Sophie Thomas's healing powers as a medicine woman were powerful and saved the lives of many people.
So it is only fitting her traditional ways will be remembered in the BC Cancer Agency's Centre for the North healing garden, now known as Sophie's Garden.
Made up of the same indigenous shrubs and trees she used to make her medicine and planted last fall adjacent to the cancer clinic, the garden was officially opened to the public on a bright Saturday afternoon in a ceremony that included seven of Sophie's 15 children and a large group of extended family members and invited guests.
"Right now she's probably dancing on the other side, rejoicing and singing, happy to see so many people come together in her honour and for the sake of honouring Mother Earth and the gifts that are provided through the plants and medicines," said Jasmine Thomas, Sophie's great-granddaughter.
"What we've been seeing here in the North has been high rates of cancer and finding good quality service has been an issue until this building was proposed. Now we have this building and good quality services as well as this space, where patients and their families can come where they can see some of the traditional plants my great-grandmother used to treat cancer patients."
The plaque at far end of the path is surrounded by what Thomas's daughter Minnie considers the most important plants in the garden.
"There's choke cherry, raspberry and mountain alder, that's what my mom used for cancer," said Minnie. "We use mountain alder to kill cancer cells and it works. The mountain alder does the work, and the choke cherry and raspberry flushes out the bad stuff.
"She had to really know you well before she'd make the medicine for you. You had to tell her what was happening in your life and then she'd know what to do for you. She was one incredible healer."
Sophie used yarrow flowers to chase away mosquitoes, gave her kids pine bark extracts for colds, put wild rose bushes under pillows wrapped with a sharp object to chasing away evil spirits, and used the roots of tamarack trees to reduce high blood pressure and help men treat prostrate or urinary system problems. Tamarack also contains a powerful tonic that has earned it a non-traditional name, Indian Viagra.
Until her death in 2010 at age 97, Sophie's traditional medicines reached patients around the world. She treated patients with HIV when it first arrived in the 1980s, and mainstream medicine had no answers for treatment. Europeans learned of her herbal mixtures and had her concoctions shipped overseas on airplane seats.
"She treated many people, doctors would send some patients to see my great-grandmother and she never charged for her services," said Jasmine Thomas. "She was always sharing this knowledge so it would be preserved and future generations would continue to pass on that knowledge."
Wearing a traditional headdress and suede jacket under the hot sun, Sophie's son Stanley, chief of the Saik'uz First Nation on the Stoney Creek reserve south of Vanderhoof, spoke of his mother's sense of humour and her qualities as a teacher, and how her healing methods were passed down to his family.
"She was a chief herself, she was a true elder, and a true teacher to each and every one of us, and she made a great path for us in the family and for all the people," said Stanley. "This is a beautiful place and it's going to help a lot of people."
The legacy of Sophie's expertise in medicine stems from what she learned from own grandmother in the forests of northern B.C., which she considered, "my pharmacy." Her book, Plants and Medicine of Sophie Thomas, and the Warmth of Love video are the results of her family's efforts to preserve that legacy. Known for her qualities as an environmentalist, she lived by her own words: "If we look after the earth, it will look after us. If we destroy it, it will destroy us."
"I'm very proud of my mom," said Sophie's youngest daughter Maureen. "She did a lot for people everywhere and I was lucky, as soon as I'd get a cough she'd get the medicine from the fridge of down in the shack. "She would think this garden was wonderful. It's beautiful."
Sophie learned of plans for the garden just two days before her death. Working with Pamela Tobin, regional director of operations for the BC Cancer Agency, the family's traditional healers continued to plan its construction. The cancer centre opened last November.
"People use this garden all the time," said Tobin. "Every day we have patients and families come to sit out side and enjoy the sun and the garden and we have staff who come out to enjoy their lunch. We wanted to make sure this garden is open and welcoming to everybody."