VanCity prize for novel about sister who disappears amid attacks on sex workers

September 10, 2004

VANCOUVER (CP) - Author Maggie de Vries's book about the disappearance of her younger sister as a serial predator attacked Vancouver sex trade workers has won this year's VanCity Book Prize. The award recognizes the best B.C. book related to women's issues.

De Vries received $4,000 for her memoir Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Woman Remembers Her Vanished Sister (Penguin).

The book is about her search for Sarah de Vries, last seen in Vancouver's downtown eastside in 1988. Evidence of her DNA has since surfaced on the Port Coquitlam, B.C., property of accused murderer Robert Pickton.

De Vries will donate $1,000 of her prize money to the group Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education, contest officials said Friday in a release.

VanCity is Canada's largest credit union.

This summer, Missing Sarah also received the first George Ryga Award for social awareness in B.C. literature.

On the web:

The Canadian Press, 2004


Maggie de Vries's 28-year-old younger sister Sarah vanished from the corner of Princess and Hastings on April 14, 1998 in Vancouver. On August 6, 2002, Vancouver police met with de Vries and gave her the news that a sample of Sarah's DNA (from a tooth) was found by police on the Port Coquitlam property of Robert Pickton, the accused serial killer of Vancouver prostitutes. After hope was replaced by grim certainty, de Vries kept searching for the answers as to how and why her sister had disappeared, leading to Missing Sarah (Penguin 2003), a heart-rending memoir that won the first annual George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in B.C. Literature in 2004 as well as the 13th annual VanCity Book Prize for best book pertaining to women's issues by a B.C. author.

Maggie de Vries and her adopted sister Sarah were raised by a UBC professor and one of the head nurses at Vancouver General Hospital. Her sister Sarah was black, one of four siblings who grew up in a privileged West Point Grey home that became divided by divorce. In 1991, de Vries' mother received a telephone call from a hospital saying that Maggie de Vries' 21-year-old daughter, Sarah, a prostitute in Vancouver Downtown Eastside, was in labour. Sarah went back to her world of drugs and prostitution almost immediately, leaving the child's grandmother to take legal control of the child and oversee the infant's withdrawal process due to Sarah's addictions to heroine and cocaine. The father was last seen sleeping on benches. Raped in 1996, Sarah gave birth to another child but intitially wouldn't look at it for fear it would look like the rapist. The blood of the premature infant Ben contained strains of HIV and hepatitis C, but fortunately the child was afflicted only with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Both children are being raised in Ontario by Sarah's mother and Sarah's aunt, Jean Little, the famous children's book author. Missing Sarah incorporates excerpts from Sarah's journals and recollections of people who knew Sarah during her 14 years downtown. It provides, according to publicity material, "a portrait of a bright, funny and sensitive woman who found herself trapped in a downward spiral of self-loathing, prostitution, drugs and violence."

Holding an MA in English Literature, Maggie de Vries has taught children's literature at the University of Guelph and UBC. She has taught ‘Writing for Young Readers' at Langara College and has written the children's books Once Upon a Golden Apple (Penguin, 1991), Chance and the Butterfly (Orca, 2001) and How Sleep Found Tabitha (Orca, 2002). She has worked with Orca Books as an editor and has coordinated a writers' group with Vancouver prostitutes.


Chance and the Butterfly
How Sleep Found Tabitha, illustrated by Sheena Lott
Once Upon a Golden Apple, illustrated by Phoebe Gillman, co-authored with Jean Little
Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Woman Remembers Her Vanished Sister (Penguin, 2003) 0-14-301371-8

An Interview with Maggie de Vries

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



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Updated: August 21, 2016