As a young child, Vanessa Austin used to spend many weekends strolling through one of Canada’s busiest malls with her family.
It was during one of those visits to Toronto’s Eaton Centre four decades ago that her mother’s wallet disappeared. No one in the family remembers much about the incident, but years’ worth of memories came flooding back recently when a stranger from Detroit dropped off the intact pocketbook at Austin’s office in Guelph, Ont., last month.
“I just couldn't believe it when I saw it,” Austin said in a phone interview. “It's like a time capsule and I keep saying that because it's just so well preserved.”
The wallet with a flower motif contained her mother’s immigration documents, a photo of Austin as a pigtailed child and another one of her father, a bank card and a Toronto Public Library card.
There was also a “buy one get one free” coupon for a Canada’s Wonderland “sneak preview passport” with every $40 order from Loblaws – valid until June 16, 1984.
“I wish I could use the coupon,” Austin said with a laugh.
The Fergus, Ont., woman said she was initially perplexed when the security desk at her company’s head office notified her and her husband about the wallet.
Austin said it turned out that a man named Andrew Medley had been doing some work at the Eaton Centre in January when he discovered the wallet wedged between a wall and ductwork. He used the information in the wallet to track down Austin and attempted to contact her via Facebook, but she didn’t see his messages.
Determined to deliver the wallet anyway, Medley figured out which company Austin worked for and drove to its offices in Guelph before heading back home to Detroit, she said.
“There's so many stories right now (that) bring people down, right? And then when you get something like this, you're reminded that, you know, there is good in the world and people are still willing to do things for one another,” Austin said.
“And so the fact that he did this without expecting anything and just wanted to know what the reaction was … it was just so genuine.”
Austin said she sent Medley a video of her parents seeing the wallet for the first time in 40 years.
“They were confused at first, just as confused as I was. And then they just were racking their brains trying to remember when it happened, how it happened,” she said. “As they were going through it, they were saying …'Oh my gosh, look at this.’”
Austin said it was interesting to note the difference between the contents of today’s wallets and those of the 1980s.
“You look through it and everything is written out rather than typed. And even the penmanship is beautiful,” she said. “You just see how things have changed.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2024.
Sonja Puzic, The Canadian Press