Time capsule hidden for 69 years reveals the secrets of North Sydney's past

A time capsule dating back nearly 70 years was found encased in cement behind the cornerstone of North Sydney's Thompson Middle School, which was torn down earlier this year.

The capsule was found behind the cornerstone of Thompson Middle School when the building was torn down

Former Thompson Middle School principal Alex Gilchrist reveals a July 1949 copy of the Sydney Post-Record, one of many items found inside a time capsule squirreled away in the school's foundation. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

About 50 people were on hand when the North Sydney Historical Society revealed the answer Thursday to what had been a bit of a mystery.

Thompson Middle School, originally built as a high school in 1949, was torn down earlier this year and locals had been speculating about the possible presence of a time capsule.

Was there one? If so, what did it contain?

Joe Meaney, president of the North Sydney Historical Society, said the school's cornerstone didn't appear to contain anything. However, he said, there was a "large clump of cement" behind it.

Alex Gilchrist checks the time capsule to make sure all of the contents have been retrieved. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

And that clump proved to contain a sealed metal capsule, encased for nearly 70 years.

"We knew there was something there, but we didn't know exactly what it was, how big it was, or anything of that nature," Meaney said.

The cornerstone was unveiled Thursday outside the museum on Commercial Street before the time capsule was opened inside.

A worn leather wallet contained several coins, plus fairly crisp one-, two- and five-dollar bills. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The container eventually revealed a Sydney Post-Record newspaper from July 1949, and various letters and records from local organizations listing off the names of some of the prominent people of that era.

Among those names was A. Charles Thompson, who served as mayor of North Sydney from 1945 to 1955.

His grandson, Chuck Thompson, helped open the capsule and was pleased to find mention of his family inside.

"It's nice to see my grandfather's name," he said. "He's mentioned through all those letters in his role as the magistrate here, the mayor."

A worn leather wallet found inside the capsule also contained fairly crisp one-, two- and five-dollar bills, and several coins.

Chuck Thompson, left, helps open the time capsule that was hidden away behind the cornerstone of the school named after his grandfather, A. Charles Thompson. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Alex Gilchrist, principal of Thompson High School from 1959 to 1974, also helped open the capsule.

He said the contents likely have very little monetary value, but there was a lot of community interest in the reading material.

"You never know what you're going to find in it, and there was a lot of history in that time capsule, there's no two ways about it," Gilchrist said.

Luckily, contents weren't 'mush'

Gilchrist said he was surprised the contents were in such good shape.

Leo Steele of local monument makers John D. Steele's Sons was enlisted to crack open the concrete block found behind the cornerstone.

"He had taken a number of these time capsules out of buildings and usually they're not in very good shape," Gilchrist said.

"Moisture has got into them and the paper contents have all gone to mush, I guess you'd call it. But this one, it was very well done and everything is very readable and we're very lucky that way."

About 50 people showed up to see the cornerstone of the former Thompson Middle School and to discover what was inside a time capsule. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The historical society plans to contact the Beaton Institute at Cape Breton University to seek advice on how to preserve the contents.

After that, they will be put on display at the museum.

Meaney said he was pleased with the turnout and interest on Thursday, noting historical society events don't usually draw such a large audience.

"It was a very nice crowd here today as compared to other things we've had," he said. "People just don't show up, so it was very nice to have the citizens of the town to attend."

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 32 years. He has spent the last 14 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.