Secret letters hidden in Red Deer home for 70 years subject of new documentary

A new documentary tells of the discovery of letters hidden for decades in a Red Deer home and the emotional journey that followed.

Filmmaker calls it a 'ghost story of love'

The letters were discovered during renovations of a Red Deer home in 2012. (Submitted by Colin Scheyen)

A new documentary tells of the discovery of letters hidden for decades in a Red Deer home and the emotional journey that followed.

Love, Oran from Colin Scheyen is the story of a family secret uncovered and the search for a long-lost child. The documentary is showing at Edmonton's Northwest Fest, the country's longest-running non-fiction film festival.

Scheyen considers it a "ghost story of love."

"It's about how past generations continue to live on long past when they leave this earth and the traces of that love — the power that love brings all of us and connects us all together," he said in an interview with CBC's Radio Active

Secret letters hidden in a wall for 70 years in the basement of a Red Deer home is the story behind the new documentary "Love, Oran". 7:59

Four letters were discovered wedged between stone foundations of Scheyen's childhood home when his brother and sister-in-law did renovations in 2012.

The letters were from Oran Whitney to her father, a local high school principal. She had moved to Ontario and found herself in a difficult situation: pregnant out of wedlock.

Scheyen said in the late 1940s that would not have been socially acceptable for a young woman.

"Because of that, Oran was counselled by her father [that] it would be best to give this child up for adoption," Scheyen said.

In the letters, Whitney talks about the love she had for the child and the toll adoption would take  on her. In June 1949 she gave birth to Peggy Anne, named after her mother who had died when she was young, and put the child up for adoption.

Whitney never spoke of what happened and went on to have four other children. Scheyen said they recounted a certain day each year when they would find their mother crying, not knowing it was the anniversary of when she had given up her first child.

Filmmaker Colin Scheyen grew up in the home where the letters were discovered. (Submitted by Colin Scheyen)

The niece of Scheyen's sister-in-law became obsessed with the letters, sharing what Scheyen calls a "deep, deep connection" with Whitney, even having been born after her death. 

He doesn't want to give much away about the documentary but says a family is changed forever.

"Spoiler alert: it's a happy ending."

Scheyen, who grew up in Red Deer but now living in Toronto, said editing the film during the pandemic was like therapy, being able to focus on love and the importance of the deep connections between family.

"It's a reminder for all of us to how important these connections are, and to love our family while we still have them."

Love, Oran is screening virtually as part of the Northwest Fest until May 16. The film is also set to begin airing on Super Channel Heart & Home in late June.