Nova Scotia

Act of vandalism in N.B. unearths piece of N.S. family's history

A New Brunswick man can't believe his luck after finding thousands of copies of a book about his Cape Breton-born father in an abandoned trailer near Fredericton.

The Caper tells Monty Lewis's story, from former criminal to man who spent his life helping others

Stephen Lewis poses with copies of The Caper, a book about his father, Cape Breton's Monty Lewis. A trailer was recently discovered outside Fredericton that contained thousands of copies of the book. (Stephen Lewis/Facebook)

A New Brunswick man can't believe his luck after finding thousands of copies of a book about his late father in an abandoned trailer near Fredericton.

The book, The Caper: The Monty Lewis Story by Joanne Jacquart, tells the remarkable true story of its namesake, a former criminal and eventual Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal winner who grew up in Cape Breton.

He founded Bridges of Canada, a non-profit organization that provides therapeutic care for people who are incarcerated.

Lewis died in 2013. His family thought only a few dozen copies of his book remained, until his son Stephen Lewis learned about the unexpected stash.

The younger Lewis told CBC's Maritime Noon that he was first alerted to the large stash of books when he was tagged on Facebook.

"The photo opened up and it was all my father's books ... strewn all across the ground. They were all messed up and crinkled and waterlogged."

The image broke his heart, and he didn't feel any better when he saw the destroyed books in person, at a quarry in Marysville. Someone had broken into the trailer, which was now covered in graffiti and partially vandalized. But then he looked inside, and found stacks of sealed cardboard boxes filled with intact copies of the 1990 book — thousands of them.

"So then I was, like, elated," the musician said.

A 'menace to society' finds God

Lewis said his father's life in Cape Breton was a hard one — his own dad a coal miner and a moonshiner.

Monty Lewis "was a victim of abuse from a young age, addictions, and as he got older he left Cape Breton and pretty much started to run with biker gangs," his son said.

Stephen Lewis said his father became one of the most violent offenders in Canada and a "menace to society," eventually ending up in solitary confinement.

"In the book it details this, about how he was, like, naked in the hole in a prison cell, and a little man from the Salvation Army came in and told him that the book that he had been using for a pillow was the Bible and that, you know, like, God loved him, and that there was, like, salvation for him and the bad things that he had done. And in that moment it clicked for him."

From mess to message

When he got out of prison, he moved to help people affected by the prison system, including families. He started rehabilitation programs, opened youth camps for kids whose parents had been incarcerated, and travelled around the world spreading a message of hope.

"'My life was a mess but I turned it into a message.' That was his catchphrase," Stephen Lewis said.

Lewis says the discovery of the trailer, which contained the contents of an office his father had in Fredericton, is serendipitous on several levels. For one, the truck's contents were found a short drive from Stephen's recording studio.

At first Stephen Lewis was crestfallen by the condition of some of the books about his father, but came to realize there were thousands of books in good condition. (Gaje How/Facebook)

Second, the timing is good for a story of hope.

"Especially right now, with everything that's happening, we really just need to help each other, regardless of what our beliefs are.... Everyone is entitled to help and everyone's entitled to hope in tough times."

'Thankful' for vandalism

Finally, he never would have found the books if the trailer had not been vandalized.

"In a way, I'm pretty thankful it had happened."

Lewis said he's happy to give the books away, as his father once did, but will also accept donations that will go toward rehabilitation programs.

People who want a copy can email themontylewisstory@gmail.com.

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With files from Maritime Noon

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