The family of a Manitoba soldier killed during the Second World War has found a piece of their family's history after a Toronto man turned to the internet in an effort to find the rightful owners of a helmet he discovered in his grandparents' basement.
Phill Di Cecco found the Second World War-era helmet in the basement of the house his grandparents bought in Toronto in the 1960s. The helmet had the date "1942" stamped on it and the name "J.E. Gagnon" written on the chinstrap.
Di Cecco doesn't know how the helmet came into his grandparents' possession, but he was determined to find out who Gagnon was.
"As much of a cool artifact as it is, and as much as I appreciate it, it's just something I feel could have a pretty significant emotional weight to a family," Di Cecco said.
He found military records online about a soldier named Joseph Edward Gagnon. On Remembrance Day, he posted a picture of the helmet on Facebook, hoping it would get shared and he would learn more.
Someone sent him Gagnon's obituary, which said he was from Winnipeg.
Di Cecco started posting on Winnipeg Facebook groups looking for Gagnon's family. Within a day, a relative came forward.
"The whole thing was such a shot in the dark. There was never a promise of this ever really working out at all, so to finally be in contact with people who have direct relationship to him is crazy," he said.
Cecile Restiaux says Gagnon was her uncle. She says when she was growing up, her mother told her stories about her uncle, who died in Italy.
She says Gagnon was from Sagkeeng First Nation. He enlisted in the army in 1940 and was killed in action in 1944, at age 23. He is buried in the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery in Italy.
Restiaux had been researching about Gagnon and was shocked to discover Di Cecco had his helmet.
"It's like the dead coming back to life. It's like a message from the other side," she said.
"When the connection was made, I was like, 'Oh my god, what are the chances of something like that happening?' For someone that nobody remembered, and a guy comes out of nowhere looking across Canada for him. What can I say to this man?"
Restiaux says she is excited to talk on the phone with Di Cecco and share her uncle's story with him.
Di Cecco still isn't sure how the helmet ended up in Toronto, but he is very certain that this is the soldier who wore it.
"I just feel better off knowing it's in their hands," he said.
Restiaux hopes to donate the helmet to a museum.