Nova Scotia

Friendship forged after message in a bottle washes ashore after 18 years

Rita Ganim of Buffalo, N.Y., was delighted to hear from an 11-year-old boy from Nova Scotia who found the message she sent 18 years ago.

Rita Ganim of Buffalo, N.Y., was delighted to hear from an 11-year-old from Nova Scotia

Rita Ganim holds a picture of Dallas Goreham of Nova Scotia, holding a message that Rita tucked in a bottle and tossed in the ocean on August 19, 2000. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

When Dallas Goreham discovered a bottle nestled along the shoreline by his Woods Harbour, N.S., home, he wanted to do what many 11-year-olds might do in that situation — throw it around.

But then he spotted something inside.

The sealed plastic bottle contained a note with a handwritten message written 18 years ago. The only problem was, he couldn't decipher it. 

"They don't really teach cursive no more in school so I couldn't really read it that good and I got my mother to read it to me and I was quite stunned," he said. 

Dallas Goreham of Woods Harbour, N.S., stumbled upon a bottle thrust in the ocean seven years before he was born. (Submitted by Tara Goreham)

Dated Aug. 19, 2000, it read: "Hi 'friend,' I am a visitor to Gloucester. I hope you will let me know if/when you find this. Cheers, Rita."

Dallas and his mother, Tara Goreham, decided to track down the author in what turned out to be a digital scavenger hunt. 

The email address the author had left was long defunct and they couldn't find a Facebook or Instagram profile. 

But they did spot a reference to Rita Ganim in a 2003 letter in a newspaper in Buffalo, N.Y., The newspaper had another email on file. Within hours, the Gorehams were corresponding with the 80-year-old.

"It's the most exciting time I've had in a long time," Ganim told the CBC from her home in the Buffalo area on Tuesday. 

"I think that's part of what life is all about — making connections and meeting people and seeing if we can help each other."

Jacqueline Ganim-DeFalco with her mother Rita Ganim at their home in West Seneca, N.Y. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Ganim remembers the August day she whirred around Ipswich Bay, Mass., with her daughter Jackie and son-in-law Michael in their Boston Whaler. Though she was in her sixties, she had never dared throw a bottle into the ocean before.

She decided it wouldn't hurt the environment too much if she did it just once. 

"When we were in the boat … I said, 'You know, Michael, I'm concerned I might get some pirate with a patch across his eye and two teeth missing.' He said, 'Don't worry about that. If we get any pirates we'll take care of them,'" she recalled with a laugh. "I was looking for a pirate, but I got an 11-year-old handsome young man instead."

It's about 410 kilometres as the crow flies between Woods Harbour and Gloucester, Mass., but it's hard to know what journey the container took over the past 18 years.

Ruth Musgrave of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole., Mass., said it would be impossible to know the route the bottle took to Nova Scotia, but it would be unlikely it left the Gulf of Maine.

"It also seems very unlikely that the bottle spent all 18 years at sea," she said in an email. "My guess would be that it spent most of its time on the beach. Beaches are pretty dynamic environments, so something could remain buried for years, only to be recovered after a storm."

"It was actually in quite good shape.… It went through a lot of storms," Dallas said Tuesday, almost a week after the discovery.

Ganim said she now has her heart set on meeting the Gorehams. She's never visited Nova Scotia and would love to connect with the family if they ever venture to Niagara Falls, not far from her home. 

They have discovered some common ground as well. Tara Goreham often makes crafts out of sea glass, and Ganim's daughter has a sea glass jewelry business.

"I think it was meant to be," Ganim said.

Musgrave cautions that because plastic objects don't break down they can "cause significant problems for marine life" so she doesn't recommend people make a habit of tossing them in the water.