Hamilton women step in to help deceased friend's baby

Tania Cowell had a large group of friends who did everything together. She died violently in March. Since then her friends have stepped in to help her seven-month-old son.
Tania Cowell died violently in March. The father of her child is charged with her death. Now her extended family and friends are stepping in to help her son. From left: Ivon Cowell, Brenda Milburn, Tishanne Dupius, Julie Cowell, Bailun and Jodie Ferreira. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

If Tania Cowell was left wanting anything in life, there was one thing she was never lacking, and that was friends.

She had friends in different communities and different areas of the city. She had friends through work, and friends from school, and friends she'd made through other friends.

When she died violently last month, friends from different areas of her life stepped forward wanting to help Bailun, Tania's seven-month-old son.

Now six of them have made good on that promise.

The 36-year-old's closest friends are holding a fundraiser for Bailun, who is now living with Tania's brother Ivon and his wife Julie in Ancaster. The goal is to establish a trust fund for Bailun's future education —exactly as Cowell would have done.

"Tania was a planner," said Jodie Ferreira, one of the friends organizing the fundraiser. "There would have been something for him, and because she can't, we are."

Tania was found dead at her Cherrywood Drive apartment in Stoney Creek on March 10. She had multiple stab wounds and was the only person in the apartment, police say. Her domestic partner — Bailun's father — is charged with second-degree murder.

'We somehow meshed together'

Ferreira first met Tania Cowell when she was 19 and Tania was 15. They both worked at Robin's Donuts in the north end.

"She had a crazy personality," Ferreira said. "You couldn't not be friends with her. She just made you be her friend."

Ferreira introduced Tania to Brenda Milburn and Tishanne Dupuis, who are also fundraiser co-organizers. Over time, "we somehow meshed together" and everyone started hanging out together, Ferreira said.

They had their usual habits. They loved to go shopping. They often visited Port Dover. Every weekend, they would meet for breakfast at the Big Top.

Having Bailun gave Tania, who was grieving the recent death of her mother, a new purpose in life, Ivon said.

Bailun Cowell Fundraiser

Where: Venetian Banquet Centre, 269 John St. N.

When: May 25

More information: brendamilburn@sympatico.ca

Trust fund donations can be made at any CIBC bank by using transit #09162 account #7621930.


"When she got pregnant, it just changed her. She had a whole new reason to live," he said. "She was just glowing. Every picture you saw, it was nothing but smiles and grins."

When Bailun was born, he became a member of Tania's extended group of friends. She brought him to breakfast at the Big Top. She bonded more with friends such as Milburn, who has three children of her own.

Loss is still surreal

Tania's death has left an irreplaceable hole in the group. The women are still in shock. Ferreira had a birthday recently, and for the past 20 years, Tania has called her to wish her a happy birthday. This year, the call didn't come.

"It's surreal to me sometimes," she said. "I think that she's going to ring my phone."

But "I have pictures all over my house, and I have him," she said of Bailun. "We have to make sure what she would want for him, and that's what this is all about."

Ivon, who is self-employed, and Julie, who is a teacher, plan to adopt Bailun. They were on vacation in Florida when they first heard of Tania's death. By the time they were home, they knew he would live with them.

They had turned their former nursery into large walk-in closet. Now it's a nursery again. They held a family vote with their existing children, aged 10 and six.

"I said 'Aunt Tania is no longer here to take care of the baby and he needs a home. All in favour of letting him grow up with us,'" Ivon said. The vote was unanimous.

Lots of aunts

They hope to raise Bailun as Tania would have done, which includes access to her friends.

"We're going to let Bailun's associations with all of my sister's friends continue as if it was our sister's decision," Ivon said.

"Anyone close with our sister is more than welcome and invited to continue the same friendship they would have had, that our sister would have wanted."

Now, Ferreira said, He's got "lots of extra aunties."

The fundraiser is May 25 at the Venetian Banquet Centre at 269 John St. N. For more information, email brendamilburn@sympatico.ca. Trust fund donations can be made at any CIBC bank by using transit #09162 account #7621930.