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Hamilton woman searched for 24 years for the daughter she was forced to give up. Then fate brought them together

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HAMILTON—It was the saddest of happy endings.

Darcy Dee was slipping away, her body finally giving in to the breast cancer she’d been fighting for four years.

But Darcy had already won another battle — one that she’d waged for a quarter-century — the struggle to find the little girl she’d been forced to give up in 1991, the baby the system had taken away from her all those years ago after deeming her an unfit mother because of her disability.

At her bedside during those last few days was the 29-year-old woman who had been taken away from her mother as a toddler, fostered and soon adopted, the woman who had grown up and lived most of her life with a loving adoptive family just minutes from the birth mother she never knew. But miraculously, fate had brought them back together in 2015, allowing for three years that would have to make up for nearly three decades lost.

Darcy Dee, 59, died Jan. 20 in Hamilton’s St. Peter’s Hospital. Her funeral takes place Saturday.

She is survived by 10 siblings, and by her daughter — Veronica Ann — the daughter for whom she searched for 24 years.

“Knowing that my mother got her greatest wish, to heal the wound of losing me, has been a huge inspiration,” Veronica said after her mother’s passing. She marvels at how through all those years that they were apart, Darcy essentially built her life around the quest for her lost daughter.

“She formed habits throughout her city to be visible and available so that I might by chance find her,” Veronica said. “She never gave up and I’m so grateful I could be there to show her it was all worth it.”

I told the first chapter of Darcy’s story nearly 30 years ago in November 1990, in the Star, as Darcy was waging a losing battle with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society in Hamilton for the custody of Veronica.

I’d met Darcy by chance in the food court of a Hamilton mall that autumn while I was on assignment. Darcy had been left disabled by a brain injury after being hit by a truck while walking to school on a winter day, when she was 8. She was declared dead at the scene, but somehow survived.

That day in Hamilton, she rolled up beside my table in her scooter, which had a carrier basket full of loose-leaf papers. Once she discovered I was a reporter, Darcy wanted me to read the documents in her basket, notes she’d been typing over the months, the journal of her struggle to regain custody of her daughter. (Over the years, she would type thousands of pages.)

Darcy’s speech was slurred. She had difficulty controlling her movements and articulating her feelings. But her journal read like poetry. Page after page of fluid and heartbreaking detail about how she’d had Veronica with a guy she’d met, and then lost her. Estranged from her family, the fiercely independent Darcy had been living in an apartment in downtown Hamilton.

She contacted the children’s aid society during her pregnancy, and shortly after the baby’s birth, Darcy was deemed unfit as a parent.

“All my life people told me I couldn’t do anything,” Dee said during one of several interviews in her tiny subsidized apartment in 1990. “Well, now I did the thing that is supposed to be the most important of all — I created a life. Now they want to take that away from me.”

After a year of increasingly infrequent and restricted supervised visits, the courts ruled on Feb. 11, 1991, that Veronica would be placed for adoption and that Darcy would not be allowed to see her again.

The system was true to its word, for 24 years.

The story that Darcy shared with me in 1990, the story that continued to unfold in the intervening decades, reads like a screenplay.

She was born in Buffalo in 1959 to John and Rayme Dee, professional actors who immigrated to Canada for work and settled in Ancaster, Ont. Anyone who watched Canadian television in the 1970s and early ’80s would recognize Darcy’s dad, John, who played Al Waxman’s crusty neighbour Max on King of Kensington.

Darcy left home at 21 after getting a Grade 12 diploma from a vocational school. She eventually moved to Toronto, where she took some courses in English and history at Ryerson, without much success. Back in Hamilton in 1982, she sat in on courses at McMaster University and Mohawk College.

When I met her in the small, dingy apartment in 1990, I noticed how she made the best of the lack of space and narrow hallway: because of her limited mobility, she got around by practically bouncing off the walls, propelling herself from the table, to the chair, to the bed.

The journal entries I read in 1990 were heartbreaking and gave voice to the thoughtful, eloquent and angry young woman that the system had written off.

She wrote about when her daughter turned 1.

“Yesterday was Veronica’s birthday. Her very first. I did not get to see her. Although I carried on with my own life, I had a pretty heavy heart, thinking of her. Remember last year at this time, I was in the hospital, in pain, having just had Veronica the night before?

“Yes, but the greatest pain of all is not being able to see my baby.”

Darcy Dee with her young daughter, who she had to give up to children's aid three decades ago.
Darcy Dee with her young daughter, who she had to give up to children’s aid three decades ago.

After losing Veronica, Darcy reconciled with her large family, and her sisters in particular became the champions of her efforts to locate her daughter. Her parents have long since died.

Darcy’s family and friends recall a spunky, unpredictable woman who could fly into a rage at those she felt were putting her down, and just as quickly flash a wide smile and howl with laughter.

“This is the story of a woman who grew up fighting — for her independence after a severe brain injury, for her life with a cancer diagnosis — and then, in the short time left to her, to find the daughter she was forced to give up,” her sister Betsy wrote in an account of Darcy’s struggle.

Darcy and I were in touch sporadically over the years.

In a journal entry on Veronica’s 10th birthday, June 10, 1999, Darcy wrote: “I will never stop praying for you, and loving you, even though I do not know where you are. You could be in the house in front or behind me for all I know.”

In 2007, when Veronica would have been turning 18, I contemplated trying to find her myself, or even publishing the baby photos of Veronica that I had taken at Darcy’s apartment in 1990. But I concluded that would be a violation of the girl’s privacy.

In late 2014, Betsy let me know that Darcy had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that the family was stepping up efforts to find Veronica.

By then they’d already been through years of paperwork, trying to make contact and obtain official records of the adoption. I went to see Darcy in Hamilton in November of 2014. She was very ill and was now confined to a wheelchair. And she still talked about finding her Veronica.

Little did anyone know that the clue to Veronica’s identity and whereabouts was already in Darcy’s possession. After my visit, Betsy sent a follow-up email to share some adoption-related documents that Darcy had received from Service Ontario in response to one of her requests. The key document was the 1992 record of Veronica’s adoption. While all of the adoptive family’s identifying information had been dutifully blacked out, for some reason the document showed Veronica’s legal name at the time of her adoption.

It took a minute on Google to find Veronica, a young web design and marketing consultant who was at that point living and working in Hamilton, blocks away from her birth mother.

Darcy’s sisters were in a quandary. How should they go about confirming Veronica’s identity and making contact? They didn’t share the finding with Darcy until they could get in touch with Veronica. After weeks of deliberating, they dropped off a letter at Veronica’s apartment, informing her of the identity of her birth mother and extending the invitation for a meeting.

Several weeks later, on Jan. 25, 2015, a Sunday afternoon, the family arranged for Veronica to make a surprise visit to her birth mother’s apartment.

Darcy was seated with her back to the door when Veronica entered and made her way into view.

“Do you know who this is?” the sister asked.

Darcy didn’t.

At that point, the striking young woman with blond hair and blue eyes knelt down in front of Darcy’s chair and took her hand.

“I’m Veronica.”

Veronica looks back now on that remarkable reunion and the months that followed.

“My reunion with Darcy was joyful, compassionate, all about doing things together as newly introduced people,” she said. “We went and did fun activities all through the summer. Darcy always pictured us in the sunshine together and she got her wish.”

Veronica was struck by her resemblance to Darcy, in physical appearance, and in attitude.

“She’s passed that focused, never-say-die spirit on to me.”

In the little time they had together, a lot was left unsaid, in part because it had become so difficult for Darcy to communicate.

“Most of what happened between Darcy and I was over coffees and in each other’s hearts,” Veronica recounted. “We couldn’t easily communicate but the wonder and surreal happiness of beating the odds together was our primary emotional story.”

In the days before Darcy’s death, Veronica spent hours at her birth mother’s bedside in Hamilton, still holding her hand. And while Darcy is gone, she has left her daughter a written legacy, thousands of pages of her writing.

Years before, on Nov. 11, 2007, Darcy typed this poem in her journal. After her death, it seems almost prophetic:

I can only hope and pray

That maybe, just maybe some day

That in heaven, or on earth

It will be like a rebirth

We will meet face to face

I will hug Veronica

And hold her

And she? She will touch my shoulder

Never to let go of each other

Allan Thompson was a reporter with the Toronto Star from 1987 to 2003, when he became a journalism professor at Carleton University.

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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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