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Two Winnipeg sisters honour their father’s legacy through random acts of kindness

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Sisters Kay Lizon and Jessica Boittiaux remember their father's Canada Day parties very well, even though it has been nearly three decades since the last one.

“Dad started off by throwing on some fireworks and a couple of kids were kind of watching through the fence," said Lizon, adding the family was living in the area near Stella and Salter. "Dad said, 'no come on in and have some barbecue!' and the next year there were even more kids."

A few years later, the party outgrew the Boittiaux family's backyard and they had to migrate to a nearby parking lot.

The annual community event only grew larger, with local businesses, food vendors, and live entertainment joining in, and, by 1994, would take over the field by a nearby school for a day-long Canada Day celebration.

"We were competing with the Forks," said Lizon.

1994 would be the last summer celebration organized by Gary Boittiaux. At the end of April the following year, he passed away and, for a while, Gary Boittiaux's summer tradition of giving back to the community ended.

That is, until 2011, when Boittiaux's daughters decided to change seasons on their father's tradition, by carrying out random acts of kindness during Winnipeg's coldest months.

"The Gary Effect" was born.

"We're not trying to solve any complex problems or anything," said Jessica Boittiaux, "But we do believe that if you do one small act it will pass its way to other people."

That is, in essence, the core concept driving The Gary Effect: Do something that will benefit someone, anyone in the community and, in turn, they will do the same for someone else.

"It's evolved from something personal between us and just wanting to remember Dad," said Lizon, "To that core of what dad saw and inspired in the community."

"He did that for us so it's really cool to see that he's doing that for other people," said Boittiaux.

During The Gary Effect's first campaign - where the sisters and a group of friends handed out Christmas gifts to families in the North End - Lizon and Boittiaux quickly learned they weren't the only kids who fondly remember their father's Canada Day event.

"We were meeting people saying, 'I remember your dad,'" said Boittiaux, "What a lovely way to keep his memory alive."

"They remembered the events he threw."

Over the years, the random acts of kindness (or "ROKs" as the sisters have abbreviated) carried out by The Gary Effect have taken many forms, from clothing and food donations to Easter egg hunts to this past holiday season when Lizon and Boittiaux placed free gifts for Winnipeggers to find all around the city.

"We're trying not to get stuck in the mould of every year we're going to go door to door," said Lizon. "The whole thing behind this is the element of surprise."

Eventually, the sisters hope to bring their father's Canada Day parties back to the North End.

"We would love to host a huge community event," said Boittiaux, "We want to see those kids in adulthood and see who remembers Dad."

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