The Upper Tantallon Wildfire Relief Build

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Phil and Sue are the kind of people who take pride in helping others.

Phil, a Red Seal-certified Truck and Trailer Mechanic, has a habit of pulling over on Highway 103 if he sees a car stuck on the shoulder. He keeps his impact wrench and a tire jack handy in his truck, always prepared to help change someone’s tire and get them back on the road. It’s just the kind of people they are – happy to lend a hand.

Lifelong residents of Nova Scotia, Phil, 60, and Sue, 63, have known each other since they were teenagers. They began dating in 1985 and have been together ever since, even working together at the same companies for more than twenty years.

In 2013, the couple moved into their dream home, a split-level in the Highland Park subdivision on the edge of Hammonds Plains. The couple fell in love with the community, becoming close friends with their neighbours and enjoying the abundant wildlife surrounding their home.

The home had everything the couple needed: a garage for Phil to store his tools, a pool for Sue to go swimming in the summer and plenty of outdoor space for their three beloved cats. More importantly, their home was a place where they could feel safe, comfortable and secure—especially as they approached retirement.

“We loved our house,” says Sue. “It was beautiful to us.”

A white split-level home with dark green trim.
Phil and Sue’s Highland Park home in 2014.

But in May 2023, their lives were turned upside down when wildfires broke out in Upper Tantallon. In the frenzy of evacuating, one of their cats, Trinity, escaped. Phil and Sue were forced to flee, taking only a laptop and their two other cats, Tiger and Smokey.

For several gruelling weeks, Phil and Sue were in limbo as they waited to hear what happened to their home. The stress of the displacement was keen as they moved between temporary lodgings, finding it difficult to find a place that would allow them to bring their cats.

When their neighbourhood was safe enough to survey the damage, Phil and Sue’s fears were confirmed. The couple was one of the more than 150 families who lost their homes in the fire. Nothing was left.

The news was devastating for Phil and Sue. To make matters worse, an issue with their oil tank had caused their home insurance company to deny coverage, leaving them without any financial recourse. Their home was gone, and they did not have the necessary resources to rebuild.

Amid the emotional turmoil of losing their home, the couple faced the additional challenge of finding new housing in a market marked by soaring rents and low vacancy. This stressful situation took a toll on their mental and physical well-being.

But within that darkness, the couple found glimmers of hope in the kindness of others. A stranger in Walmart bought them a DVD player so they could watch movies. A close friend gave them a place to stay while they searched for an apartment. And miraculously, a neighbour found Trinity and reunited her with Phil and Sue. Sue now calls Trinity her “miracle cat.

Amidst the chaos, organizations like the Canadian Red Cross and United Way Halifax have also provided essential support, connecting Phil and Sue with resources and assistance to navigate the new reality.

Now, Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia is joining these organizations as we work together to help Phil and Sue rebuild after more than a year of being displaced.

A scorched lot where a home has been destroyed by a wildfire.
Phil and Sue’s property after their home was destroyed by the Upper Tantallon wildfire.

With the support of volunteers, corporate partners and generous donors, Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia will help Phil and Sue rebuild their home. Through the homeownership program, Phil and Sue will contribute 500 hours of volunteer work, including helping with the construction of their home.

As an organization devoted to helping families build strength, stability and independence through affordable homeownership, Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia understands the transformative power of homeownership in helping families build a better future.

Join us in making a difference by volunteering your time, donating resources or spreading the word about our work. Together, with your support, we can help Phil and Sue rebuild their lives, restore their sense of security and create a brighter future for themselves and their community.

Phil and Sue’s story is a testament to resilience and the power of community. Your support can make a difference in the lives of families like theirs. Visit habitatns.ca or email info@habitatns.ca to learn how you can help today.

Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia is proud to partner with the Canadian Red Cross and United Way Halifax to make this project a reality. Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia is currently looking for volunteers and corporate partners to support this project. Construction is expected to begin in June. To keep up to date with our projects, follow us on social media or sign up for our newsletter.

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