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Ashes to ashes: How a Moncton thrift store purchase brought a family heirloom home

Click to play video 'Antique frame contains hidden relic of the past' Antique frame contains hidden relic of the past
WATCH: A Moncton couple has discovered a mystery in their kitchen. They picked up an old picture frame at a thrift store about a year ago, but recently found something inside. Shelley Steeves reports. – Dec 16, 2019

Emily Allain has a thing for old picture frames.

That’s why her fiance, Brian Barrieau, didn’t find it unusual when she came home from the Moncton Value Village with a $4 purchase a year ago.

READ MORE: Century-old Blackfoot headdress found in thrift store returned to Alberta First Nation

But Allain felt that throwing out the black-and-white picture inside the wooden frame would have been disrespectful.

“She felt bad so we kept it,” said Barrieau in an interview on Monday.

The antique frame containing a photo of Phyllis Clooney. Emily Allain/Facebook

And although having a perfect stranger in the house was a conversation starter for company, to them, it was just another antique.

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That was until this past weekend, when Barrieau got a little overzealous pulling out the kitchen chair, causing the frame to fall.

“When it fell the frame busted open and the frame ended up being hollow,” he said.

READ MORE: Family heirlooms stolen from Abbotsford, B.C. home left vacant after death of owner

Hidden inside the frame was a tiny bag full of ashes. But there was no indication whose ashes were hidden inside.

For both Allain and Barrieau, it was a little unsettling.

“We put it right back where we found it because what do you do with that information?” Barrieau said.

Allain had the bright idea of posting a picture of the frame and their strange story on Facebook.

She hoped to track down someone who may have recognized the frame, possibly donated by a loved one who never knew or forgot the ashes were hidden inside.

On Monday, that decision paid off.

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The woman in the picture is Phyllis Clooney, originally from Montreal.

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The Moncton resident passed away in the mid-’90s.

Clooney’s niece, Mindy Charlton of Summerside, PEI, spoke to Global News.

A bump of a chair revealed a hidden secret in the photo frame holding a picture of Phyllis Clooney. Emily Allain/Facebook

She said they were alerted to the frame after a family member saw the story online.

“I was floored,” said Charlton in a phone interview.

“I was like, what? And even to [find] out that there was ashes in the frame — we were all floored.”

The family believes the ashes may be Clooney’s baby, who died.

Click to play video 'Calgary couple happy to be reunited with lost loved one’s ashes' Calgary couple happy to be reunited with lost loved one’s ashes
Calgary couple happy to be reunited with lost loved one’s ashes – Sep 6, 2019

Charlton said her family plans to meet with Allain and Barrieau to pick up the family memento soon.

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Allain said her heart is “so happy” after the turn of events.

“It was very clear that Phyllis was so well-loved, and her family was so shocked to hear that the photo had made its way to a thrift shop,” she told Global News.

“I’m very glad to be able to return a piece of precious history back to its rightful place.”

“We’d like to scatter the ashes over [Clooney’s] grave… in Montreal,” said Charlton.

Until that happens, the photo and the ashes will remain where they’ve been over the past year — safe and sound, and no longer a mystery.