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Tribute to young woman's dream of castle

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A FITTING FAREWELL TO AMY: Nearly 600 of Amy Gilbert's friends, admirers and family members packed a seventh-floor ballroom of the Fort Garry Hotel Saturday afternoon to say a formal goodbye to the 23-year-old who was fatally injured a week earlier when she was struck by a car on Broadway, just two blocks from where the service was held.

Many had to stand around the perimeter of the room and even out into the hall.

Why was it held at the Fort Garry Hotel?

Several people asked me that.

So I asked Amy's mother, Alison Gilbert. The answer is because the family agreed that was the only place it could be held, and not even because of the amount of space and convenience it offered family who came from out of town. No, it's because of how Amy felt about the hotel.

"She loved the Fort Garry Hotel," Alison explained on Monday.

In fact, Amy even lived nearby, in a suite of a historic home on Assiniboine Avenue. But as a little girl, Amy wanted to live in a castle.

"And the Fort Garry is Winnipeg's castle," Alison said. "She wanted to live on the top floor."

There was another reason for the choice of venue.

"She always said she wanted to get married there," Alison recalled.

Although, in later years, she told her closest friend, Kayla Prokopchuk, she had opted for a simpler setting, closer to nature, and another placed she loved.

"The cabin."

Unfortunately, not everyone who wanted to be at the celebration of Amy's life could get there. Another of her many friends, Alexa Parker, was in Paris.

But Alexa paid her own tribute to Amy. There's a pedestrian bridge in Paris -- the Pont des Arts near the Louvre -- where people pledge undying love by writing their names on a padlock, locking it to the clusters of other "love locks" on the bridge and throwing the key into the Seine River.

So that's what Alexa did last week.

She printed Amy's name in blue, drew a heart on her love lock and attached it to the others on the bridge.

I'm told Winnipeg is gradually creating its own version of a love-lock bridge, on the chain-link fence along the train/pedestrian bridge that links Sir John Franklin Park in River Heights with Omand Park. Except the keys, presumably, are flung below into the romantic Assiniboine River, not the Seine.

But we were talking about Paris and Alexa's gesture, which in its own way is a perfect tribute to Amy, the little girl who loved castles and who grew up with a passion for travelling the world. And did travel the world before she left it so early and so tragically.


-- -- --

AND NOW A PUBLIC-HEALTH HISTORY LESSON: Measles are a disease modern medicine had all but eradicated until some people decided their children were at more risk by being vaccinated than being exposed to the measles. But a recent outbreak across North America, including a few reported cases in Manitoba, has given some to recall what an epidemic did to the Red River Settlement when there was no vaccine to prevent it.

Writing in Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing World of the Red River Metis in the 19th Century (1996), Gerhard Ens notes:

"The first major epidemic in Red River began in 1846, affecting a population that had never been exposed to measles. The epidemic resulted in the highest death rate ever recorded in the Red River Settlement. Half the deaths were children less than five years of age... The unrest and the breakdown of the moral authority of the HBC were connected to the death toll of these years."

Gwain Hamilton, author of In the Beginning (c.1967), put that measles outbreak in more personal perspective:

"From June 18 to Aug. 2 of 1846, deaths averaged seven a day. Bishop Provencher had nine funerals in one day. On one occasion 13 burials were proceeding at once."


-- -- --

NOW, ON A SOMEWHAT LIGHTER NOTE, A LESSON ON WHEN NOT TO DIE IN WINNIPEG: If most us had a choice of which season we would prefer not to die, I suspect those who live in Winnipeg would answer winter.

Not Heather Robertson.

The Winnipeg-born author and journalist had a different take in her book, Meeting Death.

"Never die in Winnipeg in July," she wrote. "Everybody goes to the lake."

As I wrote, Heather Robertson died last month on her 72nd birthday, at her home north in King City, Ont.

Her memorial service is scheduled for spring -- April 27 -- in Toronto.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 15, 2014 B1

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