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‘It feels like she should’ve been here all along’: Sask. woman meets birth family on Christmas Day

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It has been a very special Christmas for Janet Anderson, who says she’s found what she’s been searching for all her life.

The 64-year-old from Moose Jaw, Sask., met her birth family for the first time on Christmas morning in B.C., 64 years and two days after being adopted by another family two provinces away.

“My heart is so full — it is, it really is,” said Anderson. “I feel like I am a whole person now, whereas before, there was always a puzzle piece missing and my family has filled that here.”

In October, Anderson received her registration of live birth in the mail from the Saskatchewan government.

She found her birth mother, Jean Stahl, on Facebook and decided to reach out by messaging her daughter, Elaine. After the initial shock wore off, the two began talking regularly and Elaine Stahl invited Anderson to Haida Gwaii, B.C., to join the family for the holidays.

There was always a puzzle piece missing and my family has filled that here.– Janet Anderson

On Christmas Eve, Anderson’s flight from Vancouver to Sandspit, B.C., was cancelled and there wasn’t another scheduled for two days. But she was determined to make it.

“Christmas is a time for families to come together and it’s really important,” Anderson said.

Janet and her adoptive father, Richard Anderson, are shown on the day she was adopted: Dec. 23, 1954. (Submitted by Janet Anderson)

She instead caught a flight to Prince Rupert, B.C., and took an overnight ferry to the island. Elaine and her husband Greg picked her up at the terminal at 5:30 a.m. on Christmas morning.

“It was everything I hoped for and more,” said Anderson. “I have a sister!”

Moose Jaw, Sask. woman Janet Anderson had the chance to finally meet her birth sister and mother in B.C. on Christmas day after being adopted as baby in 1954. 0:57

They both recognized each other right away. The two long-lost sisters have barely left each other’s side since.

“She was crying and I was hugging,” said Anderson. “It was an awesome moment that we’ll both never forget.”

“It was just such a relief and so exciting to finally meet her,” said Elaine. “For me, it was only two months. For her, it was 64 years waiting.”

Janet Anderson first connected with her half-sister, Elaine Stahl, shown at left, on Facebook, before speaking with her mother, Jean Stahl, shown at right. (Submitted by Janet Anderson)

Anderson was in for a shock when her birth mother was waiting to meet her in the car.

“I had waited all my life to meet her and to look at her and to just see her and hug her,” Anderson said. “There’s no words to describe it.”

Jean Stahl was 25 when she gave birth to Anderson at the Salvation Army Grace Haven, a home for unwed mothers in Regina, and eventually put the baby up for adoption. (At the time, her name was Lillian Jean Avery.)

She went on to get married and raise four children in Salmo, B.C., where she still lives.

Until this year, she had only told her parents and her husband Kurt about the baby she gave up as a single woman. She never said anything about the birth father, who was 24 at the time of Anderson’s birth.

Content with her adopted family growing up, Anderson only began seeking information about her birth family in 1991 without much luck. But when the Government of Saskatchewan opened its adoption records for adult adoptees on Jan. 1, 2017, it allowed Anderson and other access to all their paperwork as long as it was not vetoed by a birth parent.

Stahl always wondered if she would be contacted by her daughter one day, but had signed a paper saying she wouldn’t seek her out. She is still processing the impact of the reunion, Anderson said.

For Christmas, Stahl gave Anderson a framed photo of the two of them, before Anderson was adopted. (Submitted by Janet Anderson)

Anderson said they had a breakthrough as mother and daughter when she stopped Stahl from walking back to her granddaughter’s house alone.

“It was raining out and it was a little slippery. Off she was going. And all of a sudden, I looked at her and said, ‘Mom, stop,'” said Anderson. “I didn’t want her to fall, and it’s the first time I called her mom.

“It just came out. It was such a natural thing to say to her. I think that made her realize it’s real.”

For Christmas, Stahl gave Anderson a framed photo of the two of them, before Anderson was adopted.

It took me 64 years but it is just so worth it.– Janet Anderson

Anderson gave everyone personalized Christmas ornaments with the date of their meeting and sentiments about being together at last.

Janet is staying with Elaine at her house in Haida Gwaii for the holidays. (CBC News)

Anderson said she’s been met with both love and acceptance by all of the family. She has also met her two brothers, Jerry and Jamie, over Skype.

“It feels like she should’ve been here all along,” said Elaine.

The sisters have found out they have a lot in common. Both of them were lifeguards as teens, both spent their summers in Penticton, B.C., as young adults, and both still have a bad habit of rolling their eyes when they’re annoyed.

“We’re both very stubborn,” Anderson said, laughing.

While some people have said their connection is only DNA, Anderson said it’s unexplainable to those who haven’t been in their situation. She encourages everyone else who is searching for their birth family not to give up.

“It took me 64 years but it is just so worth it.”

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City committee votes to name Sandy Hill Park after Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook

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OTTAWA — Ottawa city councillors have voted to rename a Sandy Hill park after celebrated Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook.

The community and protective services committee approved a recommendation to rename the park at 240 Somerset Street East the “Annie Pootoogook Park.”

Pootoogook was an award-winning artist who lived in Ottawa. She died in 2016 at the age of 47 when she fell into the Rideau River. Ottawa police investigated her death, but it was ruled non-suspicious.

Stephanie Plante submitted an application to the city to commemorate Pootoogook by renaming the park after her.

Plante says she met with Veldon Coburn, the adoptive father of Pootoogook’s eight-year-old daughter, and reached out to Pootoogook’s brother in Nunavut to discuss the idea.

“Women matter, the arts matter, and most importantly Inuit people matter,” Plante told the committee.

“As of today, it’s quite possible an entirely new generation will write Annie Pootoogook Park on birthday party invitations, t-ball sign ups, dog park meet ups, soccer registration forms, summer camp locations.”

Alexandra Badzak, director of the Ottawa Art Gallery, told the community and protective services committee the arts community supports honouring Pootoogook.

“Those of us in the arts in Ottawa, across Canada and internationally know of the importance of Annie Pootoogook’s work,” said Badzak. “Who’s pen and pencil crayon drawings drew upon the legacy of her famous artistic family.”

The head of the National Gallery of Canada said Pootoogook’s artistic legacy is remembered across Canada.

“There’s absolutely no question that Annie Pootoogook is deserving of having Sandy Hill Park named in her honour,” Sasha Suda told the committee Thursday morning.

“She was an unbelievably bright light. Despite the briefness of her career, she leaves an incredibly strong legacy through her art work and in the ways that she changed the art world.”

Coun. Mathieu Fleury told the committee plans are in the works to set up an exhibit space in the Sandy Hill Community Centre to highlight Pootoogook’s work. The city is also working to set up programming for Inuit and artists in the park.

Council will vote on the proposal next week.

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City aces legal dispute over Kanata golf club

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An Ontario court judge has upheld a 40-year-old agreement that says the Kanata Lakes Golf and Country Club must remain open space and not be redeveloped into a housing community.

The decision is a big win for the city, Kanata North Coun. Jenna Sudds and her constituents, who have spent two years trying to prevent property owner ClubLink from turning the course into a 1,500-home development with its partners Minto Communities and Richcraft Homes.

Sudds, who said she burst into tears over Friday’s decision, called it “terrific news” for the community. As many as 500 homes back onto the course and more than 1,000 households use the grounds for recreation, she said.

“The green space, the golf course itself, which really is right in the middle of our community here, is used by the community quite frequently,” said Sudds, who recently moved the neighbourhood. “I see people out all hours of the day throughout the winter. It’s amazing to see all the tracks snowshoeing and skiing and dog-walking.”

40-year-old agreement ‘valid’

ClubLink, which bought the 50-year-old course in 1997, announced in December 2018 that it planned to redevelop part of the property.

Local residents, along with the newly elected councillor and the city’s own legal department, argued that the development shouldn’t go ahead due to a 1981 legal agreement between then City of Kanata and the developer. That agreement called for 40 per cent of the area in Kanata Lakes to be open space in perpetuity.

“The 1981 Agreement continues to be a valid and binding contract,” Ontario Superior Court Justice Marc Labrosse wrote in his 44-page decision.

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Ottawa residents remain pro-Trump Avenue

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It appears Donald Trump still has a home in Canada’s capital, even if he has departed Washington, D.C.

Earlier this year, residents on Trump Avenue, in Ottawa’s Central Park neighbourhood, put the possibility of changing the name of their street to a vote following the former president’s tumultuous time in office.

The neighbourhood has several streets named after icons of New York City and Trump was a famous real estate mogul before he was elected.

In order to change the name of a street, the city requires 50 per cent plus one of all households on that street to be in favour.

There are 62 houses on Trump Avenue, meaning at least 32 households would have had to vote to change the name.

The city councillor for the area, Riley Brockington, said Wednesday that 42 households voted and the neighbourhood was divided, 21 to 21. 

Without the required margin to enact the change, Brockington says the matter will not proceed any further. 

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