Sherry Irving

Family lost her before she ended up on Downtown

By Dirk Meissner
The Canadian Press

The belongings were in boxes. The car was ready to go. The moving van was already on its way to Ontario.

Wayne Irving remembers the agonizing wait in his driveway in Comox on Vancouver Island in 1991, hoping with all his heart his daughter would join the family.

Sherry promised she was coming, but she didn't show up.

That's when Irving says he knew he'd lost her.

``I was in the military. I got transferred. I went to Ontario,'' says Irving, a career systems specialist with the air force.

``That's when I lost contact with my daughter. She was at the age when I couldn't force her to come with me.

``Right up until the day we moved and left here, she was coming to Ontario with us,'' Irving says.

``She just took off. She changed her mind. She didn't want to come. Of course, I had no way of staying back and going looking for her.''

Sherry Leigh Irving was 19 years old when she ditched her family for a life on the streets and a dark descent into the world of drugs, prostitution and death.

In 1996, Sherry was convicted in New Westminster and Burnaby of prostitution-related offences.

She had an outstanding prostitution charge laid in November 1996, but she never appeared in court again and the Crown later threw the case out.

She had disappeared.

Wayne Irving, who has since moved back to Vancouver Island, speaks about his daughter slowly, as if he's measuring every word for tone and description.

``I have to think back,'' he says.

``It's 10 years now since most of this stuff happened. I have to think of the reality of exactly what was happening.''

As a child, Sherry loved camping, church outings and family gatherings.

But as she entered her later teen years, she starting hanging out with rough kids, doing drugs and running away from home for periods of time.

``Again, it's the peer pressure and you've got some kids who are very street-wise and when you have young innocent adolescents who are new to that scene they are very easily led,'' Irving says.

``With the drug scene and everything else, there's adults who thrive off of that.''

He says he and about eight other Comox area families formed a support group to track the whereabouts of their teenage daughters as they wandered the community.

``We could keep pretty good track of them as long as they were local,'' he says. ``When they disappeared is when they moved to the city.''

Sherry had a boyfriend who Wayne describes as a wanderer with a guitar.

``They just want to get in with people, basically,'' says Irving.

``Then you get your peer pressure. Things always look rosy on the other side of the fence.''

Sherry's younger brother, Chris, says his sister was a decent, caring person who struggled with her emotions during her teen years and ended up hanging out with the wrong crowd.

``Generally she was more of a happy person,'' says Chris Irving. ``A sort of a go-getter kind of person. She was into track and field. She had tons of friends. She was very popular. There were ups and downs all the time, but I think it was pretty normal.''

He says he remembers watching TV and hanging out at home with Sherry.

There were camping trips in northern Alberta near Primrose Lake and on Vancouver Island.

The family moved several times, Edmonton, Cold Lake, Comox and London, Ont., as their father was moved by the military.

At one point, Sherry's mother and father divorced.

Her mother, who has since died, moved to Mount Currie, an aboriginal community, near Whistler.

Chris Irving says Sherry would visit Mount Currie, but never stayed for long.

Now an elected band councillor in Mount Currie, Irving originally reported Sherry missing to the tribal police there.

``She was the type of person who would phone her family all the time. She stopped calling all of a sudden,'' he says.

Chris Irving says he doesn't discuss his sister's life often because it's difficult for him.

When Pickton was charged with Sherry's murder, the Comox Valley Record published a story quoting a friend of hers who didn't want her name published.

The friend said Sherry was a fun, outgoing girl with ``a smile that would melt many.''

The woman told the newspaper she nearly fell off her seat when she saw Sherry Irving's picture on television news.

``That mug shot of a tired-looking young woman who had obviously had a hard time completely shocked me because that was friend from long ago. Once vibrant and beautiful. Still beautiful.''

Wayne Irving says he never gave up hope Sherry would reunite with her family. He never gave up hope she would enter drug treatment, maybe even go back to school.

``At the very end, she was into hard drugs,'' he says. ``I was trying to help her out. I made arrangements for her to take treatment. She'd just disappear.''

``I came all the way out from Ontario one time just to get her into rehab,'' he says. ``She'd just disappear on us.''

Irving says his daughter was raised in a tight-knit family unit that had rules, but Sherry had a fierce, independence streak and lived by her own code.''

``She was a very pleasant girl,'' he says. ``She was a very easygoing kind of a child. Very pleasant to be with, to be around, always trying to help. It was just as she got a little bit older she got in with the wrong crowd and things that used to matter to her didn't matter so much. She just wanted to go her own way.''

2006 The Canadian Press

MISSING LIVES - The Canadian Press

Five years ago a pig farm near Vancouver became one of Canada's largest crime scenes
What followed were headlines about the massive forensic investigation and 26 murder charges against Robert William Pickton.
Far from the headlines have been the stories of the dead women. Twenty-six women who lived on and disappeared from the streets of Canada's most dismal inner-city neighbourhood Vancouver's bleak Downtown Eastside. Twenty-six missing lives.

In the five years since the Pickton pig farm made national headlines, the memories of the women have faded even further from the public spotlight. When mentioned, they are usually referred to only as "drug addicts" or "street prostitutes." They are often only numbers 26 victims, their names seldom used in news reports. All of the stories behind the names have never been told. Until now.

The Canadian Press, Canada's independent news agency, felt those stories needed to be told. Six reporters from across the country spent hundreds of hours researching details not previously reported. The result is Missing Lives: profiles on each of the 26 women.

Missing Lives reveals the 26 women as daughters, sisters, mothers: troubled souls whose lives touched others in lasting ways.



Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016