As It Happens

After wildfires destroyed their home, Fort McMurray couple win $1M in lottery

In 2016, Bill and Carrie Pendergast lost almost everything in the Fort McMurray wildfire. Now, they've won the lottery - thanks to a last-minute trip to the convenience store to pick up a soft drink for Bill's sick father.
Bill and Carrie Pendergast will finish rebuilding their home and take a family vacation with their sons and grandsons. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Story transcript

While visiting family in Newfoundland, Bill Pendergast stopped at a store to buy a 7-Up for his sick father. He also picked up a lottery ticket, which turned out to be the million-dollar-winning draw.

It was a fortuitous turn for Pendergast and his wife, Carrie. They lost nearly everything they owned in 2016 when wildfires ripped through Fort McMurray. They lost their home and escaped with only a few belongings.

Pendergast spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about his big win and what it means for his family.

Bill, what were your thoughts and feelings at that moment [you won]?

Total disbelief. I just couldn't believe it. I was like, this better not be a dream. I'd better not wake up now, after thinking I won.

Wildfires razed much of Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2016, destroying thousands of homes and forcing tens of thousands to evacuate, including the Pendergast family. (Terry Reith/CBC)

You're out in Placentia, Newfoundland, but you're from Fort McMurray. Did you call home and tell the family about this?

Yes, I actually was visiting my dad in Newfoundland and my wife was still in Fort McMurray. She had just finished working [the] night shift. So, of course, I called her and told her. She thought she thought it was all a joke. I actually had to take a picture of my hand holding the ticket and send it to her. And she still wouldn't believe me.

This is quite significant, isn't it? Because you have had a tragedy in your life, not long ago, during the fires in Fort McMurray.

Yes. We had a total and complete loss ... We lost everything. We're in the process of rebuilding now and I'm hoping within the next two months we'll be back into a new home.

What does winning a million dollars mean to you at this point?

Oh, it was a big relief. It was like everything that I was worried about before, it was no longer a worry. It's a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders, for sure.

A RCMP officer surveys Fort McMurray, Alta. buildings, which have turned to rubble following the wildfires. (RCMP Alberta)

Are you a regular purchaser of lottery tickets?

Yes, I have been buying tickets for as long as I can remember. Back in Fort McMurray I still have my little booklet of regular numbers that I play all the time.

On Friday evening, I was on the way back to see Dad at the hospital. I said, well, I must stop in now and get him a 7-Up ... so I said, well, I might as well get myself some tickets for Friday night and Saturday night. Sure glad I stopped in now.

So what does [your dad] think about your win?

He was pretty excited.

You said he's in the hospital. How's he doing?

He's been transferred back to the Placentia hospital and he's slowly on the mend.

So lots of good news for you.

Yes, yes for sure.

Smoke and flames can be seen along the highway near Fort McMurray on May 6, 2016. (COLE BURSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Is there a special thing you want to get? Is there something you've always wanted that you can do with this money?

Well, I've always been a Mustang fan. I've been looking at the 2019 Mustangs. That was just a little bit of a dream, but now I think that dream might come true.

And what about your wife?

I'm not sure if there's any one particular thing that she has in mind. Between us, we have five boys and two grandsons and another grandson on the way. So a big family vacation is in the works.

This has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our interview with Bill Pendergast.