Cross-country lost-letters quest ends in Langley

From South Surrey to Toronto and back, decades-old letters to be returned to writer

A quest to return a “lost treasure” – decades-old family letters traced to the Semiahmoo Peninsula – to its roots reached a conclusion this week, thanks to the efforts of strangers on opposite sides of the country.

And letter-writer Nancy Nichol says she’s still in a whirlwind over the whole scenario – from the interest in finding her, to the kindness that drove the effort.

“I’m just starting to get over the shock of the whole situation,” Nichol said Tuesday. “It’s so cool.”

The story – for Peace Arch News readers, at least – began last month, after Toronto resident Billy Bolychuk reached out for help in reuniting a dozen letters that he had found in a box of donated items. The box had been dropped off to Habitat for Humanity, an organization he began volunteering at 2½ years ago, in early February.

“I think it would be like finding a lost treasure for them,” Bolychuk, a father of two, told PAN in a March 9 email.

Bolychuk knew the letters had been written by a young woman named Nancy to her parents, the Williams. They told of everything from a new address for the family – which at the time included husband Brian and baby Kieran – and an update on baby Kieran, to excitement over “a really good deal on appliances.”

But while Bolychuk had visited the address of the Toronto-area home that the letters were addressed to, the only thing he learned was that the recipients had passed away.

Officials at Explore White Rock suggested he contact PAN.

It was a Surrey resident who saw PAN’s March 14 story and was piqued by the mystery who put the pieces together.

“I’m a bit of a puzzle-solver,” the man, who wants to remain anonymous, told PAN Monday.

The man said he used a historical phone book at the public library to connect the South Surrey address that the letters were sent from to the name of Brian Nichol. He then connected that name to a Langley listing, and contacted PAN with the details.

“It took me literally five minutes to look it up. You just have to know where to look for it,” the man said, noting that knowing someone may have lost something of importance had struck a chord with him.

“I’m sure they’d love to have it back.”

And that’s exactly what Nancy Nichol told Bolychuk by email Monday evening, after learning of everything that had been unfolding.

A snippet of one letter that was included in PAN’s story “took me back many years,” she writes.

“I can’t thank you enough for the effort you have made to find me. I would love to have them back.”

Nichol told PAN that her son Kieran is now 36 years old, with a son of his own. Her youngest child Gerry – mentioned in an April 1986 letter that was in the donation box – is 31.

“Are you serious? (The letters) covered that?” Nichol said of hearing about one missive where she shares what she saw during a scan of her second baby, due that October.

“That is cool.”

The family moved to Langley’s Brookswood neighbourhood from South Surrey in 1991.

Nichol’s parents died 23 years ago, and she speculated that the letters may have inadvertently found their way into a box of items from their Toronto that were packed up and sent to auction.

The one remaining mystery is where the letters have been for the past 23 years.

But Nichol said she doesn’t plan to dwell on it.

“I like to live in the present,” she said.

Her husband, who managed the Canada Trust in White Rock when the couple first moved to the Peninsula, said he is content to enjoy the new story that came together, of the quest to return the letters – and in particular, that it culminated on his wife’s birthday on Wednesday.

“Some things are just not meant to be known, simply appreciated,” he said.

 

Nancy and Brian Nichol with their first son, Kieran, in 1983, the same year that many of the found letters were written. (Contributed photo)

Billy Bolychuk found a stack of decades-old letters in a box that was donated to Habitat for Humanity in Toronto, and reached out to PAN for help locating their rightful owners – who lived in South Surrey at the time the letters were written. (Contributed photo)

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