Submitted by her sister, Allison McGann
Dawn McGann and grandson Warden
Dawn and her first grandchild, Warden

What Dawn was like

Dawn was my older sister. She loved the outdoors. She was very loving, and she was a very complicated person. You never got what you expected. 

People described her as the life of the party

She was loud. She was very outrageous. You definitely heard her before you saw her. She was a fun-loving person who would go to any lengths to make people laugh.

A memory that captures her

She was 16. I was 14, getting ready to go out on this date. I asked her to help me do my makeup. She said yes. So she sat me down and she told me all about how I was supposed to behave with boys, and I was thinking, I’m so lucky she’s going to do this.

And she did my whole face. It took her forever. And then I went and looked in the mirror, and she had taken blue eye shadow and covered my face with it. I looked like a smurf! And she laughed and said, “You should never take anything too seriously.”

It took me forever to wash my face off. My face was completely red. It was a horrible night for me, but it ended up being pretty funny in the end. And it kind of gave me a good ice breaker.

She did things like that, but it was always in fun — at least until the drugs.

How I found out Dawn was using drugs

When my sister was nearly 20, our family got a call from her that she was in a different province. The guy who had taken her there had gotten her hooked on drugs, and she realized he was trying to prostitute her. She called my family in a panic.

She spent the next 33 years battling her addictions. She would have times where she got clean and stopped. Shortly after that first episode, she was clean for years. Then she relapsed on crack and got clean again. Not really sure what it was the last time that pushed her over.

How our relationship changed while Dawn was struggling with opioid-use disorder

Dawn became very distant. She went from being my big sister to someone I didn’t even recognize.

A good memory

Allison and Dawn McGann
Allison and Dawn McGann before the celebration for “Whitey” Glan

Our last special time spent together was at a celebration of life for Dawn’s godfather, Pentti “Whitey” Glan. He was a drummer for Alice Cooper and Lou Reed; my mom and Whitey went to high school together. 

There was an event for him at the Opera House in Toronto, and Dawn had to go and give a speech from the stage. She asked if I would go up there with her and hold her hand while she did it, and I did. 

She was nervous, so when she got overwhelmed, I had some people in the crowd say “Caccaw! Caccaw!” to snap her out of it, and it worked! She did a really good job. I was like, My job is done.

What Dawn was proudest of

Her greatest accomplishments were her two daughters and two grandchildren. 

How I found out she died

We have a property in the Thousand Islands. It’s remote, and there’s no cell service. We were driving to town to get reception, and the police called. They said Dawn had overdosed. And I thought, This isn’t the first time we’ve had this happen. 

I asked what hospital she was in, and he said, “She didn’t make it.” I just couldn’t believe it.

She did it intentionally

She was living in a home for mentally ill, drug-dependent people. She had just been through a breakup with an ex-boyfriend. She bought the fentanyl off the street. 

I thought maybe she didn’t know what she was doing — maybe the fentanyl was mixed with another drug — but the police said it was very intentional. Which is kind of a hard pill to swallow.

She didn’t leave a note, but she erased her Facebook. The last texts on her phone were to the ex-boyfriend. There wasn’t much closure for us.

If I could say one thing to Dawn now, it would be

You had so much to live for and have left many people heartbroken. 

It’s time to tell the truth

The guy at the funeral home asked how Dawn died, and we said by overdose. He said, “Maybe we could just say she died at home.” And I said, “Maybe we could just tell the truth.”

She battled her addictions her whole life. The drugs won, and we lost a precious family member.

Addiction is one of those things, like sexual abuse, that people don’t want to talk about. But I don’t think that’s the answer. Dawn was actually sexually abused when she was younger. 

I think that these stories need to be told, so maybe someone else in this situation will have a better outcome than my sister did. So that another family doesn’t have to go through what we’ve been through. If anyone else is feeling desperate or at the end of their rope, they should know that they’re not alone. If one person can be helped by our tragedy, it would be a little silver lining in all this pain.