Before the crowds arrived at the North Delta Social Heart Plaza on Remembrance Day, dozens gathered at the site to honour the woman without whom it may never have come to be.
Family and friends of Margaret Nielsen came together to remember the tireless volunteer as Mayor Lois Jackson, Delta North MLA Scott Hamilton and Nielsen’s husband Jack unveiled a bench commemorating her more than 60 years of volunteerism.
“Margaret was the consummate volunteer,” Mayor Jackson told attendees. “She was a shining example of a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and always put family and service before self.”
Nielsen (pictured), who passed away last December at the age of 87, spent most of her adult life in Delta, splitting her time between her two biggest passions: her family and her community.
The ceremony was an emotional one for Nielsen’s granddaughter Rebecca Khan.
“It’s so silly, it’s a bench, but for me it’s a really important thing just because it is that bit of recognition that she never craved,” Khan told the Reporter, fighting back tears. “She never asked for accolades, but for the Corporation [of Delta] and MLA [Scott Hamilton] to just come through and be like, ‘your grandma was really important,’ it just means a lot.
“My grandparents mostly raised me. My family circumstance was such that my grandparents were a huge influence on me, so that’s why it’s so emotional for me,” Khan said. “My grandparents mean a lot more to me than just grandparents.”
Nielsen’s kindness and generosity weren’t just reserved for family. Khan remembered two occasions she said typify her grandmother’s big heart and concern for others.
“She was on the city bus one time and she saw a lady who was definitely down on her luck. She literally took a gold ring off of her finger and handed it to that lady and told her, ‘Go pawn this and buy groceries for your kids.’
“[Another time] we were sitting in McDonald’s downtown, the one by Science World where a lot of homeless people hang out, and she wouldn’t eat her meal that day. She left it on her tray and she said, ‘This is for that man…I don’t want him to have to go take his food from the garbage.’
“That’s the kind of woman she was. It was not for the recognition, it was because she saw people’s need and she had a heart for people. That’s why she did it.”
Over the years, Nielsen sat on a number of municipal committees including the transportation committee, Delta seniors community planning team, advisory committee for youth and seniors and several other subcommittees representing seniors for Delta parks, recreation and culture, including the one that conceived of and created the Social Heart Plaza and its memorial wall.
Close up of the plaque on Margaret’s bench. Photo credit: James Smith
“She was the inspiration behind this little civic plaza. She wanted a place where the veterans in North Delta and their families could come and remember. She envisioned this and worked very hard with Delta to make it happen, so it was only appropriate that we acknowledge her years of service,” Hamilton told the Reporter.
“It truly is a great opportunity to acknowledge a lady whose contributions will go on and be remembered and be used. I mean, look at this plaza, it’s great. Kids come here to play all the time, you see the water park, and it’s nice to have a little spot where you can reflect and remember all the efforts that she put into the community.”
Nielsen was also a regular at North Delta’s Kennedy Seniors Recreation Centre and serving on the Kennedy House Seniors Society board since 1992.
“I first met her through my association with Kennedy Seniors [Recreation Centre], of which my own mother is a member, and she was always the going concern,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think I ever walked into that place without her being there. She was always there, she was always volunteering in one capacity or another.”
Nielsen was honoured several times in her life for her contributions to the community. She was recognized as a Delta Hero by the Delta Museum and Archives Society, was appointed as a senior counsellor by the Province of British Columbia, and received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for outstanding volunteer service, the Canadian Medal for International Year of the Volunteer and the International Year of Older Persons Award.
A passionate advocate for children and the war on drugs, Nielsen and her husband fostered 90 children, many of whom were runaways and/or had substance abuse issues.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson addresses the crowd at the dedication ceremony for Margaret Nielsen’s memorial bench. Photo credit: Tibi Roman
“There’s so many things that she was involved in with the Corporation [of Delta] since I was in miniskirts, when I first started out in this business. But I first met her…when it was the hippy era, and all the kids were going off to California and all over the place,” Jackson told the Reporter.
“There were lots of young people that were [out] finding their way which we’d never ever had to deal with before, and of course being involved in drugs was a big thing. They wanted to go on the road and meet friends and people and stuff, and she worked really, really hard with a lot of the young people. They took in 90 foster children. I mean, can you imagine? And most of them were runaways from home and got involved in drugs and stuff, and she was always there for them.”
For those in attendance, Friday’s ceremony was one more chance to pay tribute to a dear departed friend, someone whose many contributions to North Delta and the entire municipality will be felt for decades to come.
“It wouldn’t be the same kind of community without her, and without her having participated and given,” Hamilton said. “Without her things would be different around here. They really would.”
Jack Nielsen, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson and Delta MLA take a moment to relax on Margaret’s bench. Photo credit: Tibi Roman