VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Tough Wolfe was Downtown Eastside
By Steve Mertyl
Brenda Wolfe liked country music and jazz, liked to dance, liked a joke.
Ray Robertson was surprised to learn her name was on a list of women whose remains were found at Robert Pickton's farm.
``When somebody told me that I said `oh, no,''' says the longtime regular at the Balmoral Hotel pub on Vancouver's gritty Downtown Eastside. ``I know her really good. I was a little bit upset.''
Robertson is one of the few people willing to sketch a bare outline of Wolfe's troubled life.
Her mother, Elaine Belanger of Calgary, angrily refuses to discuss her daughter's early life.
In postings on websites related to Vancouver's missing women, Belanger has said she mourns Brenda's loss hourly.
``There is a part of me that died with her and that part of my spirit will not be filled,'' she wrote in a 2004 posting.
Wolfe was born Oct. 20, 1968, and Robertson believes she came from the Lethbridge area of southern Alberta.
Her journey to the Downtown Eastside remains shrouded, but like many who end up there, drug addiction played a big part.
A woman who identifies herself only as Charlotte wrote in another web posting that she shared a room with a pregnant Wolfe _ then about 17 _ in a substance-abuse recovery program in 1985.
``We shared a lot of time together and grew to know each other quite well,'' Charlotte wrote. ``I watched Brenda become an amazing, wonderful, happy woman. The picture on this website is not the Brenda that I knew and loved.
``I will always remember her smile and the beautiful son that she had while in recovery.''
But Wolfe apparently didn't say much about her child to members of her ``extended family'' on the Downtown Eastside.
``That's not uncommon,'' said Maggy Gisle, a recovering drug addict who lived in the ravaged neighbourhood for 16 years and knew Wolfe well.
``When I was down there my street name was Crazy Jackie and I never told anybody about my son. It wasn't because I was ashamed of him or anything like that. It was my way of trying to protect him from the life that I lived.''
Tall and heavy-set, Wolfe cut an imposing figure. She worked as a waitress and bouncer at the Balmoral, not afraid to roust rowdy drunks _ male or female.
``She's quite capable to hold her own,'' said Gisle. ``I've seen her in the midst of three men, whaling on all three of them all at once. She was as tough as they come.''
Gisle, who turned her life around and now works as a homecare support nurse, said Wolfe was never a prostitute but sometimes worked as a street-enforcer-for-hire, carrying a knife for protection.
``She was one of the people if you had trouble on the streets, if you gave her a little bit of money, she'd go stand beside you while you straightened it out,'' said Gisle. ``If somebody tried to intimidate you ... you could rely on her to back you up.''
It wasn't always for money though. Wolfe sometimes intervened when vulnerable hookers were being extorted for the right to work a corner.
``Not always would they (the girls) get their money back,'' but they wouldn't be harassed by the same person again, said Gisle.
``She would say `If I have to come back here, I'm gonna beat ya.'''
Robertson, who sat at a table near the back of the Balmoral's old-style beer parlour, said he never saw her tough side.
``When I was around, she's gentle like a kitten,'' he said as a bingo game was called in the background.
But he worried about her drug use.
``I was telling her, stop the drugs, it's no good for you,'' said Robertson.
To him, there were signs of mental illness, perhaps manic depression.
``She was running after cars all the time, cars and trucks,'' he said. ``I don't know why. She had to take her medication.''
Gisle said she was not aware Wolfe had mental problems but she had a low tolerance for the hard drugs she occasionally used.
``If she got drunk enough, she'd smoke a rock (of cocaine),'' said Gisle.
``You'd have to be really close to Brenda, to hang onto her ...You had to be with her when she used. She could run down the street.''
Robertson said he thinks he saw her last sometime in 1997.
Police say the last time anyone saw her on the Downtown Eastside was in February 1999.
Robert Pickton was charged in her death, along with the deaths of 25 others, after he was arrested in 2002.
Gisle, who knew 33 women listed as missing from the Downtown Eastside in the years she was there, said the disappearance of friends like Wolfe pushed her to finally get clean in 1998 and win back custody of her young son.
``I was a death-wish runner,'' she said. ``I got scared straight.''
© 2006 The Canadian Press
Updated: August 21, 2016