This Ontario woman is on a journey to locate the family linked to 70-year-old letter she found

The letter is addressed to a Miss Mary Russell in Toronto. The envelope has a post office stamp from Kitchener, Ont. (Carmen Groleau/CBC - image credit)
The letter is addressed to a Miss Mary Russell in Toronto. The envelope has a post office stamp from Kitchener, Ont. (Carmen Groleau/CBC - image credit)

Jackie Williams has been on a long journey to track down the family linked to a letter written 70 years ago that she found near a sidewalk at a busy intersection after leaving work in Newmarket, Ont., in 2021.

Williams, who lives in Angus, Ont., decided to walk instead of take an Uber to pick up her car from an auto shop that November afternoon. She had initially walked past the letter, but something caught her eye.

"I went back, picked it up and was marvelling at the date of it, and it was in perfect condition," Williams told CBC News.

"Ever since then, I've been trying to find the owner because obviously you don't hold on to something from 1953 for 70 years and it has no sentimental value to you."

'All my love, Bruce'

The letter is addressed to a Miss Mary Russell in Toronto. The envelope has a post office stamp that reads, "Kitchener Ontario, 10:30 a.m., September 5, 1953." The letter starts with, "Hi honey," and ends with, "All my love, Bruce."

Carmen Groleau/CBC
Carmen Groleau/CBC

On the top right corner, there's Bruce's address and the date he wrote it to Mary: "166 Margaret Ave. Kitchener Ont., Sept.2, 1953."

While reading the letter, Williams learned Bruce and Mary were a couple living apart. Bruce talks about getting their vehicle fixed and having bought a wedding present for a friend.

"It's the everyday stuff, but sentimental to someone," Williams said.

Soon after finding the letter, Williams took to social media to begin searching for the family. She put a post on the Facebook page for Newmarket Today that appealed to anyone with information to get in touch.

Unfortunately, she said, the post didn't get much traction. Months went by. A year to the date of when she found the letter, Williams decided to try again.

"I found [the letter] sitting on my dresser one day and I thought, 'Lets try and reinitiate the search,' and that's when I shared it on social media again and that generated a fair bit of interest, unfortunately not from the rightful owner," she said.

A community effort

It was through her second post that Williams came in contact with two women who provide ancestry and genealogy services: Tracey Montgomery in Essex County and Aime Elcome-Barris in Kwartha Lakes.

Carmen Groleau/CBC
Carmen Groleau/CBC

Montgomery has been doing adoption searches and reunions across Canada since 1995 at no charge. She came to know the story of the lost letter through another community member.

"I was tagged in this post that was sent to me through a private message from a person I had helped in the past, saying that I could possibly help them locate the owner or family member of this letter to Mary Russell," Montgomery told CBC News.

"Jackie had sent me copies of the letter and as I was reading, I was so touched. To think that somebody actually kept this letter for 70 years and then suddenly the letter is gone."

Williams connected the two women, and with their help, she found out Mary Russell married Bruce Lang in January 1954, just a few months after the letter was written. It was a double wedding, with her sister Elizabeth, according a newspaper clipping Montgomery found.

"Mary and Bruce have two children, one of which has been identified as living down the road ... I have not been able to get in touch with him," Williams said, adding a daughter may be living in Canada's West Coast.

Journey to find Mary

According to an obituary Montgomery found, Bruce passed away in January 2000 and may be buried in Toronto. But to Williams's surprise, Montgomery was not able to find an obituary for Mary and she may still be alive.

Carmen Groleau/CBC
Carmen Groleau/CBC

"Mary would be 96 and still living. There's nothing to identify that she has passed," Williams said.

Montgomery said she was looking for an obituary for Mary Lang in Toronto, but instead found a newspaper article.

"It was a very, very positive review for a seniors' home in Toronto, and it showed Mary was living there and the review was by her daughter Sharon and Sharon's husband," Montgomery said.

"That kind of gave me verification that she is either still alive or alive up until lately."

Williams is now on a journey to find Mary or her son.

"I'm hoping to look him up a little bit easier than Mary — Aurora is a lot smaller than Scarborough — and hopefully get the letter to him. It's his family history."

If that doesn't work, Williams said, she may have one more option: Drive to Scarborough and find Mary.

"The address that was provided is a multi-unit apartment building, so I'll probably be taking a bit of a drive and doing my own investigative work."

Carmen Groleau/CBC
Carmen Groleau/CBC