British Columbia

Remembering street nurse Bonnie Fournier

Bonnie Fournier, who worked with sex workers in the Downtown Eastside for years, will be remembered today.

A celebration of the nurse's life happens today

Bonnie Fournier (CREDIT: David P. Ball)

During the late 1990s, Bonnie Fournier and Elaine Allen worked closely in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Fournier was a nurse providing medical care to survival sex workers and Allen was running the WISH Drop-in Centre.

Fournier passed away earlier this month, and Allen spoke to Rick Cluff on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition about her friend and colleague ahead of a celebration of life organized for today.

Q: What was she like? Bonnie was a larger-than-life character. She was fearless, she was compassionate, and a strong and loyal advocate to the women of the Downtown Eastside.

Q: As a street nurse, what kind of work did she do? It was amazing. Bonnie had come from working in the Vancouver pretrial cells for many years and her diagnostic skills were stupendous. She provided really incredible front-line medical care to the women of the Downtown Eastside that would never otherwise had medical care.

Q: Why did she do what she did? She was compassionate. She cared about people deeply and she had the ability to connect with people instantly. They trusted her, they knew she was the real deal and they really really felt they could trust her with their health needs.

Q: What drove her? She had passion. She had passion for nursing, she cared about the profession and she cared about the people she served.

Q: You knew her because you were involved with the WISH Drop-In Centre for several years. What kind of difference did she make for the women there? I would say she made an incredible difference in the lives of the women that she provided services to. She was somebody who not only could look after their medical needs, but she also had the ability to reach in and really make someone feel as if someone cared about them. On top of that, Bonnie had an incredible sense of humour. She was very fun and the women really loved her. They also had a relationship with her, they joked with her, they had all sorts of monikers for her.

Q: What was so special about her approach to her clients? If Bonnie believed a woman to have an illness that required hospitalization she'd arrange for them to be transported to St. Paul's Hospital. She'd follow up with the woman to ensure they'd seen medical staff, and God forbid, if she ever learned that a woman had been turned away at he doors of St. Paul's Hospital, medical staff there would be in the undesirable position of having the Hippocratic oath recited to them by Bonnie. She was a fearless advocate for the women she served and I think she didn't have the greatest respect for authority and I think that sometimes translated well with the women on the Downtown Eastside.

Q: Do you have a fondest memory of Bonnie? You know, the memories I have of Bonnie would be when I'd close the centre at night, I'd be driving away from the Downtown Eastside and I'd see the reflective tape that spelled out the word "NURSE" on her back. At 10 p.m. when I closed the centre, she'd be at the crosswalk towards Victory Square, serving yet more women that required medical care.

Q: How do you want people to remember her? Bonnie was a fearless advocate for marginalized women. She had the ability to make them feel important, equal, and certainly worthy of medical care. She always had the professional nursing piece with her and she never left that. After the Pickton trial and the verdict had been read, the families gathered outside and they had me read each name of the women that had gone missing and they had asked me to give a special thank you to Bonnie. She wrote about that in her book that it was one of the most special honours in her life.

Q: She leaves a void in the Downtown Eastside. Can it be filled? I don't know if it can be filled. There are some stupendous nursing practitioners in the area, but Bonnie had something extra and I don't think that can be replaced.

A celebration of life takes place at 2 p.m at the Coquitlam Alliance Church, 2601 Spuraway Ave.

The Early Edition is on the air every weekday from 5:30 to 8:37 a.m on CBC Radio One, 88.1FM or 690AM.