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Here’s why the giant digital billboard outside the Eaton Centre had an obituary on it

Here's why the giant digital billboard outside the Eaton Centre had an obituary on it
Photograph from LaurenceYYZ/Reddit

For 15 minutes on Saturday, something weird happened at Yonge-Dundas Square. The enormous digital display mounted on the exterior of the Eaton Centre, which normally beams advertisements into the eyeballs of anyone who comes anywhere near the intersection, was taken over by a heartfelt personal message. On the south side of the display were five images of a smiling older woman. On the north side, there was a message: “In Memoriam: Stella Przybylowski, 1926 - 2015. Beloved wife. Loving mother. Aunt of many nieces and nephews. Cherished grandmother.” It was a towering obituary, on one of the most prominent display advertising surfaces in the country.

Passersby were intrigued. Was this the funeral rite of some super-wealthy family?

George Przybylowski is a vice president at Informa Canada, a company that puts on conferences and exhibitions. He’s a normal, 65-year-old guy who loved Stella, his mother. All he wanted, initially, was a small plaque in her honour on a particular bench on the main floor of the Eaton Centre, near Trinity Square.

“I just kept trying to think about what I could possibly do to honour my mother in some fashion, beyond a grave and a tombstone,” he said. Because he has been involved in organizing conferences for the real estate industry, he had some acquaintances at Cadillac Fairview, the Eaton Centre’s corporate landlord. He reached out to them. “I said, ‘Hey, what about Stella’s Bench?'"

Stella, who died at 89 years old in August 2015, was forced to leave Poland with her family in 1940 after the country was invaded by Russia. She arrived in Canada 10 years later, after a series of forced relocations that brought her to first to Siberia, and later to India and Lebanon. By 1951 she’d moved to Toronto and found a husband. In 1960, she took a job at Eatons, the now-defunct department store, where she worked in the accounting department. In 1977, when Eatons became the Eaton Centre’s namesake and anchor tenant, Stella formed a lifelong connection with the mall.

“She was a fanatic about Eatons and the Eaton Centre,” George says. “After she retired, in 1991, she went to the Eaton Centre every Tuesday and Thursday.” She drank coffee and watched the crowds. That was the origin of the plaque idea.

But Cadillac Fairview couldn’t do the plaque. According to George, they didn’t want to set a precedent for other families who might want plaques for former mall employees. Instead, the company suggested an alternative: a 15-minute tribute on the big display board outside the mall. No money changed hands; Cadillac Fairview did it free of charge.

On the day of the display, George and 14 other family members stood in Yonge-Dundas Square and watched the big board, along with thousands of strangers who happened to be passing through the intersection at the time. “I was feeling pretty touched,” George says. “My mother would be very upset, because she never wanted anybody to make a fuss over her.”

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