By Frank Larue
Kirby Fontaine, his wife Marie, and their two children live in a mobile home on Sagkeeng First Nations reserve near the small town of Pine Falls in Manitoba. Life was never a cakewalk for the Fontaine family. Even though Kirby is related to former AFN leader and political activist Phil Fontaine, Kirby says his family has always had a hard time making a living. It didn’t help that the town of Pine Falls is dealing with pulp and paper company Tembec in a labour dispute that has forced employees to strike. Tempec asked their employees to take a pay cut; when they refused, the company locked their doors, leaving many citizens of Pine Falls unemployed. The Fontaine family had their own problems. Kirby had to leave his job as band constable due to illness, and they were planning a fundraiser in order to buy a graduation ring for their daughter.
Fortunately, Kirby and Marie bought a lotto ticket at the Broadlands Mall convenience store. A few days later Kirby, found out he had just won $50 million dollar—the largest Lotto ticket payout ever in Manitoba. “We’re just a little town in the middle of nowhere, a hour and a half north of Winnipeg. Nobody knows of Pine Falls really, and it’s just nice to have something positive in this town ever since lockout at Tembec,” said Laurie Wilson, who owns the local convenience store and knows the Fontaine family. “They’re a nice young couple,” she says. “Kirby has some health problems, and they’ve been struggling. They’re just a nice couple.”
Wilson was in the store when Kirby and his wife received the news. “I couldn’t believe it. Honestly, it was just incredible,” she said. “Like everyone was crying. They were laughing and screaming, jumping up and down.” Dale Swampy (the clerk at the store who sold the ticket) is sharing the family’s celebrity. “Ever since then, people are touching my hand and arm, always wanting me to sell them tickets,” he said.
Marie Fontaine was reached in Winnipeg at a hotel where she and her husband were trying to avoid the press. Marie told the CBC, “It’s unbelievable.” Before accepting the cheque, her husband had told the media that they had purchased the ticket with his last ten dollars. He also said the $50 million would provide for his medical needs—he is still recovering from a stroke—and the jackpot “is going to benefit a lot of people, not just us.” When he picked up the cheque, Kirby told the media, “Our families, our community, our province.” He also said the money wasn’t going to change him or his wife. “We’re still the same people we were last week,” Marie said, and her husband backed her up, pointing out they still shop at Wal-Mart and still like Kraft dinner.
The $50 million puts the Fontaine family as the third largest lotto ticket winners in Canada. First place belongs to 17 oil and gas employees from Camrose a small town nestled between Calgary and Banff (the collective group won $54.3 million). Second place goes to three people from Ontario for receiving the princely sum of $50.3 million, and numero three is Kirby and Marie Fontaine, who told the CBC “It’s pretty incredible. We’re just a small town here in Pine Falls. My husband kept on saying we’re going to have a big ticket some day.”