Jane Rule will be remembered internationally as a great author and activist but in her home community on British Columbia’s Galiano Island she was the nice lady who shared her home and heart with everyone.
“I think there’s going to be a big gap in the community,” says Willow Jewell, who works at Galiano Books. “She was the grand matriarch of Galiano. She’s always just been an absolute fixture, part of what made Galiano Galiano.”
Rule’s partner Helen Sonthoff died in 2000. The pair had a special love for the children of the island, many of whom learned to swim in their backyard pool. In a March interview with Xtra West, Rule told me that teaching kids to swim was her first and last job.
Ayla Sebelius, who was born and raised on Galiano and works at Galiano Market, recalls summers in Rule’s pool among the highlights of her childhood.
“She’d supervise us while we swam,” says Sebelius. “She would always watch us for blue lips and make us get out of the pool. She’d wrap us up in bubble-blankets and warm us up in the sun and then get us back in again.”
To Deblekha Guin’s three-year-old daughter Emma, Rule was the lady with the great pop-up book collection.
“Jane touched the lives of so many kids on the island,” says Guin. “Emma gave her a little twig and Jane kept it right beside her Order of Canada medal. The official recognition she got from the adult world and little Ella’s gift were equal symbols in her mind.”
Rule was also generous with adults, providing loans to friends and neighbours so they could buy homes or businesses. Guin says Rule helped her secure a home when she was a young mother working a minimum wage job.
Guin met Rule while working at the Gulf Islands Film and Television School and in need of funding for a program to allow marginalized and queer youth to produce their own films. Rule got right on board.
“This was in 1997 before people were allowing queer kids to make videos,” recalls Guin, who says she was “super nervous” asking Rule for money. “Then we sort of gradually became friends.”
Angela Mohan, Rule’s friend and homecare provider, also benefited from Rule’s generosity.
“She was like my mother and dad all wrapped into one, better than either because she gave me support,” says Mohan. “She totally accepted me for who I am, loved me and showed me the best way to live my life.”
Although not one to watch much mainstream television, Rule’s niece Allison, introduced her aunt to The L-Word during the last few months.
“Jane loved that show,” says Lawrence Waterfall, one of Rule’s neighbours. “Ally taped them for her and Jane would lend them to other people on the island. She was not only the bank of Galiano Island but also the video store.”
Rule had a special affinity for Mia Kirshner’s character Jenny. “Sometimes Jane was annoyed by her antics,” says Waterfall. “She’d watch Jenny and say, ‘That’s not the way it is!’”
“It’s so unlike Jane to get so into a popular television series,” says Waterfall’s partner Janusz Kowalski. “I think the show reminded her of the old days. It was so much like her own house with the parties, open houses and people always coming and going.”
One person who frequently visited Jane’s house was Reina Black, her next-door neighbour of 30 years. When asked for her thoughts on Jane, Black smiles as she describes Rule as “a light through the woods.”
“But it’s much deeper than that,” adds Black. “My daughter died when she was 19. Jane had a huge part in making her life so wonderful. Her life was already wonderful but Jane and Helen played a huge part in making it 10 times more wonderful.”
In her final months Rule was cared for by her sister Libby, her niece Allison and Allison’s wife, also named Allison.
Mohan was also at Rule’s side in her last hours.
“One of the last things she said to me was, ‘Thank you for guiding me through this difficult time,’” she says. “That meant a lot because it was very hard for her to speak at that point.”
Although Rule did not believe in an afterlife Mohan says she’s confident she has gone to a better place.
“I’ve dealt with death a lot and I’m confident that she’ll be back with Helen again,” says Mohan. “Jane was skeptical but at the end she was a little confident that she would be reunited with her soul mate.”