Pen pals from childhood share a journey of more than 50 years

·5 min read
Ruth Boudreau, left, and Anita Wrubleski have been pen pals for 54 years and are still going strong. (Ruth Boudreau - image credit)
Ruth Boudreau, left, and Anita Wrubleski have been pen pals for 54 years and are still going strong. (Ruth Boudreau - image credit)

Their friendship has spanned seven decades — through childhood, marriage, children of their own, divorce, sickness and now a pandemic.

It started in 1967 when 11-year-old Ruth Young of Little Bras d'Or, N.S., decided to write to the children's page of the Free Press weekly based in Winnipeg. Young wanted a pen pal.

She is Ruth Boudreau now. She said people today might be shocked at the idea of including your home address in a newspaper advertisement, but she said it "was a simpler time" then.

Her father had died that April. In the days before social media, a pen pal offered a chance to learn about new places and meet new people.

"It was back 54 years ago," Boudreau said chuckling. "I mean, there was no internet, there was one channel on the TV. You went to bed with your transistor radio.

"It was like a different time. So to have that connection with somebody in another part of the country that seemed like and it was thousands of miles away, it was just kind of cool, right?"

Ruth got a surprise. Two weeks later, her grandfather came home from the post office with about 200 letters from across Canada. There were even some from Japan and Australia.

Ruth Boudreau is grateful for 54 years of long-distance friendship.
Ruth Boudreau is grateful for 54 years of long-distance friendship.(Ruth Boudreau)

The number of letters she received grew to 300 in the next few weeks.

She was slightly overwhelmed by the response. She replied to two letters from Newfoundland, one from Japan, one from Australia and one from Moose Jaw, Sask.

Her new Saskatchewan friend, Anita Peterman, was the one that lasted.

Still living in her childhood home today, Boudreau said she isn't sure why she and Anita clicked.

"She'd write and say about what she was doing or where she was going because she did live in Moose Jaw. It was a little bit bigger than Little Bras d'Or," Boudreau said.

Boudreau turns 66 in October. Peterman, now Wrubleski, lives in Winnipeg. She turned 66 in February.

Anita Wrubleski now lives in Winnipeg.
Anita Wrubleski now lives in Winnipeg.(Anita Wrubleski)

For decades their communication was through regular mail, Boudreau said. It required patience as letters took about 10 days to reach their destination.

She said long-distance telephone calls were expensive so they reserved those for special occasions like Christmas. They would also send each other presents for birthdays and Christmas.

Boudreau said it felt like she was writing someone in a different world because that person lived somewhere that she thought she would never visit.

"And I didn't get there until 2013," she said laughing, noting it was when she flew west to see one of her sons in Alberta and another in Whitehorse.

As it turned out, there was a connection between Wrubleski and Boudreau that they eventually discovered through their letters. They both had Nova Scotia roots.

Wrubleski grew up in Saskatchewan and had never seen the ocean until she visited Boudreau in 1979.
Wrubleski grew up in Saskatchewan and had never seen the ocean until she visited Boudreau in 1979.(Ruth Boudreau)

Wrubleski's mother was originally from Sydney and her parents met in Halifax before getting married and moving to Moose Jaw.

"And there were still relatives here ... that her mom still knew and kept in contact with," Boudreau said.

That continuing connection that Wrubleski's mother kept with her Cape Breton family led to the one and only time the two pen pals got to meet. It was in June 1979.

During the visit, Boudreau showed her friend around. They visited the Point Aconi lighthouse, which has since been lost to a fire.

"I just have some pictures in front of the water because that was one thing she wanted to see was the ocean. Because, I mean, she lived in Saskatchewan," Boudreau said.

Anita Wrubleski wanted to see the ocean during her 1979 visit to Nova Scotia.
Anita Wrubleski wanted to see the ocean during her 1979 visit to Nova Scotia.(Ruth Boudreau)

She said after her pen pal flew back to Saskatchewan, a strange coincidence happened.

Boudreau had gotten engaged earlier in 1979. After returning home, Anita's boyfriend, Dale, proposed to her.

"A couple of weeks later, I got a letter from her saying, 'Dale asked me to marry him. We're getting married October 20th at 3 p.m.' — and in that span of time, we had set our wedding date — and our wedding date was October 20 at 3 p.m."

Boudreau got divorced after 14 years. She said Anita's wedding anniversary photos remind her of her own anniversary.

They've continued to share the ebb and flow of their lives.

Wrubleski had two daughters and became a grandmother in 2020. Boudreau had two boys and a girl and is also a grandparent.

Boudreau was a nurse, retiring in 2015 after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She underwent seven months of chemotherapy and is now in remission.

This is the first letter Boudreau sent to her pen pal in Saskatchewan in 1967.
This is the first letter Boudreau sent to her pen pal in Saskatchewan in 1967.(Ruth Boudreau)

Wrubleski was a lab technician until her children were born. She later became a teacher's aide.

Boudreau said Wrubleski was supportive during her fight with cancer and would send cards and call her to ensure she was doing OK.

She said their communication switched to email in 2000 when she got her first computer, but she still writes real letters and cards from time to time.

They also follow each other on social media and exchange photos of family events.

Boudreau said she considers Wrubleski part of her family. She said she hasn't kept any of the old letters because she has a lifetime of memories.

"It's nice, it really is, now 50-some years later, to have that connection."

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