Sixteen years ago, Larry McAuliffe didn't even know his older half-sister Alycia Heitt. Today, the pair is closer than ever and sharing a $37-million jackpot after winning this week's Lotto 6-49 draw.

McAuliffe of Peterborough, Ont., and Heitt of Delta, B.C., bought the winning lottery ticket on Dec. 30 during a visit with family in Ontario over the holidays. But such a family gathering was not always possible. Heitt, 41, was adopted and raised in B.C. She and her 39-year-old brother share a birth mother and met only when they were in their twenties.

Heitt had already gone home to B.C. when she decided to check to see if she had a lucky ticket. She was at work at the time and at first couldn't believe her luck.

"I said (to a coworker), 'You have to check this, I think I've won $36 million.' My boss jumped up from his desk and said, 'You're going to leave,'" Heitt said.

Heitt said she still wanted to make sure, so she visited the B.C. Lottery Corporation. But then she decided to quickly return to Ontario - even catching a red-eye flight to claim her prize. She also made an urgent call to her brother.

Now that it's official and Heitt and McAuliffe have claimed their prize, Heitt says she's ready to move on from her job. She plans to return home to B.C. where she works for a forest products company and train someone else to take on her duties.

She'll also plan her future with her husband and their four kids, who range in age between 15 and 22. The oldest, who celebrated her birthday Thursday, was on stage holding a cake as her mother and uncle held up an oversized cheque for their prize money. Heitt says there's a vacation and new home in their future.

McAuliffe isn't waiting to move on with his life. He's already quit his job as a service technician for a water products company. The single father of four boys says he's just glad to be able to buy some things for his kids that he could not previously afford. Before the lottery win, he had just $25 in his bank account. Things were so bad that he had to use his rent money for the trip to Toronto to claim his prize.

McAuliffe and Heitt bought their winning ticket at Lansdowne Mall in Peterborough.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Roger Petersen and files from The Canadian Press