A job she ‘fell into’ about 25 years ago changed Diane Toop’s life for the better. “It’s made me, me,” said Toop, the Station House Gallery executive director and exhibit co-ordinator.
“Before that I really did not know who I was. It’s been the biggest blessing in my life for sure.”
Being employed at the same place has also given her continuity, she said, noting she loves working with and supporting artists. Seeing women who attended art classes at the gallery as children, then eventually bringing in their own children for classes is also rewarding.
Her son Dylan was home visiting and during a walk with Toop from work to home, with stops at the bank and two other places, he couldn’t believe how many people she knew.
“It was a real Mayberry moment,” she said recalled, referring to The Andy Griffith Show from the 1960s.
Her foray into the Station House began as a volunteer in 1995 and within a year she was the shop manager before she took the roles she has today.
Toop’s roots go a long ways back in Williams Lake. Her grandfather Leonard James was the telegraph operator and the family lived in a little house where the Williams Lake and District Credit Union is today.
Her mother, Valerie James, moved to Vancouver as an adult and worked at the Bank of Montreal.
Valerie would often return home to visit and was at a party in Lac La Hache when she met her future husband Warner Toop, who worked as a faller.
“I had a younger sister, Carol, who we lost last year, two brothers and a stepbrother,” Toop said. “Our mom passed away when I was 10.”
After the death of her mom, Toop said she went into a bit of a tailspin and dropped out of secondary school. She had a home, but was a bit of street kid, she added.
She met a man and moved to Vancouver where she had two sons — Dylan and Kelly. When the relationship with their father ended, she moved back to Williams Lake with her boys.
“After about a year I realized Williams Lake is where we were supposed to be,” she recalled.
As she was raising her sons she went to Cariboo College and took medical transcription and found the course was a ‘bit of a slog’ because she hadn’t finished high school. A self-described ‘late-bloomer’ she added she got her driver’s license when she was 37.
Toop has shared her life with Clayton Allen for about 20 years and said they’d known each other since she was 13. “I met him in Boitanio Park when some friends and I were running away from home for the first time,” she said.
Allen can be seen volunteering at the Station House on a regular basis, helping out at the front desk or doing maintenance.
Toop said Williams Lake is her home and she cannot imagine living anywhere else.
“Sometimes I find things disheartening, but I love it here. The Station House is kind of my home too.”
While she was living in Vancouver and would come home for visits she would always get a shiver when the car would round the corner on Highway 97 and she could see the lake.
“I always felt like I was home when I saw the lake.” When Toop isn’t working she loves to garden at home and tend to their backyard chickens. She has two grandsons and Allen has two granddaughters and one grandson who they also love spending time with whenever they can.