Family remembered at ‘second backyard’
East-end community gathers for day of fun in memory of Christmas Eve fire victims
Riverdale’s Withrow Park was busier than usual Sunday as hundreds took part in a day of activities to honour a local family killed after their cottage caught fire Christmas Eve.
Geoffrey (Geoff) Taber, 56, Jacqueline (Jacquie) Gardner, 47, and their sons Scott Taber, 15, and Andrew Taber,13, died in a blaze that destroyed their Stoney Lake-area cottage last year.
The loss is still painful, longtime friend Ron Dennis said, but Sunday’s event, dubbed “A Day at Withrow Park,” was meant to channel the positivity the family brought to the neighbourhood through their community and charity work. It was organized by the not-for-profit Taber Family Foundation, which Dennis helped establish in the wake of the fatal fire.
“We’ve had the sombre event,” Dennis said, referring to a memorial service held back in January. “Today is a celebration of life in our community . . . We wanted to invite everyone — friends, family, neighbours, the whole community — to have a day and we chose events and activities that the Tabers loved to do.”
Among the activities were bike rides, runs, a group dog walk and a children’s bike obstacle course; there were also performances by local musicians, a beer garden and food stations set up by the Taber family’s favourite restaurants.
“Sitting in the afternoon with nice food and a nice drink and listening to great music (were) also something that the Tabers loved, and we wanted to enjoy that with the whole community today,” Dennis said.
The foundation was also collecting donations to help upgrade the park’s ball hockey rink, where the Taber family was a regular presence. Geoff was an enthusiastic sponsor and coach for the local children’s league, and both sons played on local teams.
Kyle Cordy,14, said he played on the same team as Andrew, which Geoff also coached, and came to the event to show his respect to the family.
“(Andrew) was funny and quiet and he was really good at hockey. He had a lot of skill and potential,” Cordy recalled. “He was really passionate about hockey.”
Another of Andrew’s ball hockey teammates, 14-year-old Aton Jakobsen, remembered the Taber family’s kindness. “They were just really nice people. They always had the whole team over, giving extra money to help with something, Geoff would always buy us shirts and stuff for the team, just really friendly people,” Jakobsen said.
That was a sentiment shared by neighbourhood resident Caroline Bouffard, who said she met the Taber family when her youngest son started playing ball hockey.
“The first year we joined the team, we didn’t know anyone and right away they embraced our family — included us in activities, made us feel at home, made us feel part of the team right away,” Bouffard recalled as she waited for her son to complete the 5-kilometre children’s run.
She said it was important for her to come out Sunday “to celebrate life.”
“It sounds corny, but that’s what you do when a tragedy like this happens — you celebrate life, you get together and you reminisce . . . And for our kid, who knew Andrew, especially, I think it’s important for him because it helps with closure,” Bouffard said.
“The Tabers were always hanging around this park,” she added. “Withrow was like their second backyard.”
Friends, neighbours and family volunteered in memory of the Taber family on a day of activities at Withrow Park.