A girl in Eastern Passage, N.S., now has her dream bedroom, after a London man who grew up in Eastern Passage was inspired to help a family in need during the Christmas holidays.
Elsie Lethbridge's bedroom was part of an addition to the house built years ago, but her family ran out of money to finish the room. Gone is the "spiky" plywood subfloor that left the seven-year-old with splinters in her feet. The room now has laminate flooring, cream walls with teal wainscotting, a desk that doubles as a drawing table, and a triple-door closet that replaces an exposed rod used to hang clothes.
The other upgrade she's enjoying is "my bed, because it's really tall," thanks to two levels of storage drawers.
The gift is a "Christmas miracle," said Pherne Barkhouse, 66, a retired DND mechanic who is raising his granddaughter, Elsie, along with her sister, Evelynn, 5.
"I'm still scratching my head in amazement," he said.
Barkhouse has called himself "Mr. Mom" ever since his wife, Darlene, 59, had a stroke last year and was hospitalized for several months. She's lost much of her mobility, which forced her off the job as a housekeeper at the Nova Scotia Hospital.
The couple raised five boys and always wanted a daughter. Now, Barkhouse tries to keep up with his mischievous granddaughters.
The renovation came after local resident Angela Forgeron posted on Facebook last month that people should consider giving away unwanted but useful items to people in need. Childhood friend Phil Cheevers saw the post and wanted to help.
Knowing the COVID-19 pandemic has caused hardship on countless families, he decided his company's Christmas gift-giving budget could have more impact by helping a deserving family in the neighbourhood where he grew up.
Cheevers is a partner at Cheevers & Howard Construction Ltd., a luxury residential renovation company in London. He hired an architect there to design a bedroom that Elsie would love for years. He also enlisted some Nova Scotia friends, Forgeron, as a project manager, and Neal Andreino's construction company, Rainbow International, to provide the labour.
The bedroom makeover was done in three days, just in time for Christmas.
Cheevers said making Elsie's Christmas brighter is recognition of the loving care she receives from her grandfather.
"Looking after her and her sister, it's a big job for them," said Cheevers. "And big kudos to what Pherne is doing. What he's done is much bigger than anything that we've done."
On Christmas Eve as Barkhouse was helping his wife make a turkey dinner with all the fixings, there was a knock at the door. Forgeron was there to deliver more presents from Cheevers for the girls: pajamas, activity sets, books, toys and Chromebooks. There were also presents and gift cards for the grandparents, too.
"You see them two little girls giving each other a hug and a kiss before they go to bed, and the excitement I'm going to have tomorrow morning when they open all these presents," he said.
Meanwhile, the girls were busy enjoying their new acquisitions. Evelynn played with a winged unicorn and then had fun crawling into the bag and the box the toy came in, while Elsie was in her new room drawing a picture of a snowman in a snowstorm, which she presented to Forgeron.
Cheevers, whose family still lives in Nova Scotia, didn't come home for a visit in 2020, but plans to once the pandemic is under control.
The Barkhouses are looking forward to it. While Darlene jokingly says she wants to marry Cheevers, Pherne wants to meet the man who bought his family so much joy this Christmas.
"It's unbelievable. He's a guardian angel this time of year, isn't he. Looking down, wanting to make Christmas for some little girl. Doesn't get no better," said Barkhouse.
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