Nova Scotia

This man vanished in a 1941 blizzard. Now, there's a plan to find his remains

In 1941, George Wilson disappeared after stepping off a bus and into a snowstorm in Hants County, N.S. Now, a longtime resident plans to search for evidence of Wilson's body.

Armed with a metal detector and a magnet, a Hants County, N.S. resident plans to search for George Wilson

George Wilson went missing during a snowstorm in December 1941. (CBC)

In 1941, George Wilson stepped off a bus at the end of his road in rural Hants County, N.S., and headed home in a blizzard.

It was five days before Christmas, and the 47-year-old was loaded down with gifts for his family, including a box of chocolates and some oranges he had stuffed in his pockets.

His arrival from Halifax, where he worked as a cabinetmaker, would be a surprise for his wife and children, who weren't expecting him until Christmas Eve.

As the wind howled and the snow whipped his face, he called good night to his neighbour who had gotten off the bus with him.

But somewhere between the main road, now called Highway 215, and his home about a kilometre down Armitage Road in Lower Burlington, something went wrong.

Wilson never made it home.

Wilson would have gotten off the bus and walked down Armitage Road, where his home was located. (Frances Willick/CBC)

It wasn't until three days later, when a neighbour who had been on the bus with Wilson asked his daughter how she liked her father's surprise arrival, that the terrible reality dawned on the Wilson family.

Despite a massive 300-person search that swept the area during the following days, neither Wilson nor his remains were found. Searchers discovered only his hat, the Christmas parcels and some tracks in the snow.

The mystery of what happened to Wilson has endured all these years.

George Wilson's disappearance was front-page news in the Dec. 31, 1941, edition of the Hants Journal. (Public Archives of Nova Scotia)

It's a story everyone knows, including Paul Saunders, who lives just steps away from where Wilson got off the bus that night.

Saunders believes he knows where Wilson died.

"He drowned in that little hole in there, in our old swimming hole," said the 81-year-old, gesturing down Armitage Road. "There's basically no other place ... That's the only place he can be, the only thing that could have happened to him."

Paul Saunders believes George Wilson's final resting place was a swimming hole located on the marsh past this field. (Frances Willick/CBC)

Saunders believes if Wilson got lost in the woods or on the marsh, his body would have eventually been found. And he wouldn't have fallen into the nearby Cogmagun River because of the dikes surrounding the banks.

Saunders recently learned that Wilson had a metal brace on his leg, the consequence of a shrapnel wound from the First World War. He plans to head to the swimming hole this weekend with a metal detector and a strong magnet in the hopes of finding the brace — evidence of Wilson's final resting place.

"I just want to prove what happened to him," he said.

The Halifax Herald covered the search for several days after Wilson's disappearance was discovered. (Public Archives of Nova Scotia)

Wilson's grandson, Steve Wilcox, said he grew up hearing stories of Wilson's mysterious disappearance.

"Over the years growing up in this community, there's been rumours that he's buried in a basement, that people know what happened to him. You know, all the normal stuff, right?" he said.

The theory he subscribes to is that Wilson was killed and robbed of the couple of hundred dollars cash he was carrying.

"I assume somebody took his money. That's my assumption on it, right? But I could be wrong," he said.

Wilcox said the idea that Wilson simply got lost in the snow doesn't ring true to him.

"I don't care how bad it's stormin'. You know if you're going downhill or uphill," he said. "He walked that Armitage Road many, many times … I don't care if it's blinding, you can't see two feet in front of you. You still know where you're going."

Paul Saunders plans to use a magnet, pictured above, and a metal detector to search for George Wilson's metal leg brace. (Frances Willick/CBC)

Wilcox said his mother, Josephine, was only about eight at the time of her father's disappearance.

He's heard Wilson was "a real nice fellow and a real good guy."

Wilcox said Saunders's plan is "pretty wild," but "it's not gonna hurt nothing."

"It would be nice to find out what happened in my lifetime," he said. "We can assume all day long, but none of us know for sure unless we find something, right?"

About the Author

Frances Willick

Reporter

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca

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