MONTREAL — Claudine Forget said she feared the worst when her colleague began chatting with her online this past weekend by saying: "Call me — it's urgent."
"He told me to sit down," said Forget, who works the night shift for hardware retailer Rona Inc. south of Montreal.
"I told him to stop. I thought something had happened to his family. Then he said we won $55 million."
Forget and all but one of her co-winners — graveyard shift workers who bought the Lotto Max ticket together — collected their windfall at Loto-Quebec headquarters Monday.
The 20 are each getting $2.75 million — tax free.
Some of their co-workers were less lucky. Each week it's the first 20 people who get their name down on the sheet, meaning it is not always the same 20 who are in with a chance of hitting the jackpot.
The $55-million prize (US$42.4 million) is the most money the provincial gaming authority has ever distributed. The Lotto Max prize is a Canada-wide lottery that is held every Friday.
Forget's colleague, Dominic Lord, said a gas station attendant started looking at him funny on Sunday when he came in to see if he had won.
"She kept on saying: 'I've never seen this before, I've never seen this before," Lord said. "I didn't realize what she meant until she (showed me the winning numbers)... Everyone heard me scream."
The gas station will receive $550,000, equivalent to one per cent of the jackpot.
Some of the 20 employees who won said they will retire, while most indicated they will keep working — but be much happier doing it.
Yvon Roy said he's retiring early.
"At my age, 61, I'm done," he said.
Roy said he'll take some time to think and then start planning on how to spend the money.
The 20 will likely not be at a loss for ways to spend their winnings, though, as lottery winners often realize they've quickly become quite popular, said Loto-Quebec spokesman Jean-Pierre Roy.
"We tell them 'don't underestimate what is happening,"' Roy said about how Loto-Quebec counsels new millionaires.
"Keep calm. You don't have to say yes to everybody. You'll start hearing from former friends, or from people who just call you out of the blue to offer you a car or insurance."
Roy added, however, that Quebecers are more conservative these days than in the '80s, when, he said, winners were less careful with their new-found riches.
"In the '80s people would say they were going to buy a yacht, or travel around the world," he said. "Now people are paying for the kids' education, paying off the mortgage."
Thanks to ebrockerville for the tip.