Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa Citizen

The playhouse built by love
A mother fighting cancer hopes the structure will leave her daughter with fond memories
Kelly Roesler
The Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

CREDIT: Chris Mikula, The Ottawa Citizen
Manon McKinley and Abigail are delighted with the little girl’s new playhouse.

It’s a house built of love and hope.

Manon McKinley, a single mother who has been battling cancer, had long dreamed of building her daughter Abigail a big playhouse, like the one in which she herself had spent many happy years in as a child. Yesterday, with help from friends and strangers, that dream was realized as the ribbon was cut and the playhouse presented to four-year-old Abigail.

“I’m floating. I need somebody to pinch me,” Ms. McKinley said later. “On the ceiling there’s a saying that says ‘This is the house that love built.’ And I can’t describe it any better than that. It’s beautiful.”

Abigail was just as taken with the dream house.

“Abigail looked at it and said ‘is it really finished? Can I go in?’ And she went right in, with the other little ones, opening and closing the door, just in awe. She loves it. She wants to sleep in it tonight, but I don’t think we’ll make it because it’s a little cool.”

An emergency nurse and case manager for community care, Ms. McKinley has been fighting for her life against a rare form of cancer ever since doctors discovered a malignant tumour the size of a baseball behind her left kidney in August 2003. Home for the last year, she’s focused her energy on creating a playhouse for Abigail, just like the one she had growing up in Jogues, south of Hearst, in Northern Ontario.

“As a child growing up, I had a little playhouse. When I think of my childhood, I can remember how it smelled in there, the games we played. and I’m hoping that playing in there with Abigail will create best memories of me for her. That’s how I’d like her to remember me.”

And concentrating on this project and seeing the results has made her even more determined to fight for her life.

“What cancer? I forgot about it,” she laughed. “It’s provided a distraction for me. It’s providing hope for me, that I can spend all this time with Abigail. Now I have all these plans, so I’m going to have to live a lot longer.”


It was wet and cold but everyone felt the warmth of working together and the dedication to the playhouse that has become a symbol of hope and love for all of us.  Everyone there was working so hard yet so together – there were no egos just a desire to do whatever was needed.  Everyone did what they were asked, “Can you help me by holding on to that, can you cut this for me, are you OK?, put on a jacket, slow down – I will if you will ….”  We also felt the support of everyone else who was not there – the plans that guided us all, all the wonderful material that was donated, the work of people in the past weeks of laying down the foundation and putting up the frame, all the donations that came in, all the well wishes and thoughts of people who could not be there. It was wonderful ….

We did not get as far as we wanted – the cold weather did not help and many of us were learning as we were doing.  So all three days were long days with a scramble at the end for the ribbon cutting.  But Abigail came out in her wonderful dress, cut the ribbon and toured the playhouse with Manon – their playhouse is here.


There are still a few finishing touches to be done – the moulding, the cabinets, the ladder, etc.  But we are taking a break for one or two weeks and assemble again on a Saturday or Sunday to finish it off. Everyone just needs a break (including Manon).


I would like to thank each of you for supporting this project – for responding to an email asking to come together to fulfill a dream.  It was truly a pleasure working with you all and aside from building the playhouse, many friendships were built too – both in emails, phone calls and in person.  There was so much kindness and generosity. It was a great ride …

Now we’ll let time take over as Manon and Abigail build memories together.