The story of Danny MacKillop is one of desperation and heartbreak; this is a story about experience, strength and hope. This is a story that fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, is all too familiar for many families across our great country. This is a story that captivated the minds of Canadians from coast to coast; this is a story that literally involved Canadians from coast to coast. The beautiful thing about Danny’s story is that it has a happy ending.
It wasn’t always that way.
Danny was born in 1979 in Reserve Mines, Nova Scotia. The youngest of 3 boys, he learned at a young age what it took to survive. Danny got knocked down, but he always got up. He was a fighter, something that would come in handy later on in life. Danny was a man people wanted to be around, charismatic, popular, athletic. Danny was someone who picked things up quickly.
Danny started drinking alcohol and smoking pot recreationally at 13 years old. He was just one of the boys, and he certainly didn’t realize how obsessed he would become. He had his first serious relationship at 15, and it wasn’t long after that he first became a father. Back then, no one would’ve guessed that it’d take 23 years for him to truly be present in his daughter’s life. Danny didn’t finish high school.
The lure of real money drew him out West; off to Alberta with his whole life ahead of him. It was exciting. 18 years old, experimenting with Cocaine and a fresh start in a new city. The money went out as fast as it came in, but no one needed to know that. Everyone else would stop drinking, but Danny didn’t want the party to end. The cycle had begun. He’d work for 4 months, until he had enough hours to get Employment Insurance, then request to be laid off and head home. In the span of 5 years, he entered and dropped out of 3 separate trade programs. Alberta to Nova Scotia, and back again. Rinse and repeat. There was only one consistent; the insatiable appetite for drugs and alcohol.
As many do, Danny kept his life together – on the exterior anyway. Internally he still felt lost, didn’t know where he fit in, and wasn’t sure where he was going. He still had a roof over his head, he still had his family, his friends, and he was still employable. Oh, how things would change. Everything looked like it was beginning to work out; at 25 years old Danny got what at the time was his dream job. Off to Fort McMurray to join the family business with his 2 older brothers. He did his best, he really did. He tried and tried, but the beast of addiction kept gaining ground. How could’ve he known that addiction was a progressive disease, and would it have even made a difference anyway? Cocaine had turned to Crack, and Crack rapidly developed a stranglehold.
Danny wound up homeless on the streets of Calgary from 2008 to 2010. This boy from small-town Nova Scotia was now a grown man fighting for his life in an unforgiving major city. Money still went out as fast as it came in, but now his habits had grown up too. There was only one way to earn enough money: crime. Danny wasn’t out to get anyone, and he certainly wasn’t violent, if he had the choice that is.
The Olympics came to Vancouver, and so did Danny. It seemed like almost everyone in the city was happy, but Danny sure wasn’t. He learned first hand what East Hastings was like. The smells. The filth. The size of the vermin and the numbers of homeless people. He was one of them; 31 years old, living on the opposite side of the country with nowhere to turn. He was sure that he didn’t like Vancouver, and Vancouver certainly seemed like it didn’t like him.
He decided to go back home, all it would take was one long greyhound ride. He wanted to see his family; his mother, daughter and others were all waiting for him. The thing is though, that by this point Danny was a late-stage drug addict. Danny almost got home, but not quite. He got an apartment in Toronto with a friend, only to lose it within months. He would spend the next 10 years homeless on the streets of Toronto. 10 years of hopelessness and despair. The streets of Calgary had once seemed hard, but in hindsight, they now seemed soft. The winters were gruelling, the rigours of life were demanding, and his need for drugs was overwhelming. His Crack Cocaine habit had turned into bondage-by-Heroin. The methods of ingestion got more and more severe until there was nowhere left to go. IV using had begun. He never had too much, but if he had too little he was violently ill. He came to believe that this was his fate. He’d never get clean, he’d never see his family, and he’d certainly never get to make things right. He was wrong.
The tide started to turn late in 2017 and miracles began to happen. Lives that were unlikely to cross would begin to cross in unlikely ways. Toronto in January, bitterly cold and Danny didn’t have two pennies to pinch together. By this time, Danny hardly had any teeth in his mouth. Danny saw Constable Jason Kirkwood of the Toronto Police accidentally leave $40 in an ATM. The inner addict inside him wanted to turn that money into a bag of drugs, but the good man within forced his hand; Danny chased Constable Kirkwood down and returned the money. Baffled, the humble police officer made a Facebook post that went viral. A chain of events had set another chain of events into motion.
Danny had been estranged from his mother for half a decade at this point, but Mary MacKillop saw the post and knew she needed to find her son. She travelled to Ontario, unsure who or what she’d find. She found him, but this was no longer the son she remembered. He was skinny, dirty, pale, broken: he was a shell of his former athletic self.
She knew he would die if he didn’t get help. Deep down, so did he. Pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization on a daily basis was how he was living. They had one hope. Danny had a cousin who had successfully navigated the road of addiction that he was now bogged down in. As luck would have it, his cousin, Daniel MacEachern, happened to be the Operations Manager at one of the biggest treatment centres in Canada: Together We Can – Addiction Recovery & Education Society. They reached out to him and an olive branch was extended. Once again, an improbable situation turned into an improbable solution. Danny was now headed on the greyhound in the opposite direction, back to the city that he thought he didn’t like. Daniel got Danny a bed, and Danny decided to give it a go.
A little over 1 year ago Danny ingested his last mind or mood altering substance. Danny entered the cocoon of recovery and emerged a beautiful butterfly. From the moment he arrived, Danny and Daniel, long lost cousins, have reconnected and walked the road away from addiction together. Danny submitted, he had finally realized that he couldn’t do it alone. Danny has his family back; he is a father and son once more. The new lease on life is one he feels compelled to take advantage of.
Danny now works at Together We Can, helping men who are struggling with the exact thing that he had to go through. The man who was the redemption story of 2018 now helps men seeking redemption themselves.
Follow the story as seen in the media:
Feb 28, 2018 – “A single act of honesty” – as read on the CBC website.
Apr 18, 2018 – “Danny’s friends raise money for dental work” – as read on the CBC website.
Jul 27, 2018 – “Danny and the boys” – as read on the Cape Breton Post.
Jul 27, 2018 – “Other Cape Breton boys” – as read on the Cape Breton Post.
Aug 1, 2018 – VIDEO – “Danny goes home: an emotional reunion with mom” – as shown on the Cape Breton Post.
Aug 2, 2018 – “A changed man heads home” – as read on the CBC website.
Nov 19, 2018 – RADIO – “She gave him heroin to save his life” – as read and heard on the CBC website and CBC Radio.
Feb 18, 2019 – “Danny marks 1 year of sobriety” – as read on the CBC website.