The Sudbury area community of Coniston has been officially twinned with a town in France named Barbatre.

The connection is a Coniston-born airman named Robert Forestell, who died defending the coastal French town in 1944. Historians from Barbatre started a Facebook profile for Forestell, with the hope of tracking down his family.

Forestell's great-nephew, Jason Marcon of Coniston, was caught  by surprise.

Marianne Matichuk, Guy Modot

Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk shakes the hand of Guy Modot, the mayor of Barbatre, France. The pair were part of Sept. 23 event celebrating the twinning of the two cities. (Erik White/CBC)

"[When] you see your great uncle or, in my mother's case, your uncle, staring back at you — even though he's been deceased for almost 70 years — [it] makes you sit up and say 'I want to send a message and see who is this’."

The Mayor of Barbatre and various Greater Sudbury officials exchanged gifts Monday night.

“It's a pleasure for me to be here in Coniston,” said Guy Modot, the mayor of Barbatre, France. “Sorry, no don't speak English very well."

Modot presented Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk with a medal, while her gifts included a bilingual book detailing the re-greening of Sudbury.

"They're us and they're part of our history,” she said. “And you six-year-olds, you need to know about this. Because the farther we get away from those big wars … the more we're going to forget."

Further cultural exchanges are planned for the coming years.