A familiar face is missing from Huntsville this summer and the downtown will never be quite the same without it. On June 8, Donald Roy Eagles, better known as Donnie, died in his Huntsville home. He was just shy of his 66 birthday.
Born in St. John, N.B., Donnie moved to Muskoka in his twenties and became an important part of his community. He could often be seen downtown, broom or shovel in hand, perfecting his one-handed technique and making sure that Huntsville always looked its best.
As a born-and-raised Huntvillian, I had always known Donnie. He was an object of permanence in this town, as much a landmark as Lion’s Lookout or Dyer’s Memorial. He was always there and you thought he always would be, until he wasn’t.
Upon setting out to write this article in honour of his contributions and impact on Huntsville, I realized that I knew him only from a distance and sought to better understand the man that we all knew and so many of us loved. To do so I spoke with some of those that knew him best: the downtown merchants.
Donnie found family in the merchants of downtown, who paid him for his street cleaning services, helped to keep him clothed and fed and spent countless Christmas’ dinners, birthdays and work days with him. But what was made clear to me, by the more than 100 people who attended his celebration of life, was that people also found family in Donnie. His legacy is that family that he created through his presence and his kindness. It’s a family who will continue to share a connection through their memories of him.
Perhaps the words of those who orated the celebration of his life best sum it up,
“Family is not just people you know that are connected to you by blood. When I look around the room I see people whose lives have been touched deeply by a gentleman who in the world’s eyes might have been considered a castaway or a non-important person, but I believe he touched many lives in ways that you or I could never have and that makes him an important person.”
Donnie had the rare talent of saying a lot, without saying very much at all. Silent or otherwise, he served to remind all of us to look inside each other and treat one another with kindness. To use a cliché, he taught us not to judge a book by its cover.
Donnie will be missed by the people who spent Christmas’ dinners, birthdays, vacations and Valentines Days with him. He’ll be missed by those who spent the work days between with him and he’ll be missed by Huntsville and the family he created out of a community he so deeply touched and so regularly took care of. The town is a little bit lonelier without him and the streets a little less pretty.
**Two of the people Huntsville Today spoke with over the course of the time spent writing this article asked us to include a few words from them about Donnie. Below are their words:
“I would like to share my good memories about Don. When I lived in Huntsville, we would go out for dinner at the mall together every Friday. We went to dances together.
I liked when Don would bring me things and when he would come to visit me in Niagara Falls and we’d go out for dinner at McDonalds. Don would phone me. He was a good friend to me.
I will have you in my thoughts, I miss you Don. Love Tracy”
“I met Donnie about 15 years ago when I hired him to take care of the front of my Main St. business. He’d shovel or sweep as he saw fit. The deal was I would pay him every Friday. He was the most reliable employee. A very hardworking man. In some of the worst snowstorms, he’d come twice in one day. He seldom missed a day. I wasn’t aware he could speak until one Saturday. The downtown core was having a huge bake sale and I was working a bake table out from of the office when Donnie walked by and appeared a little upset by it all. I assured him that I was going to give him some extra pay tomorrow for the extra messy street. He said very clearly ‘you won’t be here tomorrow’. He was right, it would have been Sunday. He knew what was going on. Donnie would wait every week day out front of my office, just waiting for me to wave, then he’d move on. It was something I looked forward to every day. He was a kind person who will be greatly missed.”
Huntsville Today encourages people to leave comments sharing their experiences, thoughts or memories of Donnie and those wishing to donate to his burial fund can do so through Community Living Huntsville.