An Interview with Maggie de Vries

Missing Sarah, which incorporates excerpts from Sarah’s journals, is Maggie de Vries's story of her search for her sister who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. In 1978, women—most of them sex workers and drug addicts—began to vanish and their collective fate was all but ignored by the authorities. These women had families. They were loved, they had friends. Sarah was Maggie de Vries's sister and, from the moment Sarah disappeared, Maggie never stopped looking for her. Penguin Online interviewed Maggie to learn more about her as a writer.

Some time after Sarah disappeared, Wayne, her friend, gave me the stack of journals that she had left in his apartment. I had read parts of them before as Sarah was always very open with them, but they were painful to read and I tended to skim. Even after she was gone, I only read them in fits and starts. But I knew that she had written a great deal about her life and that much of her writing was powerful. She had something to say that I didn't think many people had heard before. I began to think about what I could do, how I could bring those journals to a wider audience.

At the same time, as I tried to find out what had happened to my sister, I found myself learning more and more about her world and growing more and more frustrated with attitudes that I encountered from the Vancouver Police Department and from society as a whole. My own way of looking at sex work and drug addiction was challenged over and over again. With others, I was fighting to get the police to do more and I was working on planning a memorial for all the missing women. I learned a great deal and changed in important ways in the months between September 1998 and June 1999. I began to think that I had something to say as well. I wondered if I could write a piece that wove together parts of Sarah's journals and my own responses to them.

But by June 1999 I was exhausted. I was tired of talking to the media. I was tired of focusing on my sister's death in a public way. I wanted to retreat into my own life and grieve my sister's death. In the next three years I took time for myself. I worked through Julia Cameron's Artist's Way. I wrote a children's novel and two picture books. I became children's book editor at Orca Books, a children's book publisher in Victoria. A year and a half later, in February of 2002, the search on the Pickton property in Port Coquitlam began and I was thrust back into considering what had happened to my sister and back into the public world of the investigation, the case against Robert Pickton, and media response. Family members of other missing women and I became reacquainted.

And the idea of writing a book resurfaced. I had had a rest. I was ready. When I started writing, I knew that Sarah had something to say that was worth sharing. I knew that people could learn from her, that reading about her life and reading her own words could humanize her for people and, through her, humanize all the women who are missing and all women who engage in sex work for whatever reasons. I had no idea, though, how much I was going to learn in the process. I found a collection of letters that Sarah wrote to me as a child. Women who knew her during her fourteen years downtown appeared in my life over and over again as I was writing, eager to share their stories. Then, at the very end of my last major rewrite, I came into possession of an audio tape of Sarah giving an interview. The tape was seventeen years old. On it, my seventeen-year-old sister answers many of the questions that I had been collecting for months.

The book is not what I expected. It is much more Sarah's story than I thought would ever be possible. When I read aloud from it, especially when I read Sarah's own words, I feel her at my shoulder.

A teacher, editor, and spokesperson for the missing women's families, Maggie lives in Vancouver and continues the search for answers.

Courtesy of

Missing Sarah, A Vancouver women remembers her vanished sister-2003



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Updated: August 21, 2016