The letter, from a soldier named Earl Sorel to his friend’s sister, informing her that her brother was killed in combat, turned up at a Steinbach antique store earlier in February and set off an international search for Sorel’s descendants.
“My initial thought was that I was going to find a family member so I could put this back in the family’s hands,” said Amanda Kehler, owner of Prairie Pickers Cafe.
“The response was overwhelming. We’ve been contacted by CNN, all the local people, BBC … it’s been crazy. Fun, but crazy.”
Kehler told 680 CJOB she was able to track down four of Sorel’s extended family with the help of a military contact and a man from BC who joined the search.
“I’ve made contact with two of them, and they’re extremely happy about their ancestor’s history being remembered.”
According to the information Kehler turned up, Sorel survived the war and moved from Selkirk to Winnipeg when he was back in Manitoba. He married a woman named Mabel in 1935, had no children, and died in 1969.
As for the fate of Sorel’s letter home, Kehler said the goal is to have it displayed for the public to read at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.
Sorel was a veteran of the Battle of Vimy Ridge – considered by many historians to be a defining moment in Canada’s history as a nation.
It’s also the battle where Sorel’s friend, Gordon Rochfort, saved Sorel’s life, giving up his own in the effort, which sparked the letter in the first place. Members of Rochfort’s extended family were also contacted during the search for relatives.
“I spoke with the family, and we’re sort of all in agreement that it should be preserved and archived and shown to the public,” said Kehler.
“There is a Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. My contact in the military didn’t think they would display the letter and share the story because they have such an extensive collection. The family and I all agreed it should be displayed.”
Kehler said she’s working with Veterans Affairs, Parks Canada, and the military to ensure the letter gets to the Vimy memorial and ends up available to the public.
For a letter purchased for $1 in a box of other old papers, Kehler could have easily turned a huge profit on her discovery, had she decided to sell it.
That, however, was never even an option.
“I’m sure there are some antique pickers that would’ve just put it up on a public auction site, but I never wanted to explore that option,” she said.
“To me, it’s not something that should be for sale. It should be preserved in a museum.”
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