Valley Lives - Jane Sless

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 11, 2007 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Community bids 'farewell to Wakefield's 'free spirit'

by Nadine Doolittle

She had what Liette Robert, the general manager of the Low Down would call a "strong character."

Jane Sless died in the Gatineau Memorial Hospital on April 2 at the age of 53 of brain cancer. She was many things to many people, active in her community as a volunteer librarian at the Wakefield Library, and a member of the Wakefield Players, but to me she was my first lesson in acceptance of self.

Valley Lives
Jane Sless showed off some free spirited dance moves at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield. File photo.

I met Jane in 1995. She was living in Rupert at the time, organizing music festivals with her then-partner, Sonny Nesbitt, and I had just moved to Rupert from Toronto. Torontonians, for the record, aren't accustomed to characters, strong or otherwise. There was that silver mane of hair and the fact that I could only understand every third word she said due to a thick Scottish accent. A bond seemed unlikely. Until I saw her dancing.

Jane danced like no one was watching. She danced to please herself, not anyone else. She was definitely a character of the finest kind. I could see with this woman you either surrendered and joined in, or you got out of her way. I surrendered.

Over the next 12 years I grew to know Jane off the dance floor, to understand her authenticity and her contradictions. She was a diminutive woman with gray hair who never stopped being a young girl. She was a free spirit on the dance floor who wore brooches and funny flowered hats on her walks. A compassionate soul who would nevertheless tell you, quite bluntly, you were being boring when you were. She embraced and she provoked.

Towards the end of her illness, we were hanging around the library after Jane had lit the menorah to mark the beginning of Hanukkah, and I asked her how it was going. In typical Jane fashion, she replied, "Oh, it's quite common, you know. It's nothing out of the ordinary." It took me a full five minutes to figure out she was talking about death and not Hanukkah. Then she asked me how I was and I told her about the book I was writing.

Jane paused, her mouth puckered. "You've been working on that book for an awfully long time, haven't you?"

"Yes, Jane. I have. Thank you." Hilarious.

And she burst out laughing, a noise which always sounded like she was trying to suck back it in again, and said, "We can do this to each other. We understand each other, don't we?"

Yes we do, Jane. We understand.

"Jane was not a shallow person," said Rev. Gisele Gilfillan at the funeral service attended by the Wakefield community who were Jane's adopted family. "What you saw was Jane through and through."

Words that eloquently sum up the gift Jane gave to her community, to anyone who knew her - Jane gave herself.

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