What’s in a name?
It’s a question Bonnie Stewart has pondered her entire life.
Having been named after the papergirl that delivered the Vancouver Sun to her family home in Richmond in the early 1950s, Stewart’s first name was always a running joke in her family, especially after she married and changed her last name to Stewart — the exact same name as the papergirl.
“When I was born, the third child, my mother wanted to name me Christina, as her favourite brother in Wales was Christopher,” Stewart explained.
“My father insisted that they call me Bonnie, after the lovely lass that delivered the newspaper to Wallace Road.”
Now, more than 60 years later, Stewart has finally met the bona fide Bonnie she was named after, thanks to a common connection — and another Bonnie — at the Walnut Grove Pool.
Bonnie Tulloch, 25, has worked as a lifeguard at the community centre pool for eight years, and has become well acquainted with Stewart, who swims there almost every day.
“We’ve always said hello, it’s always been a sort of laugh because Bonnie is not a common name,” Stewart said.
“I know a lot of the lifeguards there, but for some reason, Bonnie and I really hit it off so many years ago. She was just so bubbly and so positive and always smiling.”
The two instantly bonded over their matching names, but it wasn’t until last month that they discovered just how entangled their roots really are.
“One day I was talking to Bonnie (Stewart) about how people automatically assume that I am Irish because I have red hair, even though my name is really Scottish,” Tulloch said.
“And then this Bonnie in the water says to me, ‘You know, everybody thinks I’m Scottish but I’m not, because Bonnie Stewart is a very Scottish name, but it is my married name.’
“And I said to her, ‘Really? My grandma’s maiden name is Stewart, and she’s a Bonnie too.’”
It seemed like just a coincidence at first, but the more Stewart thought about it, the stranger it looked. The next day at the pool, she asked Tulloch if there is any chance her grandma was once a newspaper carrier in Richmond.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘all those family drives and family discussions, I remember Delta was mentioned, but was Richmond?’” Tulloch said.
“So I went and phoned my grandpa, and I said, ‘Grandpa, did Grandma have a paper route?’ And he said she had two growing up. So I ran back into the pool and I told Bonnie, yes!”
Three weeks ago, the ladies finally met, and within minutes Stewart knew she had found the “real deal.”
Grandma Bonnie, now known by her married name, Bonnie Jackson, could still recite the names of Stewart’s childhood neighbours the Hayes, the Stenes and the Olafsons, after spending five years delivering the newspaper to them, and collecting the $1.25 monthly fee.
“It just brings up so many memories,” said Jackson, 75, who is a retired teacher in Langley
“I had up to 400 papers (to deliver) for about six months, but most of the time I had 100. I would pick up my papers at Steveston Highway and No. 2 Road and ride my bike down to No. 1 Road, and come back and then go down Railway Avenue. It was a lot of territory.”
At some point along her route, Jackson would have stopped and spoken with Stewart’s father, and clearly left a lasting impression. But by 1956, Jackson had moved out of the area, meaning baby Bonnie Stewart would never get to meet her namesake.
“It’s kind of surreal thinking that a stranger is named after the same person you are, especially when there is a generational gap,” Tulloch said.
“But you know, I have to tell you, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that someone would name their daughter after my grandma, because of her character and type of person.
“I am so proud to be named after her.”
In 1966, when Jackson had four children under the age of five, she enrolled at Simon Fraser University in their teaching program, and in 1968 began teaching at Otter Elementary in Aldergrove. Through her 37 years with the Langley School District, she also taught at Bradshaw Elementary, Alice Brown Elementary and Langley Meadows Elementary.
Tulloch jokes that she has had to share her grandmother with many other students and parents in the community over the years, but sharing her with Stewart has been the most rewarding.
“For me, what it really provided that I haven’t experienced for a while, was the warmth of that community connection,” Tulloch said.
“You grow up and people are changing and moving out of their houses and you kind of lose touch and that feeling of connection.
“It was just affirmation that everything I knew about my grandma, the quality of person she is, was true. But also, just the honour to share that privilege with somebody else. And to think that history is shared that you didn’t know existed between you.
“It was amazing just to sit there and think, ‘Oh my gosh, this person who I had barely known at the pool, knows all of this about my grandma.’”
The three ladies spent hours sitting around Jackson’s kitchen table in her Willoughby home, flipping through old photo albums and sharing memories of Lulu Island.
“It’s almost like having a younger sister, because she’s too old to be my daughter,” Jackson said.
“It’s like finding a friend. There are so many similar connections, and she relates to many of the things I do, and remembers so many things about Richmond in the day.”
All three agree that it must have been fate that brought them together. There have been several times over the past three decades where the ladies have almost, but not quite met.
When she was younger, Tulloch was a newspaper carrier for the Langley Times, and her circulation manager, who she never got to meet, was Stewart.
And even more bizarre, Tulloch delivered the papers across the street from Stewart’s home, which was also only one street over from where Jackson lives. And prior to that, Stewart lived in a house just down the road from Langley Meadows, where Jackson taught for the majority of her career.
“How is it possible that we have been swirling around each other for thirty years … but are just now finding each other?” Stewart said.
“It’s something that I grew up with, hearing that I was named after the papergirl, and then when I got married, it picked up the story again because now I had the proper name — the absolute papergirl’s name.
“It was always at the top of my mind because I’ve relived it so many times. It’s just so — I can’t believe it — it’s so delightful.”