Manitoba man finds message in a bottle from 1985, spends 9 years tracking down messenger

A Manitoba man found a message in a bottle in a marsh more than two-and-a-half decades after it was released into a Winnipeg river. That set him on a journey to find the person who sent it.

Sender has placed more than 30,000 messages in bottles around the world

This is the note Dennis Anderson found in a bottle in 2011. (Submitted by Dennis Anderson)

Dennis Anderson was understandably excited when he found a message in a bottle while out on a boat in a massive marsh near where he grew up in Libau, Man., in 2011.

Especially when the discoloured note inside asked the finder to contact the sender by sending a letter to a post office box in Yonkers, New York.

"I'd been lucky, even as a kid, with finding things," he said. "I've always had that sort of luck or curiosity ... it piqued my curiosity."

Anderson, now 77, sent a letter, but it was returned to him. That led to the academic and avid researcher to spend nearly a decade scouring radio stations, telephone services and libraries for the person who released that bottle into Manitoba's waterways.

From his home in Arizona, with the help of librarians, Anderson successfully tracked down the messenger in December by matching the name on the note to the author of a book about clarinets.

"It took me nine years to find the fellow who sent it," he said.

Dennis Anderson, left, pictured with Nina Colwill, his wife of 55 years, spent nine years tracking down the sender of a message in a bottle he found in 2011. (Submitted by Dennis Anderson)

That note located by Anderson was the 9,460th message in a bottle the messenger had written up and tossed into the water since 1972.

"I think it's great," Anderson said. "I call him the intrepid bottle-note releaser."

Finder finally finds sender

Tom Heimer said he was shocked to hear from the man who found the bottle he released in 1985.

"I couldn't believe it," he said.

Born in New York state, Heimer resided in northern Manitoba, mostly in the Thompson area, from 1977 until 2005.

Although it was not the first time he had heard from a finder, it was the longest period of time between the release of the bottle and its finding.

Tom Heimer has left more than 30,000 messages in bottles in waterways across the country and the world since 1972. (Submitted by Tom Heimer)

He has kept a detailed record of the release locations and the people who found them.

To date, 1,919 finders of messages in bottles have reached out to him, he said.

Tens of thousands of bottle notes

When he was 18 years old, Heimer tossed his first bottle into the Delaware River at 1:23 a.m.

Exactly 30,900 bottle notes later, he said he has left his mark in every Canadian province and territory, as well as Europe, Asia, Caribbean, Eastern Europe and every U.S. state, except Hawaii.

No. 9,999 and 10,000 messages in a bottle left behind by Tom Heimer. (Submitted by Tom Heimer)

The one thing that has changed in the messaging over time is that now it contains only his email address on it. Heimer no longer marks down his physical address.

"You can't reach me anymore unless you do ... a lot of research."

Heimer said the best part about his practice is meeting new people and hearing their stories of discovery.

"We're miles and miles apart," he said.

"I suppose [we] can keep in touch and see what happens."

With files from Wendy Parker


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.