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How a visit to a Nova Scotia bakery connected two women with their long-lost sister

After living their lives without ever meeting their older half-sister, a visit to a neighbourhood bakery brought two N.S. women face to face with her for the first time.

In rural Nova Scotia, two women find their lost sister, hidden in plain sight for decades

A Polaroid taken of Machelle Hubley (left) while she lived in foster care in Canning, N.S., on the other side of the Annapolis Valley from her biological family. (Moira Donovan/CBC)
Listen27:30

This documentary first aired in March 2018.

For most of their lives, Coral Rafuse and Candace Bird knew only a handful of things about their older half-sister.

They knew that their mother had been unable to afford her care, so the infant became a "ward of the court." 

They knew she'd later been adopted, and that their mother didn't want to disrupt her in her new life.

They knew her name was once Machelle.

"We had thought we would just carry on the rest of our lives knowing that we had a sister that we would never meet," Rafuse said.

But there were many things Rafuse and Bird didn't know about their half-sister, who was from their mother's previous marriage: what she looked like, whether her name had changed — and the fact, she was living less than a dozen kilometres away.

After living their lives without ever meeting their oldest sister, a visit to a neighbourhood bakery brought Rafuse and Bird face to face with Machelle, who had been living one town over from them for decades.

"We thought she was with a family and she wasn't," Rafuse said. "And we were here. So close! That was so sad."

Machelle's early days

This photo of Machelle Hubley, hanging on the wall of a local bakery, led to a meeting that sisters Coral Rafuse and Michelle Bird never thought would happen. (Submitted by The Flower Cart)
Machelle Hubley was born in 1964. Her mother, Lyn Boone, had experienced Rh incompatibility during pregnancy, meaning there was a mismatch between the blood types of mother and fetus. As a result, Hubley sustained brain damage. For the first two years of her life Hubley lived at home until her medical needs required that she be moved into a nursing facility. 

Not long after, Boone's marriage broke down. On her own, she could no longer afford Hubley's health-care costs.

A judge suggested making Hubley a ward of the court, and Boone agreed. She continued to visit Hubley at the nursing home on her days off. Then one day, she called ahead before her visit and was told Hubley was gone.

"See, I had no say," Boone said. "Part of me was gone when [my husband] left and part of me was gone when Machelle left."

At this point, everyone in the family believed that Hubley had been adopted.

50 years in the making

Nearly 50 years later, in late 2015, Rafuse went to buy bread at a bakery just a five-minute walk from the daycare where she worked in the town of New Minas, N.S.

The Flower Cart, the local bakery, is a social enterprise that finds jobs for people with intellectual disabilities. Rafuse had never been in before that day. One of Rafuse's co-workers usually pick ups the bread order for the daycare, but the co-worker was busy that day.

The Flower Cart is a social enterprise that trains and employs people with disabilities. It was here that Rafuse saw Hubley's photo. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

And everything changed.

I kept thinking, could that be my sister? It was mind-blowing.- Coral Rafuse

Just inside The Flower Cart's front door, Rafuse spotted a wall full of portraits of long-term employees. 

One of the photos in particular caught her eye. Beneath it, it read: Machelle Hubley.

"I kept thinking, 'Could that be my sister?' It was mind-blowing."

Rafuse phoned her sister immediately. With The Flower Cart's help, they were soon headed for a life-altering encounter at L'Arche Homefires in Wolfville, N.S., where Hubley had been living for 30 years, a short drive from their homes.

This map shows how close, unbeknownst to them, the three sisters were living and working. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

Contrary to what the two sisters had thought, Hubley was never adopted. She had moved between a number of foster homes until her early 20s when she came to stay at L'Arche, a community of adults with intellectual disabilities.

Rafuse and Bird met Hubley at the L'Arche offices.

"We felt an instant connection," Rafuse said.

Sisters Machelle Hubley, Candace Bird and Coral Rafuse meet for the first time. (Submitted by Candace Bird)

They crossed the street to have coffee with their sister for the first time at a nearby Tim Hortons.

Hubley was delighted with the reunion, too. For decades, she'd been the only member of her L'Arche residence without a family to visit at Christmas.

From that point on, she would join her family's celebrations as a sister, an aunt and a daughter.

Machelle Hubley's new world: A poster on Hubley’s door at L’Arche, decorated with plans from a summer trip and pictures of her sisters. (Moira Donovan)

As for Hubley's mother, Lyn Boone — she says this adventure has put to rest a question she's carried around for decades.

"I was always wondering where she was, how she was," Boone said. "Now I know. So it's completed me."

"Now if I die, I could die easy because I know she's been happy."


Click on the Listen link at the top of the page to hear the documentary, or download and subscribe to our podcast so you never miss a show.

This documentary was made through the Doc Project Mentorship Program

(Robert Short/CBC)
About the producer

Moira Donovan is a journalist based in Halifax, where she works as an associate producer with CBC Radio and reports for other outlets. She has a master's degree in philosophy, and has lived in Lyon and London... until the siren call of radio storytelling — and the lure of the Atlantic Ocean — proved too hard to resist. You can find more of her work at moira-donovan.com or @MoiraDonovan.

This documentary was edited by Alison Cook.

About the music

This doc makes use of several music tracks by Chris Zabriskie