'It gave me chills': Letter tossed into ocean 25 years ago lands in Cape Breton

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Nyima Mitchell, eight, is shown with the message in a bottle he found in his backyard on the Petit Étang, near Chéticamp, last fall. In the background is his older brother, Mila. (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)
Nyima Mitchell, eight, is shown with the message in a bottle he found in his backyard on the Petit Étang, near Chéticamp, last fall. In the background is his older brother, Mila. (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)

Two strangers separated by decades and thousands of kilometres are now forever connected by a message in a bottle.

The ripped and wrinkled letter was found inside the glass vessel last fall by a Cape Breton boy.

It was uncovered in his Chéticamp backyard near the Petit Étang, a body of water backing onto the Atlantic Ocean.

Eight-year-old Nyima Mitchell was having a campfire with his older brother, Mila, and two friends when they made the discovery.

"It was lying under a pine tree," said Nyima, who used a pair of pliers to twist off the bottle's tight metal cap.

Nyima, right, and his brother Mila were playing in their backyard when the bottle was found.
Nyima, right, and his brother Mila were playing in their backyard when the bottle was found. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

The boy's mother, Britta Mitchell, said the family believes the bottle first made its way into the pond by water that sometimes blows in off the ocean.

"We think it was a few years ago, when the waves all came over the beach," Britta Mitchell said. "It only happened once since we moved here in six years."

'Dear friend'

Inside was a letter dated Aug. 12, 1995, handwritten by a 14-year-old girl from Aylmer, Que., during a summer trip to the Magdalen Islands with family and friends.

"I have sent my bottle in the Magdalen Islands," the girl wrote, adding that she and her friends would be "super happy" to get a response from a pen pal.

This is the tattered letter sent by a 14-year-old Nellie Nadeau on Aug. 12, 1995.
This is the tattered letter sent by a 14-year-old Nellie Nadeau on Aug. 12, 1995.(Erin Pottie/CBC)

The Mitchells decided to search for the letter's author and found a person with the same name on a hospital website who described growing up around the lakes and rivers of Eastern Canada.

"We thought, oh yeah, that fits," said Britta Mitchell. "So we wrote to her, and we were quite sad when we never heard back."

'Unexpected news'

Nellie Nadeau had no idea what was inside an envelope with a child's handwriting all over it that showed up in her mail back in November.

The 39-year-old wife, mother and family doctor living in Wasilla, Alaska, describes the experience of her letter being found as life-changing.

"It's just unexpected news that comes in the mail that someone found a bottle that you completely forgot about, and that was sent so long ago," she said. "It gave me chills for several days."

Nadeau is shown paddling a canoe in Alaska, where she now lives and works as a family doctor.
Nadeau is shown paddling a canoe in Alaska, where she now lives and works as a family doctor. (Submitted by Nellie Nadeau)

After being tossed from the shores of Havre-Aubert, it took a quarter century for Nadeau's bottle to make its way across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, travelling a distance of roughly 90 kilometres.

It was one of two bottles that Nadeau and a family friend tossed into the sea.

"You sort of hope when you launch it [that someone will get it], but afterward realize that the probability of it ever making it intact to someone is really low," she said. "If it did, that person might not even be interested in writing you back."

Snag sending mail by air

Nadeau said fortunately the letter from Nyima made its way to her despite a new job and a change in address.

But the same could not be said for the letter she airmailed to Nyima — it was returned to sender.

Undeterred, Nadeau took to social media to find the boy who had tracked her down.

The letter that Nyima Mitchell sent to Nadeau.
The letter that Nyima Mitchell sent to Nadeau.(Submitted by Nellie Nadeau)

She is working on getting a letter to Nyima and said she also hopes to visit the boy and his family on her next visit to the East Coast.

Everyone is eagerly awaiting the note from Nyima's new pen pal, said Britta Mitchell.

"The post office actually called us ... everybody's excited," she said. "They always ask us when we go to our mailbox, 'Did you get the letter, yes or no?'"

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