Dorothy Beach has had a connection to the environment since her earliest days in New Westminster.
Beach, 99, has lived most of her life in the family home that overlooks the Mighty Fraser.
"I was born in that room that I sleep in now. That is not being stuck - it is giving you more security than you could ever believe," she smiles. "That's where I got my real start."
While growing up on River Drive, it was a "wild place" with bushes and greenery all around. Beach's father had a boathouse nearby on the banks of the Fraser River.
"I can remember walking across the sandy stretch," she says. "It has all been disturbed."
An interurban station was also located near the river by what is now 20th Street.
"They used to have a tramway from Westminster to Marpole, every two hours. Really big stuff," she laughs. "They had a lovely waiting room, covered comfortable benches to sit on, protected from the wind. It was down by the river."
As a child, the area's streams offered endless fun for local children. The woods of those days have been developed and the creeks have long since been covered.
"We used to make little boats and let them zoom down the creek," Beach recalls.
Beach, the oldest of six kids in her family, will celebrate her 100th birthday in May. Back then, baseball and badminton offered hours of enjoyment for the neighbourhood kids at the Smith property.
"What we did have was a bunch of nice kids. We had five lots so the ball game happened at our house. As long as you shot the other way from the windows in the house, we could play the game.
That was pretty much a constant," she says. "We had a lot of fun."
Beach's father owned five lots on River Drive and Sixth Avenue.
"His garage was up there with a big brass lock on it because it was all by itself on Sixth Avenue," she recalled. "Eventually that was all wiped out."
Before moving West from Ontario, Beach's father had worked for Eaton's. He put those skills to work in New Westminster, where he bought the T.H. Smith dry goods store on Columbia Street from a relative and operated it until 1929.
"He walked away from it," she notes. "It was hard after the war - they would buy and they'd make one payment and then they didn't. He got fed up and just walked away. He moved out to the farm."
The family moved to Sumas Prairie, where they lived for a time - allowing her father to live out a long held dream of having a farm.
"My father bought his first 20 acres. He worked with UBC and planted everything. Every two acres had something different," Beach says. "It was just lovely."
Those crops included horseradish (which he sold) and tulips (among the first imported from Holland.)
"My brother and I came one time to Westminster with lots of tulips," Beach remembers. "They were beautiful."
Sadly, the farming experiment ended when the property was flooded in January 1935.
"All his experiments with UBC were all drowned. You can't be under water two months and live through it," Beach says. "It was quite shattering."
Beach and her family were able to live on the home's upper level until the waters receded on the farm.
"The only people who weren't flooded out was us because he had built on an underwater ridge that was high," she explains. "We had water in the basement, but we were there marooned."
Beach's brother had found temporary employment at Shelley's Bakery in New Westminster during the flood.
"He would bring us supplies on a boat," she recalls. "He got a boat and brought us supplies."
Before too long, Beach found her way back to New Westminster, where she married husband Russell in 1938.
"I know that I took my time deciding because I had more than one determined man," she laughs.
Beach had first met her would-be husband many years earlier. Family legend indicates she was only two years old (and he was three weeks her senior) when she put her arms around him - and he screamed for his mother.
"They lived in a beautiful house on Royal Avenue, two lots, a big house.
They had something I had never seen anywhere else - a big sunroom, with a Chinese urn, a palm tree and a real fountain. It was a beautiful place," she said.
"Russell and I were later married in that sunroom."
Russell was born in the office of one of his father's mills in Queensborough, shortly after his family had moved to New Westminster from Seattle. His father later bought the Brunette Lumber Company in Sapperton, one of many mills that were destroyed by fire.
"Westminster on the river had mills one after the other," Beach recalled. "They were busy, busy cutting up trees, beautiful trees."
The newlyweds rented Beach's family home while they searched for a home of their own.
"The more we looked, the more we realized let's just buy this one," she says. "They were easy on us. We paid by the month. I am still there."
It was in the house overlooking the Mighty Fraser that the couple raised their five children - one boy and four girls.
"We tried to get him a buddy but they turned out to be girls," Beach said. "Tragically we lost my youngest daughter in 1976, 20 years old, just about to happen."
Surrounded by nature, it was no surprise that Beach developed a love of the environment. Despite a fondness for the river and trees, it was pesticides that led to her environmental activism.
"I was at agriculture school at UBC. I got poisoned with experimental pesticides and ended up at the Royal Columbian.
They never figured out what was wrong with me, but Dorothy did," recalls son David. "She became a pesticide expert for the next 30 years."
Beach said it didn't take long to figure out what made her son sick.
"That's really something to stop," she says about the incident. "You go to university for an education and you get poisoned."
Beach's list of environmental endeavours includes serving as the director of the Fraser River Coalition and chairing the National Council of Women at the UN Habitat Conference in 1976.
"My big year was the year the world had a conference on the environment and I represented the International Council of Women," she says.
"Lots of wonderful things happened then."
In the mid 1990s, Beach joined residents in opposing Agriculture Canada's plan to spray Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki on 20 acres in Sapperton to kill gypsy moths.
The plan, developed by Agriculture Canada after 13 gypsy moths were caught in traps in New Westminster in 1995, was later abandoned after the Environmental Appeal Board announced it was cancelling the spray program.
"You spray for a little moth but you kill all the bees, the flies - and it's not good for you either," Beach says. "It made sense for them to stop when we asked them to stop. I made friends at that time that have remained still friends."
Agriculture Canada officials stated the Btk was harmless to humans, but acknowledged that it had effects on "non-target species" such as other moths, butterflies and insects.
The appeal board stated that the air spray was unlikely to achieve its goal of eradication of the gypsy moth.
Ultimately, Agriculture Canada installed traps in the area to capture the moths.
Beach, a regular attendee of Fraser River Coalition meetings, has received the Life Achievement Award from the B.C. Provincial Council of Women, the Burns Bog Spirit of the Cranes award and other honours for her environmental efforts.
She was recently awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal and was included in a book about women who have made significant contributions to New Westminster.
"We take it for granted," she says about the Fraser River. "It's always been there. I did a lot of environmental work because of what was happening to it. There's a lot more to do."
Beach attributes her longevity to living a "quiet life" near the river, and eating the "perfect food" provided by her son, and good genes.
"Two of my mother's sisters lived to 106," she notes. "I secretly plan to retire then."