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April 7th, 2016 · No Comments

Meet the Bathurst bird babicka

Ewa feeds the birds in front of Bathurst Station. The retiree, who wishes she could still work, occupies her time by caring for the pigeons and squirrels. MICHAEL CHACHURA/GLEANER NEWS

Ewa feeds the birds in front of Bathurst Station. The retiree, who wishes she could still work, occupies her time by caring for the pigeons and squirrels.
MICHAEL CHACHURA/GLEANER NEWS

By Michael Chachura

In the parkette in front of Bathurst Station an elderly lady sits feeding the pigeons and the squirrels.

Sun, rain, snow, or sleet, she’s here on the bench with a bag full of bread and some seeds. Why she feeds the animals, she doesn’t know. She’s not crazy, although sometimes she bursts into laughter and claims she is.

Her name is Ewa. She was born in the Czech Republic in the 1940s. She moved to Canada with her two children because she didn’t want her daughters playing in the street alongside Soviet tanks. Ewa worked as a nurse, spending most of her career working in a Toronto emergency room and then at a Toronto medical centre in the mental health department. She retired from nursing two years ago.

“All I want to do is go back and work,” she tells me. “If I could go back I would.”

When the pigeons see her get off the bus, they fly over Bathurst Station and land beside the bench where she sits.

“They can tell me by my white hair,” she says with a matter-of-fact face. “Wouldn’t you be happy if someone recognized you?”

She comes to see them every day and remembers their habits.

“This one, I recognize him. He sits here and waits for me to feed him from my hand.” She is also friendly with the squirrels.

“See this big one, that is the mama. Watch this.”

She throws a ladyfinger onto the ground and the big squirrel quickly grabs it. Soon Mama Squirrel is running across the street on the telephone wires. Ewa even cares for the animals when she’s not there. Before she leaves her bench each day, she sprinkles feed on the ground so that the pigeons can have breakfast the next morning.

She’s been coming to this bench every day since she retired.

“I remember in Prague it was normal for people to feed the birds. Here they give you dirty looks.”

She believes the birds deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

“The birds are very smart, very smart.”

She once found a pigeon that was injured and couldn’t walk.

“I couldn’t leave him. I am like that.”

She took a taxi, with the pigeon as passenger, to Sheppard and Downsview. There she entrusted it to Rudy, known as the Pigeon Protector.

Sometimes a bird gets sick or injured and passes away. Ewa refuses to allow their bodies to be disposed of or left to rot. Instead she smuggles them onto the bus under her coat to bury them in a special place. She will never disclose the location so that no one can disturb their resting place.

Ewa believes that retirees die because of boredom. Her biggest fear is becoming someone who stays at home and does nothing. Feeding the birds keeps her sharp and busy.

The reason Ewa feeds the birds is as unique as she is.

As a retiree, she feels trapped. She loved her work and wishes she could go back to it. Her patients required special attention and care. Those suffering with mental illness are oppressed in our society, and some are forced to spend time on the streets, where people like you and me ignore their pleas for spare change or food. Ewa’s care for the pigeons is motivated by more than just a love for animals. It is motivated by a deep compassion for those in need. She acts on the principle that everyone and everything deserves compassion.

What will happen when she is no longer able to feed the birds?

“I don’t even want to think about it,” she says, cupping her hands and shaking them to the sky, the wind raw and biting.

“I need them.”

Tags: Annex · Life