Vanessa Austin says she was confused when someone showed up at her office in Guelph, Ont., with a wallet for her.
The Fergus woman was amazed when she found out the wallet was her mother's and it was lost 40 long years ago.
"We went in and picked [up the wallet] and I couldn't believe it. It's like a time capsule. It's so well preserved, it looks like, obviously no one touched it in 40 years," Austin said on CBC K-W's The Morning Edition.
The man who found the wallet, Andrew Medley of Detroit, said he was at Toronto's Eaton Centre doing some work at a storage unit when he discovered it in the air ducts.
WATCH | This wallet was returned to a woman in Fergus, Ont., 40 years after her mom lost it:
Austin said she has no recollection of her mom losing the wallet, and neither does her mother.
Austin said she grew up in Toronto and as newcomers to Canada, she recalls that every Saturday, they would go to the Eaton Centre and just walk around.
"I guess that's where it got lost or stolen," she said.
The floral-print wallet contained coupons to Canada's Wonderland, a Toronto Public Library card, a TD Bank green machine card, mementoes from Austin's dad to her mom, and a photo of Austin as a child attached to her mom's immigration documents from their home country of El Salvador.
"It was just all her stuff from El Salvador — so things I've never seen, right? And also my birth certificate, kind of all in bits," Austin said.
How it was found
Medley is a corporate investigator who was working on another case in January when he went into a rarely used bathroom in the Eaton Centre in a staff-only area.
He decided to look up in the ceiling for clues for the case he's working on and noticed the wallet wedged between ductwork and an opening in the wall.
"It was pretty obvious that someone put it there on purpose," he said.
"I took the wallet out and I was with a colleague at the time, and we opened it up. We thought maybe it was a couple years old and we were just shocked at how well preserved everything was in there."
Medley said he took the wallet back to his hotel room and began the search for the woman who owned the wallet and was able to locate Austin.
"Even though the pictures were 40 years old, there's facial features that just don't change that much over time. So I finally got to someone that had the same name and looked like her," he said.
He tried to reach out to both Austin and her mother on Facebook, but wasn't able to connect.
He was about to leave Toronto to head back to Detroit before a snowstorm was predicted to hit the region, but he decided to make one more effort to reach Austin. He checked LinkedIn and figured out where she worked, and made the detour off Highway 401 to Guelph to drop off the wallet.
"I was pretty confident I had the right person," he said. "I thought this was just something that she kept these things on her, even the mementoes, for a reason. They're these things that were important to her and I thought, you know, it's worth the effort to return it."
Medley said he doesn't feel he did anything extraordinary, but he's happy Austin and her family have the wallet back.
"I do think that most people would do the same thing," he said. "And I think that most people could do it — like it doesn't take a special set of skills."
'I was emotional about it'
Austin said the first thing she did when she got the wallet was she "smelled it."
"I didn't expect to react the way I did. I was emotional about it. It's one of those things … the immigrant story, you always arrive in Canada with very little and oftentimes we leave all these important things behind," she said.
"So, seeing something that basic from El Salvador … these are the documents that got us here, it was just really beautiful to have a piece of our history back. It was emotional to get it back."
She said she's grateful to Medley for taking the time to return the wallet.
"This is something that we need to hear about because people are still good enough to take the time and not ask for anything, but just to bring something back to you because they figured that we'd want to have it back and I just was so appreciative of that."