January 27, 2020
Brenda was born in Winnipeg in 1942. She grew up in Winnipeg’s North End, which she described as an area so well known for labour and social justice activism that it seemed to be in the very air you breathed. Her mother was an active part of this community.
It was while attending United College at the University of Manitoba that she first became socially active opposing the US War in Vietnam. She took teacher training in Toronto but instead decided to work for the Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers), and became involved with conscientious objectors, draft dodgers, medical aid for Vietnam and peace education for young Quakers.
In the late 60’s Brenda first came to BC. Teaching at a Quaker high school in Argenta in the Kootenays, she lived in the woods and enjoyed some wonderful friendships. Later, after a year spent hitchhiking, she returned to Ontario, earned her MA in English and became assistant to the Director of the Royal Ontario Museum. She became involved in some of the first requests for repatriation of First Nations materials to the people at Alert Bay and Quadra Island.
Returning to British Columbia in the 80’s, she became a museum consultant, continuing to work on issues of repatriation and museum management. She moved to Vancouver’s West End about 1985 and shortly began work with the Vancouver International Writer’s Festival. About that time she also became active at Christ Church Cathedral and later at St Mary’s Anglican in Kerrisdale.
Brenda had a large intellectual capacity and deep sensitivities. She cared intensely about injustice and, as she wrote, particularly the impact of colonialism. One of my most poignant stories from her transition into Alzheimer’s was her reading. She was a voracious reader as many of you know. Even when she was first in long term care, we still brought her copies of the Economist or whatever paper/book or magazine we thought she might like. One day I arrived to find her angry that someone had left her a cooking magazine. She had no interest in that and told me she really only wanted to read about what was happening to refugees and residential school survivors. So, we had to be very selective in our search for reading material. My later sadness was when she still liked to “read’ but the last time I saw her she was looking at a torn out page of a colorful ad upside down. It was a very poignant moment in the difficult descent for her and for all of us.
At the Canadian Friends Service Committee, Brenda worked with Murray Thomson, a recognized international expert on disarmament and arms control and a wonderful man committed to peace education his whole life. Brenda explored Quakerism as deeply as I understand she has done with Bible Study and reflection in the Anglican Church. She was attracted by strong communities which have a depth of wisdom and humble leadership.
On reflection, I’m not surprised that Brenda was truly ecumenical in her search for meaning and justice. She was committed to the deepest sense of brotherhood and humanity. She was drawn to communities of integrity with a spiritual base and a commitment to justice. I am glad she found such a place here in this community.
Brenda studied Pilates at the Dianne Miller Pilates Studio in the early ‘90s, where I worked. She had chronic pain and her body put up plenty of resistance to the exercises. Brenda didn’t suffer fools and was gruff. I liked this about her. Around then I choreographed a movie (John Greyson’s Zero Patience) and bought Pilates equipment with the money I made and set up at home. I guess she found the Pilates beneficial, because Brenda arranged a barter with me and became a student, regularly driving the long way to our place.
She had a superb sense of humour. She turned up with that broad grin she had when we arrived home from Vietnam as freshly minted adoptive parents of an infant and gave Tien a silver spoon. There followed years with Stanley Park playtimes on the fire engine at 3rd Beach with Tien, pho lunches on Denman, Writer's Festival conversations, book-swapping in her West End apartment. She had a painting that she shared with several friends, which moved from one home to the next every so often. She spoke often and with pleasure of her goddaughter.
Later she began struggling to keep time straight – mortification to a punctual woman. The last time we went out together, we stopped to get flowers for the choreographer en route to a dance concert. A neighborhood store offloaded their day-old blooms on street people Brenda knew, and they passed the hat in exchange for bouquets on the sidewalk outside the store. She said they needed more money than I gave them. She indignantly refused to go to the concert and made me take her straight home.
Diocesan communications seldom shares obituaries of lay members of the diocese who have not been invested into The Order of the Diocese of New Westminster, however there are exceptions, and Brenda Berck was exceptional.
Insightful (and occasionally inciting), with sparkling intelligence, a superb writer, a zealous grammarian and a committed, progressive member of the Anglican Church with a huge heart for social justice.
Not included in her many accomplishments listed in her obituary is the fact that Brenda was also an important member of the diocesan communications team as a reporter, columnist and proof-reader for Topic from the 1990s through to 2016. As a contractor she did excellent work, receiving honoraria that was a fraction of her market value, but gladly done as part of her service to the Church.
As editor of Topic I began to notice that she was having increasing difficulty negotiating the "proof" pages of Topic and I realized that she was failing.
We never officially parted ways or called an end to her involvement, it just happend organically. She knew and I knew.
One of our last times together was on her 74th birthday when we went to Lucky's Donuts. I'd sung the praises of the East Vancouver gourmet donut shop and Brenda was keen to try it out. I did see her again but that last real visit together is etched on my mind, it is one of those times in my life that I will always remember. And...she loved the donuts.
In a social media comment that appeared following the initial posting of this article, former Anglican Archivist for the Diocese of New Westminster/Ecclesiastical Province of BC/Yukon, Melanie Delva, had this to say about Brenda:
"She (Brenda) was also a keen, insightful and enthusiastic user and supporter of the Archives, and we spent many hours in the archives together. Rest in Peace...though I cannot imagine her sitting serenely on the sidelines of anything - even the world to come!"
The Globe and Mail
January 11-15, 2020
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Brenda Berck, in Vancouver, BC on Saturday, December 28, 2019. Eldest daughter of Ben and Jessie Berck of Winnipeg, she was sister of Dorothy (Roy) and Phyllis (Bruce), aunt to Jonathan, Stephan (Leanne) and Josh (Tiff), and friend, colleague and mentor to many. She is fondly remembered by her goddaughter Molly Wilson and her sister Jocelyn.
After receiving her B.A. from the University of Manitoba, Brenda hitchhiked around the world then returned to McMaster University to obtain an M. A. in English. In Toronto she worked for the Canadian Friends Service Committee and became involved in the cultural life of Toronto working at the Royal Ontario Museum. In British Columbia she taught at the Quaker Friends School in Argenta. Later, she worked as a consultant for museums throughout B. C. and the Yukon where she focused on repatriation of First Nations material culture. In 1991, having learned French, she worked with the Vancouver International Writers Festival programming their French program.
Brenda was a formidable reader with strong intellect and drive. So it was a great loss when she developed Alzheimer's and lost her ability to read and to express her thoughts. She received excellent care at Little Mountain Place. Her family will always be indebted to Brenda's circle of friends, including Nancy Hannum, Maureen Burke and Diana McHardy Schmidt who looked after Brenda throughout her illness and advocated for her needs.
A memorial celebrating Brenda's life will be held at St Mary's (Kerrisdale) Anglican Church, 2490 West 37th Vancouver on Monday, January 27th at 2pm
Brenda's charitable preferences include The Vancouver Writer's Festival, Doctors without Borders and Amnesty International.