2 years after damaging fire, roofer leads community rebuild of elder's home in Six Nations, Ont.

Samanntha de Couteau, a Plains Cree roofer from Alberta who goes by 'Roofer Girl,' raised money and gathered volunteers to fix a woman's home in Six Nations after it was badly damaged in an electrical fire.

'We don't have to worry about running for pots and pans when it rains,' said one resident

Roofers fixing a roof.
Samanntha De Coteau, left, raised $2,620 for materials to repair a roof for a Six Nation's elder. (Submitted by Marc Charbonneau)

Almost two years ago, the electric panel in Francis Burning's bedroom caught on fire. 

Everyone got out of the house safely, but the home, which had belonged to Burning's mother, was badly damaged by the smoke. 

The fire burned up into the attic and destroyed parts of the roof, said her sister Audrey Burning, who lives next door in Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario.

Burning, 67, was able to have the electricity rewired, but with no funds to fix the rest of the house, her only choice was to keep living in the home. 

"There were holes right through her roof," said Samanntha De Coteau, a roofer based out of Welland, Ont. De Coteau goes by 'Roofer Girl' on social media and runs a roofing business named Summit Sisters. 

A home with a damaged roof and siding.
Francis Burning's house caught on fire almost two years ago, damaging the inside of the home and the roof. A local roofer gathered money, materials and volunteers to fix the roof and the siding on the house. (Submitted by Samanntha De Coteau )

More than a year after the fire, De Coteau was called to do an estimate on Audrey's roof, which needed replacing after usual wear and tear. She said Audrey asked if she would do an estimate on Burning's roof as well, but warned that Burning likely couldn't afford to have it fixed. 

De Coteau said replacing a roof can cost anywhere between $8,000 or $10,000.  

But when De Coteau saw the condition Burning's home was in, she said she knew she had to do something. 

"It didn't feel right for me to be fixing her sister's home while looking back at hers and seeing all these holes in her roof," she said. 

"I just felt like I had to help her."

A woman on a roof.
Samanntha De Coteau said she felt a connection to the Burning-Williams family as a Plains Cree woman. (RooferGirl/Facebook)

De Coteau, 32, has been working as a roofer for nine years. This isn't the first time she's used her skills to help others.

De Coteau, who is a Plains Cree woman from Whitefish Lake First Nation in Alberta, said she spent much of the early pandemic patching roofs in her home community. 

Last year, she assembled a group of women roofers to do job for a client in north of Belleville, Ont, who had requested a team be made up of all women. 

Burning's house, however, is the first time De Coteau has led a community fundraiser to get the job done.  "I'll probably do more in the future," she said. 

'A lot more work than we thought'

The work on Burning's roof helped a few people, too.

Burning's son, her other sister, Lori Williams, and William's children also live in the house. 

Audrey said her sister's had to put out buckets when it rained and had no central heating in her home. "[Burning] hasn't had a furnace in her house for maybe four or five years. It's just been electrical heaters," Audrey said. 

Roofers on a roof.
Samanntha De Coteau, along with 11 volunteer contractors, spent Saturday putting a new roof on Francis Burning's house in Six Nations. (Submitted by Marc Charbonneau )

The house needed new siding, attic insulation, plywood, shingles and eavestrough, along with a team of roofers. De Coteau said she knew it was going to be a big job and created a GoFundMe to pay for the materials. 

She was able to raise $2,620 and said five different companies donated materials as well. 

This past Saturday, May 27, they got to work.

"We had quite a few volunteers who backed out last minute and but we still had enough hands to do the roof," she said.

Roof almost done
Samanntha De Coteau said it costs between $8,000 and $10,000 to re-roof a house. But with the help of her volunteers and donors, she was able to re-do the roof on Burning's house. (Submitted by Marc Charbonneau )

"It was a lot more work than what we thought it was," she said, adding that the roof had two layers of plywood that made it take longer to rip apart. 

She said the volunteers "didn't finish everything due to the amount of work," but her crew is finishing the exterior work this week. 

'It's a celebration of renewal for us'

"We're deeply appreciative. It's a big relief for us. They took a big load off our shoulders," Williams said. 

Burning told CBC Hamilton her sisters "keep saying, 'We don't have to worry about running for pots and pans when it rains.'"

De Coteau said she felt a connection with the Burning-Williams family. 

"It's always nice for me to be around other Indigenous people because I'm from the reserve, too. I come from a really small reserve and it's just so comforting for me," said De Coteau.

De Coteau said it was a hot, exhausting day with tons of family and friends. At the end of the day, they all celebrated with fireworks. 

"It's a celebration of renewal for us," Audrey said. 


Cara Nickerson is a journalist with the CBC's Ontario local news stations, primarily CBC Hamilton. She previously worked with Hamilton Community News. Cara has a special interest in stories that focus on social issues and community.