VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Sarah de Vries was a precocious, energetic child, and a creative, beautiful grown-up, her family says
(Jan 11, 2007)
In between the highs and hellish lows of drug addiction, Sarah de Vries wrote of the "broken down angels" of Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside.
Sarah de Vries is one of the women Robert Pickton is accused of murdering. She grew up in Vancouver, and her family has since moved to Guelph.
"A child lost with no place, a human being in disguise," she wrote in one of the many journals, blank papers and restaurant napkins she filled with her poems, drawings and stark documentation of daily life in the hard-luck neighbourhood.
She described the area's drug-addicted sex-trade workers, a group that included herself, as special people who had lost their way. She knew well the struggle to survive in the Downtown Eastside.
Born to a troubled mother on May 12, 1969, she was adopted at 11 months by Jan and Pat de Vries.
De Vries grew up in the tony, and back then, overwhelmingly white neighbourhood of West Point Grey in Vancouver, a precocious child of black, native and Mexican ancestry.
A stubborn streak was evident from the start.
For about a year as a toddler, de Vries had to wear corrective leg braces, which included a rigid metal bar between her feet. They didn't hold de Vries back, her mother recalls.
"My husband had built a big, wooden slide (on the porch) and she would go right up it," said Pat de Vries.
"She would just brace her knees in the steps below her but what took her up was the strength in her arms. She just pulled herself up that slide and went right down. Nothing stopped Sarah."
She was adventurous and loved drama, her mother says. Perhaps too much.
De Vries sketched constantly with whatever she had at hand.
"She loved to write stories, she loved to draw," recalls Maggie de Vries, the older sister who published many of de Vries's poems and journal entries in her award-winning book "Missing Sarah."
Sarah de Vries described her art as her "very own sanctuary from the storm."
As a child, de Vries was a brown face in a wealthy, white crowd. She was picked on at school to an extent her family didn't realize. In her early teens, a troubled young friend introduced de Vries to Vancouver's rough-and-tumble downtown.
By 14, she was running away regularly to the bright lights and excitement of downtown.
There, she saw something she rarely, if ever, saw among the posh homes of West Point Grey.
"What she saw in (downtown) Vancouver were people like herself, who were native, who were in difficulty," says her mother. And it was exciting.
"She loved excitement and drama," Pat de Vries says. "And also the need, I think, of the people she saw there."
The people at home loved her, de Vries says, but they did not need her in the desperate way her friends did downtown. By the time she was 18, she was entrenched in that drug-fuelled underworld.
Pat de Vries says she takes much solace in stories she has been told about her daughter by her daughter's friends downtown.
"She enjoyed life and even when it was its most difficult, she would find something to enjoy in it," she says.
Wayne Leng first saw de Vries standing on a street corner one Sunday afternoon in 1994. He became a regular customer and then a friend.
"You need to look past the fact of what her life was on the Downtown Eastside," says Leng, who preserved de Vries's journals and now maintains an extensive website on the missing women case.
She liked movies, he says. "One of the movies we went to, the last one we went to together, was 'Titanic' and that was quite a movie for her."
De Vries still harboured dreams of true love and the epic romance had her tied to her seat.
If de Vries dreamed of picket fences, her addiction got the better of her. She was mother to Jeanie, now 16, and Ben, 10, both born addicted to drugs.
"I think she thought with Jeanie that she would change her life around and that she and (the father) would have a life together, a white picket fence and the baby and all," Pat de Vries says.
"But she left the hospital to go and get drugs and she turned her over to me, custody, guardianship, from the very beginning."
Sarah de Vries was last seen working on a street corner in the Downtown Eastside.
She leaves behind her words, which give de Vries and her friends the dignity in death that may have eluded them in life.
"Front page news for weeks, people protesting in the streets. . . . While the happy hooker just starts to decay, like she didn't matter, expendable, dishonourable.
"It's a shame that society is that unfeeling. She was some woman's little girl, gone astray, lost from the right path."
Police say Sarah Jean de Vries was last seen April 12, 1998. She was 28 years old.
Guelph Mercury News
Updated: August 21, 2016