Sharon Bowman didn’t expect that a home renovation would give her a mystery to solve.
While ripping out some old wood panelling in the Kingston home that she, her husband, and children have lived in for seven years, Bowman spied something out of place. Nestled in the wall close to the ceiling of her basement family room was a small leather box and a silver dollar. Inside the box were a military medal and a torn slip of paper with a man’s name, rank, and part of a date.
The dollar, minted in 1982, features Queen Elizabeth II on one side, of course, and on the reverse, a faithful reproduction of the celebrated painting of the Fathers of Confederation. Composed of nickel, the dollar commemorates the Constitution with the inscription “1867 CONFEDERATION” above the painting and “CONSTITUTION 1982” beneath it.
Bowman said she has her own copy of this coin, like many other Canadians of a certain age, and she suspected it was hidden in the wall intentionally, perhaps for luck.
However, the medal would have been a different story, she said. “I recognized it as a Canadian CD medal, I had seen one before. It’s for 12 years of service… I don’t think it has any value money-wise, but I think a family would definitely like to have it.”
The Canadian Forces’ Decoration (CD) is awarded to officers and Non-Commissioned Members of the Canadian Forces who have completed 12 years of service. The decoration is awarded to members of all ranks who have a good record of conduct.
The person whose name appeared on the slip of paper, “WO Halsall J.D.,” was the likely owner of the medal, she surmised. And she believed him to be the original owner of her home. With a bit of online sleuthing, she found his 2011 obituary. He was Joseph Dennis Halsall, and his wife was Sheila Halsall, but she passed away in 2013.
“The house is on Sutherland Drive, and the Halsalls owned it from 1975 until Sheila’s death in 2013. Joseph was in the Canadian Forces, and it appears they moved a lot prior to 1975, so their family could be anywhere,” said Bowman. She sent some Facebook messages to people who had the same names as the Halsall’s children but got no responses.
Instead of giving up then, Bowman decided to try a different tack, reaching out to Make It Home YGK, a social media entity focused on community safety news that is run by Cris Vilela, who is also co-publisher of Kingstonist.
Vilela brought the story to the attention of a Kingstonist reporter who has had experience in covering similar stories; after chatting with Sharon Bowman, the reporter went back to those obituaries.
Among many life accomplishments of the Halsalls, they were “close partner[s]… in starting Operation Courage, an annual run in support of children, which subsequently led to the arrival of the triathlon in Kingston,” and they were great supporters of Camp Trillium, which Sheila helped develop.
But most importantly, there were the names of the Halsall’s six children, and of other surviving relatives, as well as the location of some of their homes in 2013 when Sheila passed. One of those relative’s obituary provided the name of Joseph and Sheila’s daughter, Rosemary, and that of her husband, Ken. A person named Rosemary Sorfleet was one of the former owners of Bowman’s house.
The reporter searched “Ken and Rosemary Sorfleet.” That lucky search provided a new link to a retired RCAF officer.
Commanding Officer of 427 Squadron from 1992 to 1994, Lieutenant-Colonel Ken Sorfleet’s biography popped up on a page dedicated to the 427 Lions Squadron Association. There was his wife Rosemary’s name, and the fact that he lives near Ottawa.
A few more online searches, a phone number attained, and Ken and Rosemary Sorfleet were on the phone, excited but somewhat skeptical that this might all be a scam. After checking the reporter’s credentials, Rosemary called back and made arrangements to get in touch with Sharon Bowman.
The Halsalls, she said, were the original owners of the home on Sutherland Drive, and she, as executor, had sold the home after they passed away. Why were the medals hidden in the wall? Rosemary said she has no idea, but that both the Halsalls had had battles with dementia near the end of their lives, which could have prompted them to squirrel the treasures away.
Rosemary expressed her thanks to Bowman for her dedication and kindness, and made plans to call her soon.
“That’s awesome,” said Sharon Bowman.
Weather permitting, and perhaps serendipitously, Bowman was already planning a trip to Ottawa this coming weekend and she is hoping to meet Rosemary and return the items to her then.