Siblings connect, more than six decades later

Cumberland senior discovers she has a brother after death of their father

Cumberland's Joan Foley talks via Skype with her British brother Dave Minns and his wife Pat

Cumberland's Joan Foley talks via Skype with her British brother Dave Minns and his wife Pat

The day Dave Minns found his father was the same day he found out his father had died.

But, it was also the day he found out he had family in Canada and, particularly, a sister in Cumberland.

Cumberland’s Joan Foley, 65, laughs and smiles constantly while she chats via Skype with her brother Dave, 70, and his wife Pat, 72, who live halfway across the world in Yorkshire, England.

“You have to remember, Joan, I’m the oldest aren’t I?” Dave asks Joan with a big grin.

“Yes, you are,” she replies, turning from the screen but speaking loudly enough for Dave to hear her, as she adds, “He took that away from me. I’ve been the oldest for my entire life until he came around and now he’s the oldest in the family … I’m now second.”

Long search

Dave and Pat had been searching for Dave’s family in Canada for about 15 years before Pat discovered his father’s obituary online.

Although they knew his name was Donald Pearls, there were many people with the same name and they couldn’t tell which one was Dave’s father. The obituary outlined his father’s life, so by piecing together what they knew, they could tell this Donald Pearls of Nova Scotia was the one they had been searching for.

Telling Dave she had some “good news and some bad news,” Pat explained his father had passed away three days earlier on Jan. 30, 2010, at 92 years of age. But, the obituary also listed Dave’s siblings in Canada.

Photo was the proof

Dave and Pat wrote to Joan’s sister, Sherry, in Nova Scotia and included the only photograph of Donald that Dave had.

Joan says she and Sherry were so shocked to hear they had a brother in England, they considered he may not really be their brother.

“But then he had the picture (of our dad) and there was no other way,” she continues, adding she and her sister have the exact same photo of their father — which shows him in uniform when he was stationed in West Sussex during the Second World War. “He had to be who he said he was.”

West Sussex is where Donald met Dave’s birth mother. Dave was born in 1944, and Donald supported his mother for a few months until he returned to Nova Scotia.

He then met Joan’s mother, marrying her and raising a family together in Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile, Dave says, “due to circumstances at that time,” his birth mother put him up for adoption when he was three or four.

Dave’s birth mother found him in 1995, and it was from her that he discovered his father was a Canadian, and he received the photo of his father.

Father ended search

In 1999, they wrote to Library and Archives Canada to find Dave’s father, which it was able to do.

“He actually said, ‘Yes, I am his father, but I don’t want the matter to go any further,’ which I quite understand, because he’d since got married and there was Joan and Sherry and his other family members, and he perhaps didn’t want that to be divulged at the time — it might have upset people,” says Dave.

Privacy laws meant the Library and Archives Canada couldn’t provide any more information about his father.

Although Joan grew up in Nova Scotia, she moved to the Comox Valley some years ago with her now-ex-husband, who was posted at 19 Wing Comox.

Dave had unknowingly followed his father’s footsteps, and joined the British Army at 15, where he stayed until he was 30.

Coincidentally, Joan’s family and Dave’s family were both posted to Germany within years of each other during the 1970’s; Dave was there in 1972 and Joan was there in 1977.

“While we were there we went to England twice,” recalls Joan. “I really wish I had known; (to meet in person) would have been absolutely amazing.”

In-person meeting unlikely

Though not sure they’ll ever meet in person due to a variety of reasons, one being age, they keep in touch regularly through e-mail and Skype.

“At least now we know that the other is there and being able to talk to him like this and actually see them is amazing,” Joan says after the Skype conversation has ended.

“I’m just happy he’s in my life — I really am and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m just glad he found us.”