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They came to celebrate Jo. He would have loved it.





In September 2015 Maclean’s told the story of Joël Aubin (Jo has Alzheimer’s. He’s 38). Three years later, we followed the story of Jo and his wife, Robin Giles (This is what Alzheimer’s is like at 41). After his condition took an unexpected turn, Jo died on Nov. 29 at the age of 42.

Joël Aubin managed, in the end, to get about as close as he possibly could to what he wanted.

In mid-November, it was like a switch flipped: one day, things were as they had been for the last several months, with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease continuing its assault, and the next, everything changed. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but some kind of brain event left Jo, 42, suddenly immobile, bedridden and unable to swallow.

Over the past year, his needs had escalated to the point where his wife, Robin Giles, forced herself to put him on the waiting list for a long-term care facility near their home in London, Ont. The decision tormented her, because Jo abhorred the idea of going into a nursing home like the one where his mother’s life had ended from the same inherited form of the disease when he was just a teenager. What Jo wanted was to be able to end things on his own terms, but Canada’s assisted dying law does not permit people with dementia to make advance requests when they still have capacity to consent, to be acted on later.

So at the end of this summer, when a bed came up for Jo in a nursing home, Robin couldn’t bring herself to do it. After she turned down the spot, she had the most peaceful night of sleep she’d had in a long time, but it seemed an impossible choice would still be forced on them eventually.

Instead, there was Jo’s sudden turn in mid-November. It would seem afterward to Robin and to Jo’s oldest friend, Shawn Veilleux, that Jo simply determined for himself how things were going to go.

Robin followed Jo’s wishes and decided against intravenous nutrition or any other measures that would prolong things. One of their friends procured a top-of-the-line hospital bed for their apartment, and others took rotating days off work so they could be there around the clock to help. Jo’s doctor made daily house calls, fine-tuning his medication to control his frequent seizures and keep him comfortable. Shawn and his family arrived from Ottawa, and Shawn more or less moved into the apartment.

READ MORE: ‘I am mine’: This is what Alzheimer’s is like at 41

For the last days of his life, there was a pack of people around Jo at all times. They listened to music, they talked, they made highly inappropriate jokes. They were loud. It was beautiful and exactly right for Jo. “I loved it, even though I hated it,” one of them said later. To another, it seemed like Jo gathered them all together and kept them like that long enough to make sure they would be okay.

Early one morning, a week and a half after Jo stopped eating, he peacefully exited the world with the people who loved him most by his side. He had not spent a single day in a hospital or long-term care facility.

Two days after he died, those same people gathered with dozens upon dozens of others to celebrate Jo. They did it exactly as he wanted. They packed the back room of a brewery Jo loved, which was owned by some friends. There were massive quantities of pizza and chicken wings and chips and egg rolls, and all the taps at the bar flowed freely.

There was music everywhere. Everyone showed up in the requested dress code of jeans and band t-shirts, and Jo’s closest male friends wore shirts from his closet. Two teachers who work at the school where Robin works—where Jo used to teach—played guitar and piano and sang a roster of his favourites. There were small boxes scattered around the room next to photos of Jo cradling his guitar, where people could donate to a scholarship fund that would be set up in his name.

The room felt very full. It was packed with bodies and voices, of course, but it also felt like it was overflowing with everything Jo and Robin have gone through in the last several years, with the emotion and effort it took for them to navigate it, with the love of those who have helped to carry them along, with a tiny exhale of relief and a gasp of deep sadness, with the grasping for what happens now.

They told stories and laughed uproariously. People were fine and then suddenly they weren’t, undone by a fierce hug or a new face walking through the door.

At one point, everyone raised a glass and toasted Jo with a French-Canadian swear word, because until the very end of his life—in a way that defied explanation given the progress of the disease—Jo remained so present and witty and in command of perfect comedic timing and just the right one-liner for the moment.

On one wall, a photo slide show meandered through the decades. There were Jo and Shawn posing behind a theme park cut-out as Tweedledee and Tweedledum; Uncle Jo playing guitar as Shawn’s son, Luke—now eight years old, then just a baby—gazed raptly up at him; friends piled on couches at parties and on student rental front porches; Robin and Jo leaping through the air in their Chuck Taylors on their wedding day. There were dozens of photos with Jo and Robin draped around each other’s shoulders: baby-faced high schoolers, radiant in formal wear at their friends’ weddings, in their pyjamas on Christmas morning.

It seemed like every second photo featured the same Jo expression: mouth cranked into an open grin, eyebrows leaping off the top of his face, ready to eat the world in a single joyful gulp.

Toward the end of the evening, someone picked up a guitar and stepped to the microphone to sing one of Jo’s favourites, Pearl Jam’s “I Am Mine.”

The North is to South what the clock is to time
There’s East and there’s West and there’s everywhere life
I know I was born and I know that I’ll die
The in between is mine
I am mine.

And the feeling, it gets left behind
All the innocence lost at one time
Significant, behind the eyes
There’s no need to hide
We’re safe tonight.

The ocean is full ’cause everyone’s crying
The full moon is looking for friends at high tide
The sorrow grows bigger when the sorrow’s denied
I only know my mind
I am mine.

They threw such a good party. Jo would have loved it.


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Dreessen: Ottawa has to shed its image as a town that doesn’t like fun





Ottawa has long held a reputation as a place that fun forgot. People who live here know that there is a lot to love about the city: its history, the Rideau Canal, proximity to parks and rivers, excellent clubs, museums and galleries all make Ottawa a great place.

More spontaneous fun things are harder to come by. We’ve created a process that makes it hard for small businesses to thrive and where the process is more important than the outcome.

In 2016, a local artist planned to give away free T-shirts celebrating Ottawa 2017 on Sparks Street, until the local Business Improvement Association (BIA) asked him to move, squashing a fun event to bring people together.

In 2017, business proposals to the NCC executive committee made a business case to open cafés at Remic Rapids, Confederation Park and Patterson Creek. In the summer of 2020, two opened; the Patterson Creek location, opposed by neighbours, has yet to see the light of day, though the NCC website indicates it may happen in 2021.

In each case, the cafés are only open for a few brief summer months. Despite the fact that Ottawa celebrates itself as a winter city, we can’t, somehow, imagine how people might want to enjoy a café in the spring or fall, or during winter months while skiing along the river or skating along the canal. Keeping public washrooms open, serving takeout and, yes, using patio heaters, could make these cafés fun additions to our city for most of the year.

More recently, Jerk on Wheels, a food truck with excellent Caribbean chicken and two locations, has run intro trouble. The one on Merivale Road continues, but the Bank Street location in Old Ottawa South has to close. According to social media posts from the owners, despite the business having all permissions in place, local restaurant franchises of Dairy Queen and Tim Hortons have objected to its presence.

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Ottawa businesses frustrated with slower pace of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen plan compared to other provinces





OTTAWA — As Canada plots its roadmap to reopening, each province is choosing their own path to reopen the economy and lift the COVID-19 restrictions.

Some are moving towards loosened restrictions at a faster pace than Ontario, which is frustrating for business owners who say they are ready to receive customers safely.

Patio season is upon the city, and at Banditos Restaurant on Bank Street, owner Matt Loudon is staging the large outdoor dining area to prepare for the summer rush. But the patio will have to remain closed until at least June 14, when it is expected Ontario will move into Step One of the three-step Roadmap to Reopen plan

“I hope they push it up a little bit,” says Loudon. “It’s beyond frustrating all the other provinces are opening up before us, we’ve been locked down longer than anybody else.”

Loudon, who owns two restaurants, says their outdoor seating has always been safe and that they have invested in added measures like sanitization stations and personal protective equipment for the staff. Indoor dining will continue to remain off limits in Ontario until Step Three. When patios do open, tables will be limited to four people. 

Unlike British Columbia’s four-pronged approach that began May 25. Residents in the province are now allowed to dine both inside and out, with a maximum of six per table, not restricted to one household.

Quebec will enter into its first step Friday, where outdoor dining will be available for two adults and their children, who can be from separate addresses per table. This applies to red and orange zones in the province. The curfew will also be lifted. 

In Gatineau, hair salons opened their doors to customers last week. Ten minutes away at Salon Bliss in Ottawa, all owner Sarah Cross can do is hope she can reopen sometime in July.

“Most people think that government funding covers all the bills but it’s far from it,” says Cross. Her upscale salon has nine chairs and over the course of the pandemic, in order to comply with regulations and keep staff and patrons, safe, only three chairs can now be filled. She says the hardest part is that the rules constantly change and vary in each region, adding it doesn’t make sense how one is better than the other.

“Our livelihood is dependent on what the decisions are made and if they were aligned with one belief system then I think they would have the trust of the public to follow these protocols.”

Many Ontario business owners say it’s not only a matter of necessity they open, but can do so safely. Infectious disease physician Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti agrees, and says the province needs to expedite its timeline.

“Especially with the fact that we are in the post vaccine era,” says Chakrabarti.

“It’s important for us to remember that we have been following this case count very closely for the last year and certainly we’ve had some experiences with opening things, especially with the second and third waves we have to remember that as we go forward now vaccines are a huge difference maker to the situation. Cases may go up but that doesn’t mean the most important thing will go up which is hospitalizations.”

Chakrabarti says while people will still get infected with COVID-19, with the reduced risk of hospitalization in large numbers there is no reason to restrict the community. He says while it’s not time for packed stadiums, it’s also not time for lockdowns and Ontario should re-think its strategy.

“We have to faith in the vaccines. We have seen in the other parts of the world like Israel, the U.K.,and the U.S. our neighbours to the south,” says Chakrabarti. “They are very safe and effective and our ticket out of this pandemic. We really should be taking that.”

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$2.9 million tax break for Ottawa Porsche dealership receives the green ligh





OTTAWA — Ottawa city council has given the green light to a $2.9 million tax break for a new Porsche dealership in Vanier.

Council voted 15 to 9 to approve a grant under the Community Improvement Plan initiative to build a Porsche dealership at the corner of Montreal Road and St. Laurent Boulevard.  The project by Mrak Holdings Inc., a.k.a. Mark Motors of Ottawa, would be built at 458 Montreal Road.

Under the Community Improvement Plan approved by Council, business owners can apply for a grant equal to 75 per cent of the municipal tax increase attributable to the redevelopment. A report says the goal of the Montreal Road Community Improvement Plan is to “stimulate business investment, urban renewal and property upgrades in the area.”

Coun. Catherine McKenney was one of nine councillors who opposed the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“I agree with the Community Improvement Plan, but I know and what people see here is that this application does not meet the criteria,” said McKenney about the CIP proposal for the Porsche dealership.

“A car dealership, no matter whether it’s Honda, or a Porsche or a Volkswagen, it does not first off belong on a traditional main street. This does not the meet the criteria of a CIP, it will do nothing for urban renewal.”

Approximately 70 people gathered at the site of the proposed Porsche dealership Tuesday evening to oppose the tax grant.

Coun. Diane Deans told Council she doubted any councillors who supported the Community Improvement Plan when it was developed in 2019 thought it would support a luxury car dealership.

“I don’t think it fits. I don’t think a clear case has been made that this incentive is required for the Mark Motors project to move forward at all,” said Deans. “I don’t believe there’s a clear community benefit.”

Coun. Riley Brockington, Deans, Jeff Leiper, Carol Anne Meehan, Rick Chiarelli, Theresa Kavanagh, Keith Egli, McKenney and Shawn Menard voted against the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“It will lead to a $17 million investment on Montreal Road, it will create about 20 jobs in that neigthborhood,” said Mayor Jim Watson.

Watson noted auto dealerships were not excluded from the Community Improvement Plan when approved by committee and Council.

A motion introduced by Watson was approved to use property tax revenue generated by the redevelopment for affordable housing.

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