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In her short life, little Abby inspired countless acts of kindness. Now even strangers are mourning her death

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Abby was here, and the signs are everywhere. Pink ribbons are tied around the fence posts south of Schomberg, and in town, they’re on stop signs and telephone poles. At a coffee shop, there is a board where red hearts proclaim in permanent marker scrawl who has a free coffee or muffin coming to them. Just one of the many acts of kindness made in the name of the little girl who became a “binding force,” not just in this town north of Toronto, but everywhere she went. Abby Eveson died last week. She was here for five years and four months.

Abby Eveson was born with a rare congenital heart defect that limited the blood flow to her lungs. She had three open-heart surgeries before she was 2. When she was facing a surgery in 2014, her parents, Becky and Craig, began dropping $5 bills at the hospital, buying lunches for strangers, encouraging others to do the same. “It really helped us get through the hard times, just knowing that you’re helping make someone else smile when they’re having a difficult time,” Becky Eveson said earlier this week. “It just helped.”

Charlie Eveson, 7, in front of a picture of his sister Abby at the Schomberg arena, where his words were read out.
Charlie Eveson, 7, in front of a picture of his sister Abby at the Schomberg arena, where his words were read out.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

It was an exchange with the universe, and it became a movement: We Believe in Abby.

Read more:

Paying it forward for Abby: One family’s quest to create positive energy for their very sick daughter

“I know they truly believed that Abby survived for as long as she did because of that positive energy,” said Kate Glassow, a family friend.

On Thursday, the town arena was the only place big enough to hold the hundreds who came to celebrate her life. At centre ice there were flowers, balloons and pictures of Abby, including a recent school photo where she is leaning on some books in an academic pose. Her mom posted a behind-the-scenes version on Facebook about a month ago. Out of the frame, she is kneeling behind Abby to hold her up — “Picture day at school today! Gotta do what you gotta do xo.”

More than 500 people came to the service. Children sat cross-legged on the walking track. Many of them had done good deeds in Abby’s name, some had been on the receiving end, and others had been inspired by Abby. If Abby can do it, so can I. “It carried on forever,” Glassow said.

The Evesons knew that Abby’s life would never be free of medical appointments, but things had recently stabilized. “Out of all the years of being sick sick sick, it didn’t seem like the time,” Becky said. Abby was in school a few hours every day. She loved going on adventures, playing with her brothers, making people laugh. (One day at school, her teacher told her she needed to change her “grumpy pants.” When her mom picked her up to take her home for a nap, she insisted her pants be changed.)

In the middle of October, she went to a Wiggles concert with her mom. “I’ve never seen her beam more,” Becky said. A few days later, she learned she was going to be a big sister again. Her dad asked what they should name the baby, and Abby suggested “Coochie,” after her beloved soother.

In her short life, little Abby inspired countless acts of kindness | Story Behind the Story
The Trisan Centre hosted the memorial, which included an honour guard from King Emergency Services.
The Trisan Centre hosted the memorial, which included an honour guard from King Emergency Services.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

Abby woke up early, as usual, on Oct. 24. She played in the bath and had a nap. She was sassy when her mom was too slow to return her iPad. And then she went into distress.

Eveson posted a message on the We Believe in Abby Facebook page. She knew it was bad, and asked for prayers and positive thoughts. “That’s always helped us in the past,” she said.

A few hours later, Abby died at the Southlake Regional Health Centre. Not long after, people in town began tying pink ribbons everywhere. Nearby towns did the same.

A jogger running downtown saw the ribbons. She had a sinking feeling.

“She started bawling,” said Glassow. “She was devastated, and again, she doesn’t know the family. Everyone just knows Abby’s story.”

During the service, Rev. Sheilagh Ashworth spoke for the family, including a tribute from 7-year-old Charlie.

Becky Eveson is consoled by her son Charlie, 7, during the service.
Becky Eveson is consoled by her son Charlie, 7, during the service.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

“She had lots of friends, including me because I am her brother,” Ashworth read, as Charlie stood at centre ice in his green sweater, shuffling behind one of the photos. “I miss her so much, and I am sure all of you do too. I will miss her cute little face and I am sure you will too. I will miss seeing her walk in her orange walker, because she would walk very fast. I will miss her cute feet, because they were really cute. I will miss her.”

King Township Mayor Steve Pellegrini also spoke, calling it the “most difficult” speech of his career.

“If you didn’t know Abby you might ask: how could someone so small make such a profound impact on our community?” he said. “It’s because of the size of Abby’s heart.”

The service closed with a Wiggles recording of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. It was the only song that soothed Abby when she was upset, her mom said. “Twinkle, Mom,” she’d say, and Becky would sing.

There were many “heart moms” in the stands who had met on the fourth floor of Toronto’s Sick Kids hospital. It can be difficult for friends and family to understand, so they all keep in touch on a Facebook group, offering support.

The stands of Trisan Centre were full as Abby’s service began on Thursday.
The stands of Trisan Centre were full as Abby’s service began on Thursday.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

In 2015, Carol Syme’s daughter Evynn had a heart transplant. It had not gone well, and after Syme posted in the group, she received a gift: a doll for her daughter, who was about to turn 4, and a Starbucks card. It came anonymously in “our last days in hospital.”

The coffee shop in the hospital is open day and night. It is one of the few places parents can go for a break, while still being close to their children. It was a special, thoughtful gift.

“It’s such a simple, tiny little thing,” Syme said. “Because it does get expensive, it does get dreary, or lonely, and it’s just someone random thinking about you, right?”

Even though everybody knew who the gift giver was, Becky “outed herself” after Abby’s death, hoping that someone will continue the tradition, said Melanie McBride, another heart mom at the service. McBride had been to the arena before. Eveson had arranged Christmas parties there for “heart kids” here so they could visit Santa in a controlled environment, and not worry about the germs at the mall.

After the floral arrangements were taken off the ice, there was skating, and a make-your-own-slime room with glitter and confetti. Slime was one of Abby’s favourite things. There was a room with singing and dancing, and an ice cream machine. On the ice, some of the younger children took tentative steps with a parent, their ankles bowed, smiling in disbelief.

This is what the Evesons wanted. A day for families to be together. They want to build an accessible playground in Abby’s memory someday. They believed in Abby, and they still do.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Becky said. “People aren’t just sending condolences. It’s messages of how she touched them, you know? And she’s 5. It’s amazing.”

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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