Note: The printed version of this story in The Local had an incorrect byline. It was written by Mike Balsom. Sorry Mike, and thanks for a great story. Can’t wait to meet Devon at the Candlelight Stroll.
Devon Botbyl can’t wait for the return of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce’s annual Candlelight Stroll on Dec. 3.
The 18-year-old Virgil resident will be in the spotlight as the recipient of the funds raised through candle sales this year. It’s a dream come true for the Eden High School student.
Devon’s father, Scott, received the call from Chamber president Eduardo Lafforgue last Thursday. The family of four, including Devon’s sister Elise, were overjoyed with the news.
“Our hearts are extremely full,” says Devon’s mom Dani. “When an entire community rallies behind you, it’s just such a great honour. It’s an overwhelming, emotional feeling. We’ve been to the Candlelight Stroll and we know how big of an event it is for Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
To top things off, Devon was diagnosed with lymphoma in June. Just three weeks ago he finished five months of immunotherapy and chemotherapy treatments. The family drove back and forth between Virgil and Hamilton’s McMaster
Hospital two to four times a week for eight-hour infusions, as well as for bloodwork and tests, and to meet with his
The honour comes at the perfect time for the Botbyls. Devon was born with a rare chromosome condition that leaves him with global delays and autistic tendencies. He also has mobility challenges, and is immunocompromised. The cancellation of important programs at Red Roof Retreat and his inability to attend school during the pandemic have left the very social young man unusually isolated at home.
Through it all, Dani says Devon continued to remain positive.
“He would come home after 12 hours at the hospital and get on his bike and ride around the neighbourhood. He didn’t really want it (the cancer) to slow him down. He wanted to be Dev, and we took our cues from him.”
The hockey fan who loves to spend time at the arena responded quite well to his treatments, and his recent scans came back with great results. He will have another set of scans in three months to ensure the lymphoma hasn’t returned.
Devon is easing back into school, and is now able to attend some of the programs at Red Roof Retreat.
“Devon finds the good in everything,” Dani says. “Here he has cancer and there’s COVID, but he’s still uplifted. He’s such a happy boy. It’s elevated his happiness to get some of his normal life back.”
With recent orthopedic issues, Devon has not been able to run and walk as he once could. He was scheduled for orthopedic surgery this fall but the cancer diagnosis led to its cancellation.
His yellow tricycle and the tandem bike he loves to ride with Scott have become fixtures in his neighbourhood and beyond.
“I’m sure people in the Shakespeare area will recognize him,” says Dani. “Queen Street, Virgil, the bike path. He’s always on that bike because that’s his legs. You’ll see him on the corner of King and Queen by Simcoe Park waving to cars and saying hello to tourists.”
Very few people love NOTL as much as Devon does. His love for the town and its traditions comes up often in conversation with his mother.
Even before he knew about this year’s stroll, Devon would frequently sit at the computer and watch the Cogeco YourTV coverage of the 2017 event, when his friend Megan Dick was the beneficiary.
Each August the family celebrates Devon’s birthday with one of his favourite pastimes — a horse and carriage ride through the town. Says Dani, “He loves everything that this community holds for him.”
Scott is a carpenter employed by the District School Board of Niagara, while Dani works as an educator with a dental supply company. For 25 years the family has lived in the same two-storey home, but Devon’s orthopedic issues were forcing them to consider moving to a bungalow.
With the proceeds from the Candlelight Stroll, the Botbyls plan to install an elevator for Devon and remodel an upstairs bathroom to make it fully accessible. They are hoping to start the renovations in the spring.
After being held as a much-scaled down event last year, with the public asked to light candles at home, the Candlelight Stroll is really the first normal celebration to take place in the town since March, 2020. This milestone hasn’t been lost on the Botbyl family.
“We’ll be grinning ear-to-ear with thankfulness for what the community is doing,” Dani tells The Local. “There aren’t enough words to describe how happy this is going to make Devon. We can’t wait to see Devon on top of the world that night. He’s already in love with the town, but he’s just going to be over the moon.”
The Chamber will also be donating $1,000 to the Farmworker Hub to help with their recent goal of raising $15,000 to help with their operating costs. Another tradition of the Candlelight Stroll is supporting the food drive for Newark Neighbours. Attendees can bring their donations the night of the stroll and drop them off at any of the candle stalls for collection.
The Candlelight Stroll takes place on Friday, Dec, 3 from 6:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. throughout the Heritage District. Attendees are invited to start the stroll at the Court House, where Devon will be boarding a horse-drawn carriage from Sentineal Carriages to get everyone walking and singing. Masks will be required for everyone attending the event.