Technology helps unlock photo album mystery

Victoria woman key to solving hotel’s 30-year conundrum

As Scott Hoadley

A photo album that has remained shrouded in mystery in Victoria for 30 years might be just an e-mail away from being returned to its rightful owner.

The well-thumbed book, full of black-and-white and sepia pictures of smiling families and friends, has sat in a locked office at the Inn at Laurel Point, left behind by a guest.

Initially, it was lack of technology that prevented staff from tracking down the album’s owner. Today, technology has allowed Melanie Arscott and Diana Gaiger of the Victoria Genealogical Society to identify a woman who appears in some of the photos.

“It was a guessing game,” said Arscott, society president, who was thrilled to match one of the names in the photo album to a woman living in Fairfield.

“She is a sleuth,” Molly Whitelaw Reid, 84, said of Arscott’s ability to track her down, a crucial step in identifying the book’s owner, whom she believes is a friend of her father.

“I think the family would be very pleased,” she said. “When you get old enough, you want to know what your roots are.”

When Arscott telephoned Whitelaw Reid three weeks ago to confirm her identity, the mystery of the book began to unravel. More details unfolded Friday when Whitelaw Reid arrived for tea at the Inn, where she poured over the keepsake album.

In one of the album’s pictures, Whitelaw Reid stands smiling as a teenager wearing a skirt she remembers vividly.

“It’s a significant picture of what the puzzle looks like,” said Scott Hoadley, hotel manager. “The mystery is getting closer to being solved.”

Once word spread publicly earlier this year about the album’s existence, Arscott contacted the Inn to volunteer her expertise.

Now, thanks to Whitelaw Reid, they know the photos depict the Starks. Her father and Jimmy Stark were both Scottish immigrants who worked in eastern Canada as civil engineers for the former Grand Trunk Railway.

It’s believed the album, featuring snapshots from the 1910s to 1940s, belongs to Jimmy’s older brother, David. Arscott has already been hard at work attempting to contact the grandchildren of Thomas Stark, Jimmy and David’s brother, whom she believes are the surviving heirs.

“I’m waiting for e-mails back,” Arscott said smiling. “I wish my family was that easy to track down.”

emcracken@vicnews.com

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