New Brunswick

Sisters meet for first time at Fredericton Airport

Fredericton Airport was the scene of an emotional family reunion on Sunday that was 56 years in the making.

Woman flew from South Africa to meet her sister who was placed for adoption by their parents in 1960

Mom revealed years ago on death bed that family had put younger sister up for adoption 0:56

"You're just like me!" exclaimed Sharon Rein, as she and her sister Sharon Dennis held each other for the first time.

It was an airport moment 56 years in the making.

With the help of an amateur genealogist and a Facebook group, the biological sisters — who share a first name — spoke on the phone for the first time earlier this year.

The younger sister, Sharon Dennis, 56, was adopted as a baby in South Africa in 1960. She moved to Canada in 1994.

Her older sister, Sharon Rein, 58, only found out she had a long-lost sibling in 1998, when her mother revealed the secret on her death bed.

"For me it's like having a closure. It's like something was always missing, and I didn't know about it," said Rein, just after arriving at Fredericton Airport on Sunday night.

"So, for me, it's like a healing. It's just amazing."
Sharon Dennis (L) and Sharon Rein meet for the first time. Just before their mother died in 1998, she told Rein that she given up a baby girl for adoption. It would be 2016 before the sisters would find each other. (CBC)

Rein was greeted by Dennis and her family at the airport, having flown from Durban, South Africa.

"Almost 20 years, now. It's been amazing. I didn't think it was going to happen," said Rein.

"I didn't either," said Dennis, completing the thought of the sister she had never met.

"I put my little story out there, but did not expect a response, and here we are two months later."

Dennis, who lives in Fredericton, also has a younger adoptive sister back in South Africa.

It's like a healing. It's just amazing.- Sharon Rein

"I think I always knew that I wasn't an older sister. I always felt I needed some guidance," said Dennis.

"There is something in birth sequences. And I really felt I needed an older sister."

Rein will spend the next two weeks with Dennis and her family.

"I'm so excited to meet nieces and nephews that I never even knew about," said Rein.

"I'm just so looking forward to get to know everybody and tell more about our side too. There's so many of them too."

Sharon and Sharon

The women's parents, Hazel and Vernon Barker, had five children together; three girls and two boys. Sharon Dennis was the third-born.

She says, when she was born, her parents were advised by a social worker that they wouldn't be able to cope with three children born in quick succession.

Hazel and Vernon decided to place her for adoption.
Sharon Dennis's birth-parents Hazel and Vernon Barker gave her up for adoption in South Africa because they felt they couldn't provide for a third child born in quick succession. (Submitted by Sharon Dennis)

Coincidentally, the adopting parents named the baby Sharon, the same name the baby's biological older sister.

As an adult, Dennis made attempts to search for her birth family. She found her parents' names but little else.

Meanwhile, in 1998, Sharon Rein finally learned there was fifth sibling in her family.

Her mother Hazel revealed the secret on her death bed.

Rein searched throughout South Africa and beyond for her sister, but eventually gave up.

It wasn't until this year that Dennis started looking from Fredericton again, using social media.

She joined a Facebook group called Baby Come Home, where she posted her story.

An amateur genealogist in Greece provided some help, and eventually, a match was found: Sharon Dennis of Fredericton, meet your sister Sharon Rein of South Africa.
Sharon Rein (top left) was one of four siblings raised by the Barker family in South Africa. Their mother Hazel revealed on her death bed in 1998 that she and her husband had adopted out a fifth child. (Submitted by Sharon Dennis)

The women spoke to each other for the first time earlier this year. Dennis described the moment she made the phone call.

"I made myself a cup of tea and took a deep breath and dialed the number. I just didn't know what to expect on the other side," said Dennis.

"Immediately [I] sensed love and welcome and happiness, and just the connection was there right from the start."

Dennis says learning about her biological family was also bittersweet. Her two brothers both passed away before she got a chance to meet them. One of them died just last September.

Dennis hopes to one day make a return trip to South Africa, to meet her other biological sister Valerie, and their extended family.