Nfld. & Labrador

'My mind was blown': Long-lost pen pals luck into unlikely reunion at N.L. university

Pen pals Melissa Hamilton and Heather Spicer never thought they would ever meet in person when they began writing each other in 2006.

The two first began writing to each other 13 years ago

Heather Spicer, left, and Melissa Hamilton never dreamed they would ever meet in person when they began writing each other in 2006. (Jennifer Grudic/CBC)

When Melissa Hamilton and Heather Spicer began writing each other as pen pals 13 years ago, neither of them could have ever dreamed up the reunion that would happen at a small university campus in western Newfoundland. 

The two were introduced when they were Grade 5 students, worlds apart — Heather in Mississauga, Ont., and Melissa in Belize. Their classes were matched by a teacher who was traveling between the two schools.

"Ms. Hayes and her son went down to Belize and came back with these letters. And we were just randomly assigned letters so the first one just said, 'Dear pen pal,' and signed, 'Melissa Hamilton,'" said Spicer.

"We started writing back and forth and then the next one I got back said 'Dear Heather,' and then 'My friend Heather', and that's when it got exciting."

Hamilton says she was shocked to see the pictures she had drawn more than a decade ago appearing in front of her in Newfoundland. (Jennifer Grudic/CBC)

The girls quickly formed a strong bond over their love of science and sports. Through their letters they would share stories about their families, what the weather was like, and the adventures they had at school. 

"That was pretty exciting because Canada is pretty far away from Belize," said Hamilton.

"So to have someone who I could call my friend in another country so far away, that was pretty cool."

But as with all good things, the letters eventually came to an end. The girls grew up and moved on, never thinking they would have the chance to meet their long-distance pal. 

An unexpected reunion

The reunion that would happen 10 years later is almost too impossible to believe.

Spicer eventually moved from Ontario to Pasadena, N.L., with her family and ended up enrolling in the science program at Memorial University's Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook. She fell in love with biology and ended up joining the Let's Talk Science Outreach group, an organization dedicated to connecting educators and youth with volunteers to provide STEM learning experiences. 

When she signed up, though, she saw something she'll never forget.

"I have a pretty good memory when it comes to names," said Spicer. "I saw Melissa's name written down on the volunteer form. I thought, 'I know this name for a reason."

Spicer can remember her classmates raising money to send the letters by selling these rubber bracelets at school. (Jennifer Grudic/CBC)

She said she decided to approach Hamilton and ask her where she was from. When Hamilton replied Belize, Spicer's mind immediately went back to the pen pal she'd written to so long ago.

"I didn't want to seem creepy but it was like, 'I feel like I know you,'" said Spicer.

She went home later that day and found the letters she had received more than a decade ago — all neatly preserved in a plastic bag. When Spicer brought them to class the next day, Hamilton said she immediately recognized her colourful drawings, even noting that her family still lived at the same address. 

"My mind was blown because I distinctly remember sitting down and drawing the Mayan ruins on the back of these letters. I was just like, 'Whoa, I remember these and they're here in front of me so many years later,'" said Hamilton.

"It's funny, because both of us are not here, not from Newfoundland. The fact that we met here at Grenfell Campus, such a small campus, it's just amazing."

The girls connected on common interests like sports and science, quickly forming a friendship through their letters. (Jennifer Grudic/CBC)

'I'm obviously in the right place'

The women are both in the process of completing their master's degrees in the boreal ecosystems program, and even have the same supervisor. They have similar friend groups and share similar interests, which, according to Spicer, doesn't come as much of a surprise.

"We were joking the other day looking at the letters. She's giving me a science lesson on iguanas and how they're cold-blooded and they can't produce heat, and here we are both in science in the end," she said.

Hamilton said the experience has given her comfort through not only friendship, but also the peace of mind in knowing she is on the right path in life.

Both women are in the process of completing their master's degrees in the boreal ecosystems program at Grenfell. (Jennifer Grudic/CBC)

"When I started in the general science program and switched over to environmental science, it was just like, 'What am I doing here? Is this what I want to do with my life? Is this my passion?'" she said.

"During that time when I was questioning everything and I was praying about it a lot, that was when I met Heather, and I'm like, 'This cannot be a coincidence. I'm obviously at the right place."

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About the Author

Jennifer Grudić is a journalist working with CBC's bureau in Corner Brook. She contributes regularly to CBC Newfoundland Morning.