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Glace Bay woman who received new roof living in hard conditions

Three bedrooms in Jeanette MacDonald's house are without doors and there are no beds, only old thin mattresses on the floor. MacDonald gave up her bedroom to her growing grandchildren about 10 years ago and has slept on the couch since.
Three bedrooms in Jeanette MacDonald's house are without doors and there are no beds, only old thin mattresses on the floor. MacDonald gave up her bedroom to her growing grandchildren about 10 years ago and has slept on the couch since. - Sharon Montgomery-Dupe
GLACE BAY, N.S. —

You can no more judge a house by its roof than you can a book by its cover.

Although Jeanette MacDonald of Glace Bay now has a new roof on her house due to the kindness of a Good Samaritan, the interior tells a story of living a life with little.

“You live with what you have, it’s as simple as that,” MacDonald said. “That’s what I do. I’m comfortable. People might not like it, but I’m comfortable.”

MacDonald, who never married, not only brought up her own two children, but also four grandchildren on her own.

A tour throughout her house uncovered hard living conditions. The floors throughout the home are uneven, torn and, in some rooms, there isn’t any actual flooring. Bedrooms don’t have doors — a blanket substitutes as a door on one. There are no beds in the house, only extremely thin and old mattresses on the floor, covered with thin blankets. The stairs to the upper level have seen better days and don’t even have a railing. Some walls in the house are just unpainted, crack-filled Gyprock. The kitchen includes old cupboards, some without handles.

Old stairs without a railing lead to the second level of Jeanette MacDonald's house in Glace Bay. MacDonald says she does what she can but her main concern is her grandchildren.
Old stairs without a railing lead to the second level of Jeanette MacDonald's house in Glace Bay. MacDonald says she does what she can but her main concern is her grandchildren.

However, anyone meeting MacDonald, will encounter a cheerful, open-hearted person.

“I’m happy with what all I have,” she said. “Like they say, what you’ve got, you’ve got and if you haven’t got, you can’t change it.”

At age 51, MacDonald took a continuing care assistant course but then ended up back home full time to raise her grandchildren from babies. MacDonald bought her small house home through a "rent to own" agreement 35 years ago. Throughout the years MacDonald has been heating her home with just a wood stove, getting up early in the morning to put a fire on so the house would be warm for her grandsons.

As well as living in extremely poor conditions, about 10 years ago MacDonald gave up her bedroom as her grandchildren were getting older and needed the space. Since that time she has slept on the living room couch.

MacDonald said she won’t ask anyone for anything. Through the years her concern has been only for her grandchildren. As long as they have what they need and are healthy, nothing else matters, she said.

Living on an old age pension, she watches for sales and tries to buy in bulk.

MacDonald is adamant she won’t go to the food bank and will just do the best she can with what she has. Basically, she feels there are too many people out there who need the food worse than she does.

“And I won’t take it away from them,” she adds. “Nope, I won’t do it.”

The major issue the past year has been living with a leaky roof, resulting in pots and pans having to be set out every time it rains, including in one of the boys' bedrooms.

MacDonald said now thanks to Jeremy Locke, there is a roof.

“They’ve always had a roof over their head and now it’s not a leaky one,” she said, laughing.

MacDonald was first put in the spotlight through a story in the Cape Breton Post on Nov. 1. In the story, Jeremy Locke, owner of Locke’s Roofing and Construction, said he would drive by MacDonald’s home for years and notice how bad her roof was, including large holes. His first year in his new business was pretty good so he wanted to give back. In March he stopped and offered to put a roof on her house for free, but MacDonald told him she had applied for a grant with the Department of Housing.

Jeremy Locke, owner of Locke's Roofing and Construction in Bridgeport, spends a few moments with Jeanette MacDonald of Glace Bay, while building her a new roof at his own expense, tired of seeing her and her grandchildren living with an old leaky roof. MacDonald said she's so grateful to Locke and other companies who have since stepped up to help in some way due to Locke's kind gesture.
Jeremy Locke, owner of Locke's Roofing and Construction in Bridgeport, spends a few moments with Jeanette MacDonald of Glace Bay, while building her a new roof at his own expense, tired of seeing her and her grandchildren living with an old leaky roof. MacDonald said she's so grateful to Locke and other companies who have since stepped up to help in some way due to Locke's kind gesture.

A few weeks ago, Locke noticed the roof was still in bad shape. Worried with winter coming on and knowing she wouldn’t take a handout, he stopped to ask if she’d want to be included in a raffle for a new roof. MacDonald eventually accepted his offer for help and soon discovered hers would have been the only ticket in the raffle.

MacDonald said she’s grateful to Locke, as well as ARL Mechanical Ltd., who showed up with a heat pump Monday and even installed it.

"I’m loving it already,” MacDonald said in reference to the heat. “Even the boys are.”

Kyle, 17, said the grandmother who brought them up is a truly caring person.

“We always had everything we needed.,” he said.

Seeing a heat pump installed he described it as "awesome.”

Pat Yorke, MacDonald’s sister, said MacDonald is an amazing woman.

“As a mother and as a grandmother, she’s unbelievable!” she said. “She’ll help anybody.”

Growing up, if the boys got into mischief or weren’t doing well in school, MacDonald would take everything away from them, she said.

There was discipline but also lots of love.

“Since the first grandchild was born, she’s there for them,” she said. “She goes to hockey, she goes to baseball — wherever they are she’s there for them.”

Yorke said her sister has so little but won’t take things from people that she can't pay for.

“She does what she can with what she has,” she said. “As long as those boys are fed and kept warm is all she’s concerned about. I’ve seen winters so cold and with such high winds that they couldn’t keep the stove on but she’d still make sure the boys were warm.”

Jeremy Locke expected the roof to be completed by Wednesday of this week.

Locke, a third-generation carpenter, had his grandfather Flynn Locke, two uncles and even his own crew at MacDonald’s house this week, working on building her new roof.

“I’m feeling fantastic,” he said. “My crew is great; we’ve all been good friends for a long time and they wanted to help.”

In the meantime, he said, other companies have jumped on board including J Peach Masonry Ltd., who are in the process of building a new chimney.

Basically, said Locke, he doesn’t expect efforts to help MacDonald to end here and he has already been talking with other companies about other possible work on the house.

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