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Mom brings new toques to Greater Victoria streets to honour her late son

Street nurse, shelters hand out gifted headware to local residents
Diane Buchanan Holland collects new and often handmade toques to hand out to those facing housing or other challenges in winter. (Diane Buchanan Holland/Facebook)

While shopping recently, Diane Buchanan Holland spotted a bike and trailer – kitted out as a place to sleep, with someone indeed napping.

This time of year she happens to carry a selection of bright-coloured toques expressly for the purpose of handing out to those who might not get a gift at Christmas.

She left a neatly folded toque for the fellow to find when he awoke.

It’s her third winter collecting the often handmade toques, inspired by her late son.

“I thought the only way I can keep Brennan’s memory going is to do something in his name. Brennan wore a toque every day. Brennan got out of the shower in his housecoat and put a toque on,” Buchanan Holland said. “That was his signature, and he liked bright colours.”

READ ALSO: How to navigate grief during the holiday season

He would have been 31 this year, and was a young man when he died – devastating his mother.

But three years ago, she discovered a strength in carrying on somewhat of a family tradition in a way she feels Brennan would if he was here.

As a way to encourage philanthropy in her sons, who grew up in Oak Bay, and get a peek into what they might like for Christmas, she would take them shopping for toys to give away. They learned the value of the gifts received and taught them about giving and that there were children who might otherwise go without.

“Just showing them when you’re fortunate enough to have things – the strongest part of our society is how well we treat the people who are struggling the most. That really shows the strength of who we are as a group. And I tried to show them that,” she said.

Through online messages and at his memorial service, where everyone wore bright colours, she confirmed who she felt he was. She heard how he was calming, wise and let people talk without judgment.

“That’s who he was,” she said. “He always rooted for the underdog or someone who was experiencing a lot of situations in their life.”

A few years ago she knit about 20 toques by loom.

Then while watching TV she was struck by the story of a man in rehab in Vancouver knitting toques and he agreed to do some for her. A friend who is a street nurse got them out to people who needed them. The friend was tasked with letting the recipients know there’s a mom out there who knows they matter.

“They matter in this society and they matter to people.”

Three years ago she opted to go public on social media.

READ ALSO: Victoria soup kitchen serves up sandwiches, smiles, compassion

Strangers started contacting her.

“It’s just grown and grown and more and more people have gotten involved,” she said.

Among them is “Toque Angel Audrey” who hand-knitted and donated 150 amazing toques full of colour. With every stitch, she too thought of Brennan and sent love to each person who would receive one, Buchanan Holland said.

This year she hoped to hand out 250 toques and expects to hit 350 as well as $500 worth of toiletries. Most of the hats are also adorned with a heartwarming note or tag.

The donations go out to Greater Victoria residents, through street nurses, shelters and others working in the field.

“It’s not even run like a non-profit, everything is given out of care and love and for free. I then give it to the different societies and my girlfriend. It’s a seamless flow.”

She also had a memorial tree planted in Bowker Creek park near the path Brennan and his brother Liam walked every day on the way to school.

It too reflects who he was, as its leaves turn from summer green to vivid fall colours of bright yellow, orange and red.

The tree one mom had planted on the shores of Bowker Creek in honour of her late son Brennan. (Diane Buchanan Holland/Facebook)

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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