A DAD’S LAST ACT OF SELFLESSNESS
After saving his pregnant daughter from Oshawa blaze, Steve Macdonald ran back into the house to rescue others. He never came out
Steve Macdonald’s life ended the way his friends said he lived it: with pure selflessness and a natural instinct to help others.
He would shovel neighbours’ driveways, lend them the keys to his truck, buy stacks of baby clothes and toys and furniture for his future granchildren.
He would also, as it turns out, run into a burning building, risking his own life to save others.
On Monday, Macdonald died in a horrific Oshawa house fire after saving his pregnant daughter, Alysha, and then running back in to try to save other children trapped inside. He never came back out. Because of his last act of courage, Macdonald will never get to meet his granddaughter.
“He was so looking forward to that. He had bought so much baby clothes and furniture and walkers,” said Chris Mayer, who knew Macdonald for about 30 years.
Laura Green, who lives near the house, was outside when the fire broke out. She saw an orange glow light up one of the windows, and seconds later, people running out into the street without their shoes on, screaming that there was a fire.
Green saw Macdonald run out of the house, only to watch him return inside, trying to extinguish the flames that were, at this point, more than half a metre high.
Green saw him emerge safely with his seven-months-pregnant daughter. Then he heard someone scream “My baby!” and he ran back in without hesitation, Green said.
But when Macdonald returned inside, Green said, the front entrance appeared blocked by a wall of fire.
“I knew he was going to have to find an alternate route to get out of the house if he was going to survive.”
Jordan Coutu, who witnessed Macdonald’s second trip into the house, saw him call out through an open window.
“He was saying that he couldn’t find the kids,” Coutu said, referring to 9-year-old Madeline and 4-year-old Jackson, who died in the fire Monday morning with their mother, Lindsey Bonchek.
“He was trying to get the kids,” Coutu said.
“He’s just the kind of guy that would do anything for you. It’s just ridiculous how he would go out of his way,” Mayer said.
Mayer recounted a time when he needed to see his family up at his cottage in Havelock, Ont., near Peterborough, where he and Macdonald spent a lot of time together, but a snowstorm had his car stuck in the driveway.
“He got out of bed without me even asking him, got into his truck, drove miles away to me, shovelled the whole place . . . handed me his key, and said ‘Here, go see your family.’ ”
Macdonald, 50, is survived by his two daughters, Alysha and Meaghan.
Alysha MacDonald offered her own tribute in a Facebook post that spoke of her father’s generosity and devotion, but did not reference the specific circumstances of her father’s death.
“We lost a true hero, I love you more than words can describe dad and I’m trying to stay strong cause I know it breaks your heart to see me cry,” she wrote in the post. “Rest In Peace dad you were truly a hero.”
Bonchek’s family, meanwhile, is remembering her as a fighter who’d do anything to take care of her three kids.
Her son Ben, a teenager with special needs, was the only member of the family to survive.
Bonchek loved her kids ferociously, said her cousin Rachel Honsberger, who spoke to the Star about the “uncommonly generous” single mother.
“She did not have very much, but if you needed something, she was there. Be it her time and energy or her assistance, she was always will- ing to help,” Honsberger said.
As the oldest of her siblings and among the oldest of her cousins, Bonchek was “really our pack leader,” Honsberger added.
As a peacemaker, Bonchek brought the family together and took care of everyone. She’d become a mother to Ben when she was still young herself, and parenting a child with disabilities wasn’t always a simple path.
“Finding resources and money to take care of children with special needs, it’s not always easy. It’s very tough,” Honsberger said.
“But she really did the best with what she had, and that’s the thing about Lindsey: she wasn’t a quitter. She really was a devoted mom. She loved those kids . . . I have no doubt that she died trying to save her kids from that awful fate.”
In the wake of the tragedy, Ben has been left without his mother and siblings. “Ben has been left alone, with only the shirt on his back, and will require some form of care for the rest of his life,” a GoFundMe page set up by the family to cover funeral expenses and care costs reads.
Since the fire, the family has also been recalling memories of Madeline and Jackson.
“Maddie was the only girl, but she was very much an outgoing child,” Honsberger said, adding that she was “a little ray of sunshine” for everyone who knew her — but especially for her family.
“She was popular, she was brilliant at math — she was always doing math in her spare time, like what kid does that? What 9-year-old does that? But she loved it!”
Beyond numbers, Madeline also had “a very artsy side,” Honsberger said. “She was a great artist, and she inherited that from my aunt, her grandmother. She was in the choir. So she was just one of those allaround kids.” She said teachers and parents of other kids have been reaching out to the family since Monday, telling them how much Madeline will be missed. “And how much happiness she brought to the life of other people even though she was so young,” Honsberger added.
She called Jackson a sweet little boy.
“He loved his mummy,” Honsberger said. “He was in the same school as Maddie . . . I hear he was a great student. He was a good sharer, you know? All those things that are important when you’re 4-years-old.”
The kids had started to spend time at the family cottage in Haliburton, on the water in paddleboats and running around on the shores. Bonchek’s parents — the kids’ grandparents — adored that time together, Honsberger said.
Katrina Marie Ferguson, who said she’d known Bonchek since high school, remembers Bonchek’s patience with Ben — and said that Jackson and Madeline were taught to do the same.
“She did a really good job at making sure that Maddie and Jackson knew that there are things that are different about Ben, but it’s not like they ever treated him any differently.”