After spending $125 on tickets Saturday, Donelda MacAskill of Englishtown, N.S., won the Chase the Ace jackpot of $1,771,256.76 in the tiny community of Inverness.

MacAskill drew the top card after the winner of the first two raffles did not draw the ace of spades from the five cards that remained Saturday night:

  • Colleen Walsh of Cole Harbour walked away with $356,273.40, which is 20 per cent of the day's ticket sales.
  • Melanie Sampson of D'Escousse took home $25,000.

Winner's husband battling cancer

The money comes at a perfect time for MacAskill and her family.

"We have three sons. My husband is doing a bout with cancer, so yeah, it's good," she said.

MacAskill, who operates a puffin boat tour company, said her husband has had cancer for over a year and is finished treatment, but will soon have surgery.

After she drew the ace, she called her husband, John MacAskill, to tell him she won. She says she plans to get a new tractor to deal with winter snowstorms.

MacAskill has been participating in Chase the Ace since August, but didn't think she would win.

"You don't play with the thoughts of winning. You're just coming, going through and I really didn't think I was gonna win. That's why I was on the side of the road ready to head for home," she said.

For legion, 15 years' worth of fundraising

Now in its 48th week, the fundraiser has ballooned in popularity. Over the past few weeks, crowds hoping for a jackpot have grown larger and larger.

Cameron MacQuarrie, one of the Chase the Ace organizers, said the money raised is huge.

"We have raised an amount of money that probably now, because of today's intake, equates to 15 years of fundraising," said the vice-president of the Inverness legion.

The event itself became something the community rallied around.

"We gained sort of the solidarity around a project in the community that brought everybody together," said MacQuarrie.

'What can we lose?'

Chase the Ace far surpassed organizers' expectations.

"When we started this we said, 'We'll give it a try and I mean, what can we lose?' Well, we haven't lost a thing and we've gained a whole lot," said MacQuarrie.

Having a Cape Bretoner win it was the icing on the cake, MacQuarrie said.

The CBC's Stephanie vanKampen was in Inverness to capture the excitement.

Last week the number of people who had bought tickets was 10 times the number of people who actually live in the Cape Breton community. Organizers were expecting about an estimated 18,000 people to purchase tickets for today's draw.

There were five cards at the beginning of the day. Saturday's draw was the last because the organizers said Inverness could no longer accommodate the crowds.

Donelda MacAskill

Nova Scotia puffin tour company owner Donelda MacAskill, wearing white, was the winner of Chase the Ace in Inverness and took home more than $1.7 million.

The jackpot was at $1.2 million before the day began and 30 per cent of Saturday's ticket sales were added to that, resulting in a jackpot of $1,771,256.76.

Half of today's sales will go to the organizations responsible for the fundraiser. Proceeds go to the Inverness Cottage Workshop, a charity for people with disabilities, and the Inverness chapter of the Royal Canadian Legion. The Cottage Workshop plans to use the money raised for a new facility.