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North Van man goes beyond the yellow brick road to honour late wife (PHOTOS)

Ed and Shirley Lien were married for almost 70 years and were always big fans of 'The Wizard of Oz'
Ed Lien has found himself beyond the yellow brick road after first setting out to build a simple fence.

Over the last year, if those passing Ed’s property in Lynn Valley haven’t slowed their pace to sneak a peek at the intricate brick work, the whimsical pickets, the stunning arbour, the rainbow of roses, or the glimpses of Scarecrow and Dorothy, they’re definitely stopping in their tracks when they see the plaque.

On a piece of gold-painted metal, hoisted to a small wood arch near the front of Lien’s front yard, the inscription reads: “A tribute to Shirley, love Ed.”

“I’m not nearly finished yet,” admits Ed, of his great and powerful home and garden project. “The only time it gets emotional is when I have to interpret the plaque to passersby. …”

Put it this way: If it had been Ed instead of the Tin Man left wandering the Land of Oz, he wouldn’t have been in search of a heart – he’s already got plenty of that.

There's no place like home

Ed and Shirley were married for almost 70 years. They bought their house on Hoskins Road – the same house Ed still lives in – back in 1962.

The lifetime lovebirds first met as children and next-door neighbours, when Shirley was 10 and Ed was 12, growing up in the Webster’s Corner neighbourhood of Maple Ridge.

At 15, Ed went away for a spell with the Merchant Navy. Their love bloomed when he eventually returned home and the two teenagers on the cusp of adulthood were formally reunited.

“When I came back she was grown up,” recalls Ed. “She invited me to her high school graduation.”

They were engaged in 1950, married in ’51. They lived in a logging camp for six years in Franklin River on Vancouver Island, where Ed was stationed as a time keeper.

After moving to Port Alberni for a few years, Ed was eventually promoted to the company’s head office on the mainland in the early ’60s, at which point the couple settled down for good in North Vancouver.

Ed and Shirley raised a family. They loved dancing. They had many warm and wonderful decades together.

Shirley passed away in 2017. They’d been married 66 years and were best friends. Coping with life without Shirley has been a challenge, to say the least, says Ed.

“Terrible. Bloody awful,” he adds.

Along the yellow brick road

But, almost by accident, when Ed decided to put up a fence last year, he was suddenly inspired to create an amazing memorial to the love of his life.

After amusingly crowd-sourcing picket suggestions by putting a makeshift polling station in front of his house, Ed and a contractor got to work on a design that fit the space.

When Ed realized he wouldn’t be able to get his lawnmower onto the grass with the new fence installed, he knew it needed a gate – but he thought it would look strange having a gate that effectively led to an empty green space.

The gears started turning. He decided he’d build a curved path that would lead into a lush garden, but it wouldn’t just be any path. He’d build a yellow brick road.

There was a reason. Of the myriad hobbies and pastimes that couples do together along their amorous journeys, a few remained consistent over the years for Ed and Shirley.

For one thing, they always loved Judy Garland and they loved The Wizard of Oz, often re-watching the technicolour brilliance of the 1939 classic over the years and revelling in the exquisite dancing of Garland and the talented Ray Bolger, who played Scarecrow.

They loved dancing in real life too, adds Ed.

“We went out dancing once a week,” he says. “When they did not have a dance at the Terminal City Club, we would go to the Panorama Roof [in Vancouver].”

All the colours of the rainbow

With help from friends, family and the community over the past year, Ed has worked hard to make his Land of Oz tribute come to life.

He noticed a classified ad in the North Shore News for hundreds of free bricks, which a friend helped collect, bring to his house, and Ed worked diligently to refurbish and paint.

His daughter-in-law designed the Scarecrow model and is currently putting the finishing touches on a Cowardly Lion. His daughter and son-and-law built a birdhouse for the top of the arbour.

And gold-painted wood rings have been placed to form a chain around the arbour, with different coloured roses fed through the rings.

“It will come out looking like a simulated rainbow,” says Ed.

Liz Whalley, who lives in the neighbourhood, was going for a walk somewhere over the rainbow a few weeks ago when she stopped and took note of Ed’s display, moved by how much time, love and effort had clearly gone into it.

“We had a close look and just noticed how much detail there was, and there was a tribute there. We knew there was a cool story behind it,” says Whalley. “Somebody had obviously put so much effort into it. When we looked at it we just saw how very personal it was.”

On his personal project, Ed says he’s sure his late wife would be amused by his Land of Oz memorial, though he’s fairly confident he’d be in a bit of trouble for it as well.

“She’d never, ever draw attention to herself. There would be a little bit of conflict there,” jokes Ed.

Though as he continues to chip away at it brick by brick with the help of friends and family, he wants to draw attention to one more thing about his Shirley: “She remained beautiful right up until the day she died.”