Christ­mas saved by ‘unique soul’


What be­gan as a merry fam­ily out­ing last Sun­day, capped by a visit to Nathan Phillips Square’s Hol­i­day Fair, turned into a fran­tic search for a miss­ing purse.

And no won­der the search was so des­per­ate. The purse held all the es­sen­tial stuff of mod­ern life, as well as cash for Christ­mas ex­penses, pay­ments and do­na­tions.

As it turned out, Elizabeth Mar­quez had noth­ing to worry about. Her purse would be re­turned that evening by a “unique soul” who turned down her of­fer of a re­ward, ask­ing in­stead that she do­nate the money to the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund so “kids could ex­pe­ri­ence the magic of Christ­mas.”

Mar­quez, her daugh­ters, Lily, 5, and Mar­i­ana, 7, and hus­band Vic­tor, had taken ad­van­tage of last Sun­day’s mild weather to have brunch at a west-end Toronto restau­rant fol­lowed by a street­car ride to city hall, where ice skaters packed the out­door rink and sea­son­ally spir­ited kids, teens and adults were drawn to the hol­i­day fair in the square.

Mo­ments af­ter step­ping off the Queen street­car, the fam­ily posed for a group selfie by the rink. It was then that the stay-at-home mom no­ticed her purse was miss­ing.

“I felt weak in the knees, like my whole world was crash­ing,” said Mar­quez. “Ev­ery­thing is in my purse, all the credit and ac­cess cards, OHIP cards, mine and the girls’, driver’s li­cence, all our keys, and my phone with all of the in­for­ma­tion about my life — mom’s brain is ba­si­cally in there — and $2,000 cash I had just taken out of the bank. Un­for­tu­nately the cell­phone bat­tery was dead, so I couldn’t (use GPS to) lo­cate it.”

She de­cided her hus­band and daugh­ters should go home, just in case some­one found her purse and took it there. Then she checked at the city hall se­cu­rity desk, on the chance it had been turned in.

Mar­quez and a se­cu­rity guard looked in and around garbage con­tain­ers in the square and in city hall wash­rooms but had no luck. Think­ing she may have left it on the street­car, Mar­quez de­cided to get back on to see if a driver could help her. “I told the driver what hap­pened and he called in a re­port.”

It was only when she got home that her dis­may turned to ju­bi­la­tion, as her hus­band told her the purse had been brought to their neigh­bour­hood po­lice sta­tion.

It turned out Gary Fish had boarded the street­car at Bay St. just as Mar­quez and her fam­ily were step­ping off, and no­ticed the purse on an empty seat. He first thought it be­longed to a woman pay­ing her fare at the ticket ma­chine, but when she sat at an­other seat he real­ized it wasn’t hers.

“As more peo­ple were about to get on a few stops later, I de­cided to take tem­po­rary possession of it and started look­ing for clues as to who owned it,” said Fish, who has worked in Cana­dian Tire’s mar­ket­ing depart­ment for 16 years.

“Look­ing in­side and see­ing all the con­tents that are a big part of some­one’s life made me re­al­ize how im­por­tant it was to get it to the owner, and get­ting it to a po­lice sta­tion made the most sense.”

Fish got off at Par­lia­ment St. and headed to the 51 Divi­sion sta­tion at Front St., where he handed in the purse. A po­lice of­fi­cer phoned him about an hour later, ask­ing whether he would mind hav­ing his num­ber passed on to the owner, who wanted to per­son­ally thank him.

“When I called and of­fered to com­pen­sate him for all he did, he asked me to make a do­na­tion to the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund in­stead,” said Mar­quez.

She thinks acts of kind­ness that re­sult in happy end­ings should be shared be­cause they re­fresh our faith in hu­man­ity: “Gary is a unique soul, and I think this story should be spread.”

Asked why he sug­gested a do­na­tion to the Santa Claus Fund, Fish said “it’s im­por­tant for all kids to feel the magic of Christ­mas and the sur­prise of get­ting a gift — even if they are kids who don’t un­der­stand Christ­mas, who come from other cul­tures, be­cause it’s some­thing they would hear about in the school­yard and from other kids.

“Look­ing back to when I was lit­tle, my par­ents may have had some fi­nan­cial strug­gles, but I al­ways got to ex­pe­ri­ence the magic of a Christ­mas morn­ing. And al­though I didn’t re­ceive a Santa Claus Fund gift box from the Star, I be­lieve ev­ery kid should know the joy of hav­ing a gift at Christ­mas.”


Good Sa­mar­i­tan Gary Fish re­turns a purse to Elizabeth Mar­quez that she’d lost on a TTC street­car. When Fish found it, the purse con­tained $2,000, all her iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, credit cards, keys and cell­phone.


Just be­fore los­ing her purse, she posed for a photo with daugh­ters Lily, 5, Mar­i­ana, 7, and hus­band Vic­tor.

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