Mysterious, forgotten suitcases hold the lost history of a P.E.I. family

After rummaging around in his Summerside apartment, Mike Dixon found dusty suitcases stuffed away in a cubby hole — each containing documents, life records, photos and more of a family lost in time.

'It's occurring to me that I think she left it for somebody to find'

Mildred Marion Stewart was commonly known as Millie, according to Mike Dixon. Her family's history was uncovered in a pile of suitcases in Summerside. (Submitted by Mike Dixon)

Nestled away in a dark attic is the history of a nearly forgotten Island family.

For decades, this history was hidden away in Summerside, P.E.I., until Mike Dixon moved in and began chronicling the lives and stories of a family of Islanders he's never known.

"This is an interesting story if I may say so," he said.

Everything about them is kind of left in these four suitcases I found in a closet.— Mike Dixon

Dixon moved into the Spring Street apartment in 2009 and says the landlord told him whatever he found in the space he could use.

The cramped attic apartment, across from the Summerside Baptist Church, came furnished with decades-old stuff including lamps, silverware, dishes, a dresser drawer, chairs and more. 

After some rummaging around the apartment, Dixon soon found a bundle of dusty suitcases stuffed in a cubby hole — each containing documents, life records, photos and more of a family lost in time.

They were time capsules essentially undiscovered, or at least unexplored publicly, for decades.

"So," he said, "I started studying the family." 

'She left it for somebody to find'

Over the years, Dixon charted the lives of the family from Enmore, Prince Edward Island.

He discovered the suitcases and all the records left behind are from an Island teacher named Mildred Marion Stewart. 

After spending a chunk of her life teaching in western P.E.I. schools, she eventually settled in Summerside and spent some of her remaining years during the 1980s in that apartment.

Her name is even still etched into the apartment's mailbox.

Many of the documents cover her life while many other notes, photos and records of her family's history reach as far back as the mid-1800s.

However, according to Dixon, Mildred was unmarried and died in 1989 at 85-years-old — leaving behind her family's history in the abandoned suitcases.

These suitcases hold the history of the Stewart family. (Submitted by Mike Dixon)

"At this point as I was looking at it and going over it for years I thought she just left this here and didn't think about it," he said.

"But it's occurring to me that I think she left it for somebody to find."

A family history left in a closet

Dixon started a blog years ago, named after Mildred, in an attempt to catalogue the abandoned stories and also share her family's lives and photos with the public.

Dixon even went through old newspaper clippings, census records and more to help understand the family's journey even further.

The blog, he hopes, prompts some Islanders to lend a hand in unravelling the family history further — so far he hasn't been able to contact any living Stewart relative.

"It really is a little family and everything about them is kind of left in these four suitcases I found in a closet," he said.

These are some of the women that had some sort of connection to the Stewart family, Dixon says, and he's trying to figure out their identities. (Submitted by Mike Dixon)

As well as publish the documents online, he has followed in the family's footsteps by visiting locations the family has been throughout P.E.I. and pinpointing places they may have lived as well as posting photos of people they have may known.

While the search is ongoing, his efforts in diving into the family history was lauded by the City of Summerside — which gave Dixon a heritage award for his research. 

The award, he said, motivates him to one day write a book about the family with the help of some residents of Enmore, who have helped pull the curtain back on other aspects of the family's life.

"They're remembered by many people in the [Enmore] area, but of course by the senior population," he said.

"They were a different family, as we say on P.E.I.. They had no other relatives as far as I can tell or as far as my research has found so far."

Dixon is asking anyone with more information on the family to contact him directly.

With files from Mainstreet P.E.I.