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A night of history and hope

Nurse was killed in a hostage-taking at the old B.C. Penitentiary in 1975
Bravery: Margaret Franz, left, and Karen Freeborn outside the old B.C. Pen building in New Westminster, where Franz’s sister, Mary Steinhauser, was killed during a hostage-taking in 1975. An event is being held March 29 to honour Steinhauser.

Brave. That’s the word being used to describe Mary Steinhauser, who was killed during a botched hostage-taking at the old B.C. Penitentiary in New Westminster in 1975.

On March 29 at the Terry Fox Theatre in Port Coquitlam, an event aptly titled Brave: The Mary Steinhauser Legacy will celebrate the former nurse and social worker’s life and accomplishments.

Steinhauser’s younger sister Margaret Franz, who has been working on the event for more than a year, describes it as a night of “history and hope.”

“The evening, although it touches on sad and tragic events, it moves into the future to inspire others and to continue into her very brave path of speaking out,” Franz told The Record’s sister paper, the Tri-Cities NOW. “I felt her incredible bravery and sacrifice needed to be told again.”

Steinhauser, 32, was killed on June 11, 1975. In the early 1960s, she trained as a nurse for two years at Essondale Hospital, or Riverview as it later became known, making stops at various institutions before landing at the B.C. Pen in the 1970s.

An advocate for prison reform and social justice, she was one of 15 classification officers – or parole officers as they’re now known – held hostage in an old vault by three men: Claire Wilson, Dwight Lucas and Andy Bruce.

In an act of selfless bravery, the social worker, who was well liked by inmates, offered herself up as the principal hostage.

Along with one of her captors, she was shot by guards, bringing the 41-hour ordeal to an end.

Franz said the purpose of the March 29 event is to bring her sister’s story to a new generation of people who weren’t around to hear it the first time.

The evening will feature the aboriginal group Dancers of Damelahamid, as well as a series of spoken word stories from people who were a part of Steinhauser’s life or inspired by her actions, including Dennis Neveu, a former inmate on her case load.

Singer and songwriter Bob Mercer will also perform his song Wilson, Lucas and Bruce, which tells the story of the hostage taking.

The New Westminster Museum and Thompson Rivers University have donated artifacts from the two institutions that had the greatest influence on Steinhauser’s life – Riverview and the B.C. Penitentiary – that will be on display in the lobby.

Proceeds will go toward the Mary Steinhauser Memorial Bursary for aboriginal undergrads studying humanities at SFU.

Event director Karen Freeborn said she was inspired to get involved after learning of Steinhauser’s story from former inmate Neveu.

“Through his eyes, I witnessed Mary’s bravery as she forged ahead to incorporate a new model of rehabilitation in the penitentiary system,” Freeborn wrote in an email.

“I felt the power of her brave resolve to fight for social justice and human rights within this new model, and against fierce opposition. I observed, through this man, the great love and respect that he and so many other inmates had for Mary, in an era when incarceration was synonymous with severe and unusual punishment; and I felt the sting of tears the inmates shed when they lost her.”

For Franz, organizing the celebration in honour of her sister has been a labour of love.

In years to come, she hopes to organize smaller events along the same theme that will not only keep her sister’s memory alive, but raise funds for the bursary.

Tickets for Brave: The Mary Steinhauser Legacy are $35 and available online at marystein

The event starts at 7:30 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, visit, e-mail or call 604-942-0723 or 604-644-6607.

– From the Tri-Cities Now