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A champion of Maple Ridge history has passed away

Sheila Nickols passed away on Oct. 31 after short battle with cancer
Local historian Sheila Nickols passed away Oct. 31. (Maple Ridge Museum/Special to The News)

A passionate proponent of the community’s history has died.

Sheila Nickols, past president of the Maple Ridge Historical Society, who remained on the board until just last year, and a former columnist for The News, passed away Oct. 31 at the age of 85.

“She was a reserve of quiet strength,” said Val Patenaude, former director of the Maple Ridge Museum, who was still reeling with the shock of Nickols death on Thursday.

Nickols only learned she had cancer in October, she explained

Patenaude, who retired from her position on Oct. 31 after 27 years, first met Nickols in 1990 when Patenaude moved to Maple Ridge and volunteered on the new Heritage Advisory Committee.

“She was curator at the location where the museum is now from 1984 to 1993. She was also curator for a time when the museum was located in the public library,” explained Patenaude.

She described Nickols, who was awarded Maple Ridge Community Foundation Citizen of the Year in 1996, as a person who seldom raised her voice, “or got in any kind of flap”. A person who was good at persuading people and “as relentless as the tide”.

Nickols was also steadfast, added the former director, “in all the old sense of that word and she brought that to everything she did”.

READ: Sheila Nickols Obituary

Of her greatest gifts to the community, continued Patenaude, was bringing history to the community through her writing.

In the early 1970’s Nickols was involved with a group called The University Women’s Club and she got them involved in writing a book called Maple Ridge A History of Settlement that was published in 1972.

Then in 1987 she started the Looking Back column that ran in The News. She wrote her last column in 2014.

“She wrote 1,000 columns. That’s just massive,” noted Patenaude.

Patenaude credits Nickols for paving the path for her paid position at the Maple Ridge Museum.

In 1993 Nickols, who was then curator at the museum, met with Patenaude about passing on her position. However, it was unpaid at the time.

“Only her expenses were covered. My response was to say no,” wrote Patenaude in a tribute to Nickols on the Maple Ridge Museum website.

So, Nickols wrote out a job description with hours and a salary and sent it to the city.

READ MORE: Museum anniversary celebrated with new book

“After threats by Sheila to fall on her sword, the city agreed to an annual amount for a part-time curator,” Patenaude’s post read.

She was also instrumental in the establishment of the Heritage River Walk in 1992.

Alan Woodland and his wife Pat met Nickols play-reading and describe her as their oldest friend in Canada.

Back in the 1950’s there were strong play-reading groups in the community, and a lot of drama, said Woodland.

And, even then, Nickols was always tied to history and heritage, he said, and was always a competent activist in terms of history – although usually quietly in the background.

“Even though she ended up as president of almost everything and the rest of it, often Sheila just contributed without making any fuss,” said Woodland of his friend.

Woodland and Nickols connected over poetry. They wrote poetry together for almost 30 years and contributed their work to five books.

“She was much more alive in the poems, sometimes, than she appeared to be in real life,” said Woodland of Nickols’ work, because of how quiet her presence was.

READ MORE: Looking back: Skating, sledding in Maple Ridge

Woodland described Nickols to a volcano.

“When you were with her she was dormant. But, by herself, with a pen in her in her hand, she could explode,” he said.

Nickols was also very active in her church and attended St. Andrew’s United Church before it became Golden Ears United upon moving to the community. She was a founding member of the United Church Women’s Unit and served on the Congregational Board, the Board of Trustees and the Ministry and Personnel Committee, wrote Sue Kellas, with Golden Ears United on the museum’s tribute page.

In 2003, Kellas added, 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 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,” wrote Kellas.

According to her obituary, Nickols was born on April 9, 1935, in Victoria B.C. to Harry and Doris Carstens. She moved to Maple Ridge in 1957 where she settled with her first husband, Ed Nickols and raised her family.

The University of British Columbia grad taught at several local schools and devoted much time to her church and community groups, including the Maple Ridge Historical Society.

She was an avid reader, supporter of the arts, and loved to write poetry with a local group.

Nickols leaves behind two daughters, two step children, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren, and many other family members.

What Patenaude will miss most about her mentor was her innate positivity.

“She was always uplifting to talk to because she always saw the possible in everything. And she was always in my corner,” said Patenaude.

“She touched everyone in the community. We need to name a street after her or something. She is really most deserving”.

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Local historian Sheila Nickols passed away Oct. 31. (Maple Ridge Museum/Special to The News)

Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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