Nfld. & Labrador

Championship boxing belt, missing for more than 70 years, reunited with family

The return of a Newfoundland Boxing Association championship belt to the son of its winner has solved two family mysteries.

Belt found after story aired on CBC Television's Here & Now

Wilson Downey breaks out in tears as he kisses his father's 1936 championship boxing belt. His son Norm says the family is on Cloud 9. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The return of a 1936 Newfoundland boxing belt to its rightful owners has solved two family mysteries.

Wilson Downey wore his father's championship belt Friday, ending more than half a century of searching for the prize, which went missing just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

The belt was returned to Downey and his son Norm by Pauline Thomas, who herself had been working "for years" to figure out the belt's origin. It came to her from a box of family memorabilia that her husband inherited.

"I promised my husband that I would find out who it rightly belonged to. But he died before he knows this," she said Friday. "Perhaps he knows."

"I didn't think I'd ever see it," said Wilson Downey. "I started [looking] in 1958."

Wilson Downey, middle, was overcome with emotion when he finally held his father's boxing belt. He has been searching for it since 1958. Wilson's son Norm, left, and wife Rose, right, take a look. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The reunion started to come together after Thomas caught the tail end of CBC's Here & Now broadcast on Thursday, which featured the story of Downey's missing championship belt and his family's search to find it.

'I'm on Cloud 9 and I threw the ladder away, I'm not coming down.- Norm Downey

Thomas said she immediately called her daughter, who helped her track down Norm Downey's phone number through Facebook.

"I was so excited, I shook," she said. "We're so happy, I've never been happier in my life that something so precious as this is back to where it belongs."

Pauline Thomas found the boxing belt in her home and contacted Norm Downey on his 50th birthday. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

Norm Downey said that after he got a message from Thomas Thursday night, he and his family "basically ran down to the east end to pick up this treasure."

The belt was won by Norm's grandfather, Norman J. Downey, in 1936.

Norman J. Downey, who was discovered and groomed by a promoter following a bar-room scrap in Kitchener, Ont., won more than 140 fights in Canada and the United States over the course of his career.

Wilson Downey strikes a pose wearing the boxing belt his father, Norman J. Downey, won in 1936. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

He returned to Newfoundland and won the Newfoundland Boxing Association's lightweight championship.

The younger Norm Downey told CBC News that he'd heard stories about the belt being put into a vault in a St. John's law office and never seen again.

It ended up in Thomas's family box.

"With all the photographs, pictures, memorabilia, was this beautiful thing," she said. "I did look for years to try and find the owner, but I just couldn't find it."

'I kissed it, and I screeched'

Since getting the family heirloom back, Norm Downey says he's been over the moon.

"'I'm on Cloud 9 and I threw the ladder away, I'm not coming down," he said. 

Norman J. Downey won this Newfoundland Boxing Association championship belt in 1936. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

"I kissed it, and I screeched and bawled," he said. "They call me a Downey for a reason, because we're so soft-hearted. I just couldn't believe it."

The news came on his 50th birthday, and he said it was so good, he can't wait for his 75th.

With files from Anthony Germain