taking my girls to tour the Museum, I had no particular interest.

In early 1993, Sheila approached me with a list of concerns about the museum. From her ongoing education courses, she was fully aware of what computer technology could mean to a museum but she had no intention to be the one to gain the necessary knowledge and equipment. Her husband was very ill so she was wanting to hand off the job to someone younger with computer experience.

From having known her for a few years, I was already aware that museum work was not so much a job as a calling. And in fact, there was no job as her position had been unpaid. Only her expenses were covered. My response was to say no.

Undaunted, Sheila asked if I would help her write a job description with hours and salary. I said I would as long as I was not writing *my* job description. The rest, as they say, is history.

The first three curators at the Brickyard museum site: Val Patenaude, Sheila Nickols and Daphne Sleigh.

After threats by Sheila to fall on her sword, the city agreed to an annual amount for a part-time curator. A benefactor from the community – who remains anonymous – stepped up with a $5,000 gift to buy computer equipment because that was what a Windows 3 PC cost in those days.

After a whirlwind introduction to museum operations, I was on my own but Sheila’s contributions certainly didn’t end there. Starting in 1987, Sheila had been writing a weekly column for the local NEWS on history. It was and is called “Looking Back”. She interviewed community elders and researched stories and always met her deadlines. I had been at the museum for ten years before I started writing for the column and even then, Sheila remained the primary writer until 2010 – contributing 1,000 columns in all – until 2014 when she wrote her last column. People still phone the museum asking for her.

Sheila made my transition from archaeologist to museum curator feel normal, natural and well within my reach. She was the best mentor a person could have and she was at my side whenever I needed her. As you read these memories of Sheila you’ll see that “steadfast friend” is a recurring theme. She brought a quiet dignity to everything she did and I will miss her forever.

Val Patenaude, Director Emeritus, Maple Ridge Museum

Storyteller

Sheila and husband Dick Middleton observe Allison White as she cuts the cake at the Heritage Tea in 2014.

When I think about Sheila, I think of her positive attitude, her unwavering support of MRHS, and as quite possibly one of the best keepers of history the city of Maple Ridge has ever had.

During my ten years with MRHS, I think of all the committees Sheila and I chaired and the events planned together. I think of dozens and dozens of egg salad sandwiches she would tirelessly prepare for the Heritage Tea and how every December our Christmas potluck would not be complete without her Cranberry punch (secrets in the orange slices!).

No matter the program idea, or fundraising event, Sheila was always there to lend a hand where it was most needed, while paving the way for newcomers. Perhaps the biggest example of this was when she retired from her Looking Back column, and asked museum staff to fill her spot. I remember the very first article I wrote, feeling so nervous to have to live up to Sheila’s wordsmith skills.

The stories she brought us through those columns, and her support over the years to MRHS has in many ways helped to sustain the society, and her loss will be sorely missed.

May her legacy live on not only in the words she left for us, but the everyday details and memories we have to help remember her lasting impact on us all.

Allison White, Former Curator, Maple Ridge Museum

Poet

Two short poems by Sheila Nichols:

Returning

Every year the lake
has the same smell of summer

only we have changed.


Morning Glory

The wide-eyed innocence
of this virgin flower

Who would guess
the strangler
down below

Sheila liked to share her poems with others and read them in several 
locations in Maple Ridge and elsewhere, including the Burnaby Arts 
Centre, where she was a prize winner, and the local Art Gallery. She 
had them published in five chap books as part of the Four Winds poets 
and Pieces of Eight.

Alan Woodland storytelling at the museum.


Alan Woodland wrote;

For Sheila – For Her Birthday

I have been thinking
of that day
slap bang
in the middle of the dirty thirties
When an entire universe
flowered into being
as you breathed
opened your eyes
and exploded into poetry

Alan Woodland, poet, writer and friend

Woman of Faith

Sheila moved from Victoria to Maple Ridge in 1957 and gravitated to the church that her in-laws Rhea and Cyril Nickols attended – St. Andrew’s United Church on Dewdney Trunk Road (now Golden Ears United following an amalgamation with Hammond United).  Rhea formed a United Church Women’s Unit (UCW) for the young women who had been in her Canadian Girl’s in Training Group (CGIT) and Sheila was a founding member. Her friendly nature and kind heart blossomed as she and the ladies of The Harmony Unit studied and supported each other while raising their young families. Sheila was presented with a Life Membership in the UCW.

As time marched on Sheila found herself involved in all aspects of church life. She served on the Congregational Board, the Board of Trustees and the Ministry and Personnel Committee. She took her turn as a Greeter and Lector. In 2003 Sheila was the recipient of the Order of St. Andrew’s that was established to recognize those who gave outstanding service to the church.

Sheila shares a laugh with the Apple Pie Crew at Golden Ears United.

Sheila gave generously of her time to support the work of the women in the United Church both locally and regionally.  She wrote skits, newsletter articles and worship liturgy. She participated in World Day of Prayer services and attended women’s events and retreats where she often took on a leadership role. Her sense of humour shone through when she modeled in a fashion show or kept the apple pie crew happy in the kitchen.

Sheila was reliable, energetic and a good listener.  She worked tirelessly at church functions such as the fall dinners, teas, the Christmas bazaar and other fund raising events.  She was a quiet, behind the scenes sort of person who could be relied on to get the job done.

-Sue Kellas, Golden Ears United Church [Images: Rev. Leenane Shiels, Golden Ears United Church]

Our Mom

It seems surreal that we are paying tribute to our Mom right now- we thought she would live to be 110! This all happened so quickly and without notice. We feel very privileged and honoured to call Sheila Nickols our Mom. We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from everyone- She was very proud to be a part of this community in so many ways. There is a lot we could say about what she really means to us- but we thought we could share with you a glimpse of the amazing mother she was.

Despite her very busy schedule, Mom always had time for our family.  She sought to make memories for us and create fun traditions at holiday times. We would find a new dressing gown, sewn by Mom, on our beds on Christmas morning, and had a small table set with those single serve boxes of a favorite cereal. Such a fun memory!

She loved to sew and provided us with many “matching” outfits like the coats in this Easter Sunday picture. The outfits were never exactly the same- our parents respected and celebrated our individuality. Mom tried teaching us how to sew with mixed results; Sharon took to it well, while Janet, not so much!

Mom instilled in us her love for reading and for the arts. She encouraged us in all of our interests, making sure we took lessons to help us grow in them. Being so organized, our schedules were always full and everything was written down on the calendar. Her attention to detail is a wonderful trait and we are grateful she passed that on to us as well.

We had many family camping trips which were always great fun. Every summer we travelled to Summerland to see our cousins and to Pender Island to visit family friends. One particularly epic road trip down the west coast to San Diego and camping along the seaside was very memorable.  Mom was the chief navigator with her map, which didn’t always work out well (as she pointed backwards saying “that was our exit”).  Lots of good laughs and adventures along the way!

During our teenage years, Mom probably felt a bit challenged as a parent (as many do during this stage!), but she did her best to connect with us through our arts activities, driving us to various lessons and attending all recitals. In between all her committee meetings, writing poetry, articles for the paper, editing her book, and volunteering -she went back to teaching part time. We do admit to feeling a bit embarrassed if we happened to have her as our substitute teacher in high school! However- many of our friends told us what a good teacher she was. It was no surprise to us.

Mom supported us wholly in our decisions as young marrieds. She was a great help with our children, and such a wonderful Grandma! We both love to cook and grew up with homemade bread, family meals and have many favourite recipes that have been handed down through the generations. Fondly remembering being small children helping in the kitchen- decorating cookies, canning peaches, measuring the ingredients as carefully as our young hands could -and of course getting to lick the spoon when the icing was done!

During any difficult stages she would soothe us with her favorite saying “this too will pass”. She was right- but this heartbreak of her loss will remain. We Love you, and we miss you Mom XO

Janet Ellison & Sharon Greyson, daughters

Friend & Colleague

I am afraid that I do not have any significant offerings regarding Sheila as a teacher.  She was the librarian at MRSS when I was there.  We were both in our early’20’s – the babies in a very stable old school environment.  We had no significant professional interactions because of our different jobs.  However, our ages and stage of life were almost identical.  Our relationship was social and became very close – continuing to Sheila’s recent death.

As my wife Joan and I were of similar ages with Sheila and Ed we saw each other a lot socially.  We got along famously as friends.  Our kids were of an age and we saw a lot of each other as families.  Ed was a real spark plug.  Told wonderful dirty jokes, loved dancing and horsing around with the kids.

Ed and Sheila went over to North Pender Island from time to time and stayed at our cabin on Magic Lake with us.  We also did some travelling together – camping in the USA.  They had a camping trailer and we tented.

Sheila and Ed Nickols participating in local theatre.

They were good/great years for us all.  Lots of campfires, story telling, songs and games, ferocious horseshoe matches, fishing, swimming and sailing on the Lake, parties at our house and Ed and Sheila’s place.  Sheila did dazzling recitations at the evening campfires.  Her rendition of “Little Bunny Frou Frou” is still being recited even unto the fourth generation by my great grandchildren.  My kids – now elders themselves – have the warmest memories of “Aunty” Sheila and “Uncle” Ed.

With the deaths of Ed and Joan, Sheila and I stayed in virtually continuous touch – visits and phone calls throughout the year.

It was a great friendship.  I miss, and will miss Sheila deeply.

Bill Day

We are looking for engaged community members to join our board! Visit the Maple Ridge Historical Society page in the About Us section for more information.
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