Father, grandfather, entrepreneur, craftsman. Born on March 15, 1943, in Montreal; died on Dec. 23, 2013, in Oakville, Ont., of lymphoma, aged 70.
John was born in the midst of the Second World War, the youngest of three children to John Macdonald and Lavinia Munford. His father, known only as “Daddy in the picture,” was away overseas, serving in the infantry and involved in liberating Holland, from where he sent home three pairs of wooden shoes. When he returned in 1946, the family moved to a small farm west of Montreal, where young John’s love of country life and animals was born.
But two years later, when he was five, his mother contracted tuberculosis. She spent the next five years in a sanitarium in Sainte-Agathe. John’s father, suffering from battle fatigue (now known as post-traumatic stress disorder), left the family about a year after she was sent for treatment. While their older brother went to live with their maternal grandfather, John and his sister were taken in by their aunt and uncle and two cousins. John loved the freedom of the undeveloped West Island’s open spaces, where he ran through fields, built tree houses and swam in ponds.
When he was 10, he and his sister were reunited with their mother and brother at their grandfather’s home in the outskirts of Mount Royal. Here, John spent his teen years and, under his brother’s tutelage, learned to fix all things mechanical, especially cars. He also developed an ambition to forge his own destiny and become financially independent.
In high school, he met the love of his life, April Lanthier; their relationship fuelled his ambition to be the first in his family go to university. He earned a commerce degree from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) and an MBA from McGill University, and launched a successful business career. After six years in product management at General Foods, he went into business for himself, buying and selling a number of small companies.
He and April married while he was in university and by the time he finished his studies they had their first daughter, Sheryl. Three more girls – Kimberly, Susanne and Jenny – followed in the next few years. John doted on his daughters and taught them they could do anything they wanted, from building shelves and dollhouses to doing landscaping, laying pathways and driving a stick shift.
In middle age, John bought 64 acres of hardwood forest in upstate New York and oversaw the building of a log home. Armed with a chainsaw and an all-terrain vehicle, he learned to manage the forest while relishing the tranquillity of the countryside. For 20 years, the family gathered there, skiing and enjoying time together. Many of his 11 grandchildren got their first ski lesson between his legs.
After his “retirement,” John and daughter Jenny launched Dwell Contracting, building custom homes in Oakville, Ont. They built five homes in five years and won a community award for urban design. The business was the highlight of his career.
John’s next project was to take on a fixer-upper cottage on Lake Muskoka. He worked with a carpenter to move the staircase, raise the roof, rebuild the upstairs, and renovate bathrooms and kitchen. Toward the end of the project, he began to feel very tired and his legs ached. The first of many MRIs showed strokes.
For a year, he fought back from strokes, caused by inflamed blood vessels in the brain, but in early December he was diagnosed with lymphoma and we knew the battle was over. Two weeks later, accepting and peaceful, he died with his beloved wife of 47 years at his side, along with their four daughters.
April Macdonald is John’s wife; Sheryl Macdonald is his daughter.
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