SYDNEY, N.S. - A Cape Breton grandmother received a very special card this Mother's Day weekend — an ace of spades worth $2.9 million.
Kathy McPherson won the record-breaking jackpot in the Chase the Ace fundraiser in her hometown of Sydney, N.S., on Saturday evening, a year to the day after the lottery began.
McPherson, 62, said she recently returned from a job as a labourer in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., but plans to put her working days behind her.
"They asked me if I'd be interested in coming back out," she said in a phone interview on Sunday. "Once this happened, I thought, 'No, I'm not going out there."
McPherson said she will share her winnings with her husband Ron — a scaffolding worker — her son in Newfoundland, her daughter in Halifax and will contribute to her grandchildren's education funds.
She said she also planned to donate some of her winnings to help wildfire victims in Fort McMurray, Alta., where she worked for seven years. Event organizers are also donating $25,000 of the charitable proceeds from Saturday's draw to the Canadian Red Cross relief fund.
Chase the Ace is like a 50-50 draw in which players buy numbered tickets for $5 each. The winner gets a percentage of the total ticket sales and a bigger jackpot if they pull the ace of spades from a deck of cards that gets smaller with each successive draw.
The first-time player said she's never won anything in her life. Her husband had to explain the rules of the lottery, she said. Only five cards were left in the deck when she pulled the ace of spades.
"I'm thinking to myself ... 'I'll never pick the ace of spades in a million years," McPherson said. "There could be one card there and I'll never pick it."
A portion of the money raised goes to the Horizon Achievement Centre and Ashley Legion, both in Sydney. Organizers say the final fundraising figures will be released in the coming weeks.
The jackpot recently swelled into the millions, drawing thousands of fortune hunters to the city of 30,000 from across Nova Scotia and beyond.
Organizers sold $1.3 million in tickets on Saturday. The heap of multi-coloured tickets was so large, volunteers had to stir them with a rake.
McPherson was sipping tea in a bar when her winning blue ticket was pulled. She said she couldn't hear the number over the chattered excitement.
When she arrived at the Ashby Legion, McPherson said she was greeted like a celebrity. She said the Sydney crowd was thrilled the winner was a local.
"I felt like an old movie star," she said. "I had to go downstairs. It must have taken 20 minutes because everybody wants their picture taken. Like complete strangers."
McPherson said her phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from reporters and friends sending their congratulations.
McPherson said she'll never forget seeing that black-and-white ace.
"Seven must be our lucky number," she said, referring to Saturdays date: May 7.
— By Adina Bresge in Halifax.