Making a wooden doll house helped Jack MacDonald get through a very rough winter.
The 24-by-24-by-36-inch doll house—a true labor of love which may or may not be for one of his granddaughters—took approximately 350 hours to complete in his shop. Made of Baltic birch, it features a number of rooms, made-to-scale hand-turned furniture and intricate, detailed finishing. The roof is shingled and there is even linoleum on the floor.
A neighbour, Karen McAndrew, volunteered to make bedding, mattresses, cushions and pillows for the doll house, to add extra finishing touches for the to-be-named recipient.
It was the biggest project yet for MacDonald, who has made a large variety of wooden toys for his grandchildren and friends over the years—everything from Hummers and motorcycles to bulldozers and logging trucks.
It was also therapeutic.
“I didn’t want to get into it at the start because it was such a big project,” he said. “But it got my mind off different things. I spent a lot of time out there in the shop and it was very therapeutic.”
Those “things” included both a debilitating disease and a double bout with cancer. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1974 at the age of 32, the millwright finished working at Powell River’s pulp and paper mill in 1997. He went on long-term disability before officially retiring four years ago after 46 years of service.
Last August, Powell River and Penticton were the only two communities in BC targeted for the Colon Check program by the BC Cancer Agency and MacDonald enlisted. A few weeks later, he was told he tested positive for colon cancer and underwent an operation on October 6. Chemotherapy followed soon after, made even more difficult due to the fact that doctors had also found cancer in one of his ears.
Chemotherapy took its toll on his strength and appetite but MacDonald remained a fighter. Well known in local sporting circles, he grew up playing soccer and fastball and knew how to battle.
His MS, however, continued to threaten not only his health but his hobby as well. Constant numbness and tingling in both his hands and legs has made working with tiny pieces of wood a challenge for MacDonald, though he calls it a rewarding exercise.
For years, MacDonald would make toys that he and his wife Anita would donate to the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation auction, helping raise funds towards finding a cure for the disease. The couple has also donated several wood stoves to the Powell River Therapeutic Riding Association to support its programs in Paradise Valley.
Keeping him busy most recently, however, has been the doll house. “I started it before Christmas and finished it last week,” he said. “Sometimes I’d spend an hour on it, sometimes six hours. I did a little bit almost every day. In November and December, some of the days were dreary and drizzly, but I really, really enjoyed working in the shop.”
Although he has been offered money for his creations on a few occasions, MacDonald rarely chooses to sell. Most of them fill a feature wall in his home, along with plenty more stored in the basement. Of course, there are the ones spread out amongst his grandchildren in Powell River, Nanaimo and Kelowna as well—every one of them made with wood. And Grandpa’s love.