Nova Scotia

After 56 years of letters, pen pals meet for the first time

A friendship forged in writing between Holly Ferguson of Nova Scotia and Shelley Rutherford of Saskatchewan started with a newspaper ad in 1961.

Friendship between Holly Ferguson of N.S. and Shelley Rutherford of Sask. began with newspaper ad

Pen pals Holly Ferguson and Shelley Rutherford met for the first time Saturday after 56 years of writing to each other. (Submitted)

They had corresponded by letter for 56 years. But it was only in Enfield, N.S., on Saturday that Shelley Rutherford and Holly Ferguson met for the first time, running to each other and hugging.

Their long history of writing back and forth began after Rutherford placed an ad in the pen pal section of her Saskatchewan hometown newspaper in 1961. She was 10 years old.

The newspaper landed in Ferguson's Nova Scotia home because her father had an interest in farming out West and had editions mailed to him.

"I always looked at the pen pal page," Ferguson told CBC's Information Morning. "I saw Shelley's ad and it sounded like somebody I'd like to write to."

They hit it off right away in their letters. The two shared their secrets, and stories about crushes and friends at school.

"You know what teen years are like. We knew we could tell each other and nobody else would know about it," Ferguson said. "We could tell our innermost thoughts."

They wrote 15-page letters to each other twice a week.

After Rutherford stayed with Ferguson for two nights, the two travelled to the Annapolis Valley. (Submitted)

Rutherford said Ferguson often wrote really dramatic letters about boys.

"We both had the same young girl teenage angst that we wrote about," said Rutherford.

As they got older, their correspondence eventually winded down to Christmas cards.

"I would say we felt natural writing to each other, maybe that's why it felt so natural to meet."

Rutherford travelled to Nova Scotia from her home in Kelvington, Sask. In the days leading up to the meeting, the two women said they started to get nervous.

"You think you know a person through the mail, but then you wonder, 'Oh, what if it's uncomfortable? What if we have a hard time talking to each other?'" Rutherford said.

But it was easy, she said. They sat on Ferguson's deck and caught up like they'd grown up next door to each other.

Rutherford said modern correspondence like email can feel less thoughtful than letters. Writing letters gave them a chance to go deeper and share their feelings, she said.

"I think kids have missed something these days," said Ferguson. "I know people are texting and on Facebook and things like that all the time. They're corresponding, but it's different, because it's open-to-the-world kind of space, whereas these letters are private and nobody else knows, or sees them."

Read more articles on CBC Nova Scotia.