Arts and human-rights advocate Frances Wasserlein dies

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      Frances Jane Wasserlein, for many years a prominent Vancouver women’s and LGBTQ rights activist and arts administrator, passed away in the early morning hours of Sunday (August 23) at her home at the Sunshine Coast’s Halfmoon Bay. She was 69.

      Frances was born in San Francisco and moved to Vancouver with her family as a child, completing her grade school education at Little Flower Academy.

      Frances was well known in the late 90s and early 2000s through her work as the executive producer of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, coming to that role after turns as box office manager of the Vancouver International Writers Festival and bookkeeper for The Vancouver East Cultural Centre.

      Previously she had made a name for herself in social activism, beginning with her work helping organize the 1970 Abortion Caravan from Vancouver to Ottawa.

      In 1977 Frances left a secretarial job at UBC and began full time undergraduate studies at that university, completing a BA (honors) in history in 1980.

      During the summer of 1979 Frances worked as a researcher for the Women's Office at UBC on a project related to the early contributions of women to the establishment of UBC and the role women played in student activism at the university.

      That same year Frances was one of the small group of women who founded Battered Women's Support Services, providing self-help groups for women who were seeking an end to the violence that had driven them and their children from their homes. She went on to co-found Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW/Rape Relief) in 1982.

      After receiving her BA from UBC, Wasserlein worked for the YMCA as a co-manager of Munro House for eighteen months. Following that, she worked as a researcher and writer with the Women's Research Centre, working on studies related to the institutionalization of women's services. She supplemented her income by doing bookkeeping for various arts and non-profit organizations, which led to her later career as an arts administrator.

      In 1983, in the troubled times that many expected to culminate in a provincewide general strike, Frances was an organizer with Women Against the Budget. It was part of the larger Operation Solidarity movement opposed to the legislation tabled by the Social Credit government following their victory in the 1983 provincial election, a movement which saw 60,000 people marched through the Vancouver streets to surround a downtown hotel where the Social Credit Party was holding its annual convention.

      In 1985 Frances enrolled in a Master of Arts degree program in history at Simon Fraser University, and upon completing her degree taught women's and lesbian studies at both SFU and Langara College.

      In 1990s Frances was a member of the B.C. Arts Board, the advisory group that became today’s B.C. Arts Council, on which she also served from its inauguration in 1996 through to 2002.

      She was also involved in the initiative that saw the creation of Vancouver’s Montreal Massacre Memorial.

      In 2003, eight days after the legalizations of same-sex marriage, Frances wed Marguerite Kotwitz in a ceremony in a grove at Jericho Beach Park, in the midst the bustle of that year’s Folk Music Festival, along with two other lesbian couples.

      Frances and Marguerite relocated to the Sunshine Coast’s Half Moon Bay in 2004, where they operated a guest cottage until last year. Frances was executive director of the Sunshine Coast Community Arts Council from 2008 to 2013, served as a Trustee of the Sechelt Public Library, and taught cultural event management at Capilano College.

      Through her decades as a social activist, arts community leader, and educator, Frances Wasserlein was a champion, mentor and inspiration for two generations of LGBTQ and cultural community leaders in Vancouver and beyond. Her warmth, calm amid chaos, and sharp wit will be deeply missed.

      Kevin Dale McKeown is director of community engagement with the B.C. Alliance for Arts + Culture.



      Hadani Ditmars

      Aug 26, 2015 at 1:46pm

      Sad to hear of her passing. Will there be public memorial to honour her life and work?

      Dale Jack

      Aug 26, 2015 at 2:24pm

      Very sorry to hear. My condolences to all her friends.

      Julie LeBLond Parker

      Aug 26, 2015 at 3:34pm

      France's was always a force to be heard. Even from her early years at Little Flower Academy, she made sure we were all politcally conscious, especially about our own rights as women. Her contributions and generosity of time were terrific and she will be remembered by many.

      Veronica Strong-Boag

      Aug 26, 2015 at 3:40pm

      Frances was a shining star.

      Kay Arnold

      Aug 26, 2015 at 5:29pm

      I am proud to have been able to call her sister-in-law, she and my sister had a wonderful and rewarding life.

      Toni Serofin

      Aug 26, 2015 at 5:39pm

      A lovely tribute, Kevin. Frances was a great support and mentor to me and other folk fest volunteers during her years with the festival. I truly appreciated her calm strength.

      Kristina Baerg

      Aug 26, 2015 at 8:56pm

      What Toni said :) Frances' life and legacy are truly exceptional and Vancouver is a better place for all of the work she did, and the many, many organizations and lives she inspired.

      jude hartman

      Aug 26, 2015 at 9:43pm

      I knew Frances through her tireless efforts in the Vancouver Folk Festival and her leadership and activism in women's rights. In recent years, we, along with the other older gals there, had many lovely chats in the change room at the Sechelt Aquatic Centre. I appreciate her many contributions in making our world a little better. I offer my sincere condolences to her family.


      Aug 27, 2015 at 11:59am

      Frances was always a driving force. I was privileged to able to work with her at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and always respected her dedication.

      Colleen Carpenter

      Aug 27, 2015 at 1:26pm

      A true gift to humanity