By Judith Castle

Sheila Martindale and I are lunching at a local James Bay restaurant. We clink glasses, a toast to the bride. We’re still celebrating her May 7th wedding to handsome groom, Ted Lavallee. Long, happy life together!

But let’s go back.

Originally from the UK, Sheila settled near Montreal (Lake of Two Mountains) in 1966, during Quebec’s tumultuous years. Twelve years later she moved with her four children to London, Ontario. There, her literary career blossomed. She became well-known as an arts columnist, editor, poet, teacher, jurist and broadcaster.

In 2009 Sheila moved to Victoria. “I fell in love with Victoria in 1995 when I came as a speaker to a writers’ conference. When I finally moved here to live, I felt as though it had been waiting for me all my life.” Here, she found herself several provinces and many thousands of kilometers away from friends and the familiar life she had created. True to her intrepid spirit, however, she made an inventory of what activities interested her, and began working to rebuild her life. “Sitting in my apartment waiting for people was not an option!”

Indeed. This from the bright, talented woman, who had published nine volumes of poetry, taught continuing education courses at Western University and poured invaluable volunteer energy into her London community.

Since coming to live here, Sheila has become an indispensable volunteer to many organizations in Victoria. These are her main commitments:

James Bay New Horizons,

At the James Bay New Horizons Writing Group, which meets on Wednesday afternoons, Sheila helps emerging writers edit and shape their work for publication. In the past few years, she has helped several group members—Peter Morris, Judith Castle, Giselle Loeper, and most recently, Dr. John Lennox—publish books of memoirs, poetry and short stories. Also on her editorial agenda at New Horizons is the quarterly production of “The Spirit,” a small newsmagazine for and about members. On Thursday afternoons, you’ll find Sheila volunteering at the reception desk—the first person to greet you with a smile and welcome as you enter the building.

Victoria Writers’ Society

Sheila joined the Executive of the Victoria Writers’ Society in 2011 and later became poetry editor for Island Writer, the bi-annual magazine. Now she is editor-in-chief, and mobilizes genre editors and copy editors for the magazine’s production. Once a month the Executive meets at her home and over a glass of wine, they discuss the Society’s business.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

True to her love of music, Sheila subscribed to, and signed up as a volunteer for the Victoria Symphony Orchestra when she arrived here. On concert nights you’ll meet her selling fundraising merchandise (often, boxes of chocolates) and raffle tickets. She also helps out in the

Symphony office where, in 2014, she dug into the archives to unearth material for use during the 2015-2016 season, the Symphony’s 75th anniversary year. But wait—if that weren’t enough—you can find her at the Inner Harbour during the Symphony’s annual August Splash! where she puts in twelve-hour days!

Christ Church Cathedral

A staunch Anglican, Sheila attended services at Christ Church Cathedral on the first Sunday after her move to Victoria. 

 “The first Sunday after I moved here, I walked to the Cathedral, figuring this would be my new parish church. At the entrance on Quadra Street, I was met by a big man with a huge smile, who helped me up the steps and into the building, handed me a bulletin and wished me a good day. Even if I had not been intending to join the Cathedral, I probably would have done so because of Chris Coleman’s greeting!” As it turned out, Councillor Coleman was also the City Liaison with James Bay New Horizons.

Sheila’s duties at the Cathedral include an afternoon per week greeting visitors who would like to tour the historic building. On occasion, depending on the visitor’s needs, she might discuss theology, or find herself praying with someone who requests it. Sometimes she is asked to give advice on how to access social services or give travel directions or recommend good places to dine in Victoria!

Also at the Cathedral, Sheila schedules two coffee-hour volunteers for 52 Sundays a year and organizes refreshments, lunch or tea for a myriad of other events. Her most recent endeavour was to coordinate a dinner for the original residents of the tent city, across the road from the Church. Of this event, she comments: “It was a miracle of loaves and fishes.”

The Cathedral group Knitting Into The Mystery which Sheila leads, is also a special ministry. Members of the group knit shawls of yarn and prayer. These spirit-filled gifts are in turn donated as a comfort to those in need, or in hospital. This group descends from an ancient tradition of creativity and divine presence—meditation through craft—which has been passed down to women of many Christian denominations. On occasion Sheila arranges a visit with a similar group of women-knitters from a Port Angeles church.

Sheila Martindale’s considerable talents and commitment to volunteer work in Victoria might sound daunting. Where does she find the time? How does she accomplish so much?

Good questions.

To know Sheila is also to know that this tall, elegant, busy woman never appears to be rushed, impatient or hurried. She carries herself with a remarkable grace that inspires, calms and soothes. Like other visionaries who try to mend our sometimes broken world, she believes that her life has purpose. She walks an active spiritual path. Cherishing her time as gift, she gives all she can to others. This is what makes her the volunteer extraordinaire— Sheila Martindale—Victoria’s treasure.