Arts & Life
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This article was published 31/1/2020 (242 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Acclaimed Winnipeg writer Jake MacDonald is being remembered as an adventurer and skilled essayist, after a devastating fall ended his life Thursday.
Family members said MacDonald, 70, fell on a staircase and suffered a fatal neck injury at his vacation home near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
"A sudden loss is a shocking loss, and it’s especially hard when someone is larger than life, because you cannot believe that the life has been extinguished," said his cousin, Mary-Jane Bennett, via phone from Vancouver.
MacDonald was living in Mexico with his partner, Petra Kaufman, on their latest adventure. Construction of their home had just wrapped up, Bennett said.
"He had a great spirit for life and his spirit for life was matched by the capacity of his soul; it was enormous," Bennett said. "He was a born storyteller, and I've spoken to a number of people and they always describe how easily he fit in with any group you put him in.
"He was just such a dynamic person and could carry on a conversation with nobility or the poorest person, equally, and had just had a zest for life and finding out what life was all about."
MacDonald leaves behind a daughter, Caitlin, numerous family members and colleagues, students, and friends.
He penned dozens of short stories and long-form non-fiction works during his decades-long career, most recently earning the 2019 Winnipeg Arts Council Making a Mark Award, which celebrates professional artists receiving critical praise for excellence in their field in Winnipeg and beyond.
The nomination came from the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, which staged The Cottage, MacDonald’s first foray into playwriting, earlier that year.
When MacDonald accepted the award in June, he told the 500 audience members gathered at the Fort Garry Hotel: "This is for an artist at mid-career, so, with any luck, I’ll be eligible for the senior category when I’m 140."
Steven Schipper, former artistic director at RMTC, said Friday: "Jake’s play... was a tremendous success, but the life of Jake MacDonald was a spectacular triumph. Jake brought love, joy, truth and fun into the lives of everyone he met, and to anyone who read his books."
MacDonald grew up in River Heights with his parents and six siblings, and attended St. Paul’s High School and the University of Manitoba. He was a prolific writer and earned bylines in national periodicals Cottage Life and Canadian Geographic, as well as contributing regular feature articles to the Globe and Mail, Maclean's, National Post, Chicago Tribune and New York Times.
His published works and accolades stretch back four decades, when MacDonald landed his first book deal for his 1981 novel Indian River.
Colleague and friend Margaret Sweatman met MacDonald during their high school years. She recalled sitting for hours on a Wellington Crescent park bench to talk about writing. Even as a teenager, MacDonald was dedicated to storytelling, and learning all he could about the people he met and places he visited.
"In talking, he was just the best storyteller. The stories would be polished and you could hear them as often as he would tell them, and they’d get better," Sweatman said. "He had an amazing memory, generosity and courage."
MacDonald was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed hunting and fishing, Sweatman said, and his creative works had long been inspired by a deep connection to cottage country.
Few things could slow MacDonald down, she added. He lived with chronic joint pain and had hip replacements, but would still go alligator hunting if the opportunity arose, Sweatman said.
"He was always adventuresome and challenging himself physically, which was amazing with his illnesses."
Some of his most famous works, including Houseboat Chronicles: Notes from a Life in the Shield Country (2002) and Juliana and the Medicine Fish (1997), capture that spirit of adventure and independence, Sweatman said.
"He explored the world, but always as a writer," she said. "They were stories of folly and physical challenge, and challenging environments, and of characters. He was very interested in the outliers."
MacDonald was also interested in contributing to the creative community, and generously offered his time to mentor others, said Susan Rocan, past-president of the Manitoba Writers' Guild.
"He’s always been willing to help and always willing to share his thoughts on writing, and to help anybody he could," Rocan said. "We’ll miss him as a mentor, we’ll miss him as a friend to the writing community, and we express our condolences to the family and friends who knew him best."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
Updated on Friday, January 31, 2020 at 3:07 PM CST: Updates story as final
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