A sentimental family heirloom was rescued from rubbish underneath the Gardiner Expressway and reunited with a grateful family.
It began when Constable Ricardo Gomez and Edward Otten had stopped at Lakeshore Blvd. W. and Lower Simcoe to inspect a shanty that had been erected on a traffic island by homeless people. Area residents have reported aggressive behaviour and officers have found stolen items and unsafe conditions from these encampments in the past. In nudging trash from their feet, Gomez noticed an envelope with formal writing on it and Otten picked it up to find war medals inside.
Inscribed on the medals: C.E. Scott 177th Battalion Canadian Infantry Private along with his Military Service Number. The envelope listed a funeral home.
Having served in the military, Gomez and Otten felt compelled to reunite the medals with the owner’s relatives.
“Initially when I saw them, I was shocked,” said Gomez. “For someone to have put their lives on the line for their country and to have this happen to them wasn’t right. That was the wrong place for those medals to be.”
Otten said he was angry when the medals were found in the trash.
“With my military service, I knew of the sacrifice that person made,” he said. “To see the medals lying there hurt me.”
The officers spent countless hours trying to locate a family member.
Gomez conducted an online search pointing him to Penetanguishene and the possible owner as Charles Edward Scott, born August 23, 1887. The funeral home was contacted and able to find his date of death of August 11, 1975 but nothing more. He reached out to the current army unit and a museum who promised to use their contacts in the search as well as legions in the area.
Checks were also done to establish if they had been reported missing in a break and enter investigation.
Constable Chris Kainz followed up on leads on Gomez and Otten’s days off, searching for next of kin with the knowledge that these medals were very important to someone and leaving no stone unturned in the search.
In all they contacted the Penetanguishene Museum and Legion, Veterans affairs, Canadian Armed Forces, Canada Revenue, Grey and Simcoe Foresters Reserve Unit, Grey and Simcoe Forrester Museum in Barrie, Lions Club of Ontario, Military Antiques Toronto, a number of funeral homes in the Penetang area as well as the Government of Canada Archives & Canadian Military Archives.
Gomez returned to the Lower Simcoe site shortly before the City of Toronto was scheduled to remove garbage from the area hoping to find any other clues. In kicking through the trash found torn scraps of documents crumpled together with the names of possible family members, including Elizabeth Scott, his granddaughter.
They immediately contacted Elizabeth Scott who lives in the city to relay the good news.
“If he had not gone back, out of his own volition, and spent a lot of time sifting through that dirty location, the medals would not have found their way back to me,” said Scott.
She got the call at the Home Show at the Enercare Centre, handing the phone to her husband because she didn’t recognize the caller. After a 10-minute conversation her husband gave her the phone in disbelief that police had found her grandfather’s war medals.
Cradling them now makes her think of the grandfather who played with his grand kids on the living room carpet.
“I’ve always loved my grandfather,” says Scott, of the self-made businessman.
It also reminds her of the great sacrifice of thousands of young Canadians during World War I.
“It is a miracle these medals found their way home,” said Scott. “I am still overwhelmed by the reality of what has transpired and all the effort that went into finding me and returning the medals to a next of kin. We have so many questions. Where were these medals all these years? How did they end up near a homeless shelter under the Gardiner? Had they being stolen from my mother’s apartment in Markham prior to her death in 2013? We just don’t know and really never will.”
Scott thanked the officers for going above and beyond the call of duty.
“Their actions have ensured that this piece of history – my family’s history – has been returned,” she added. “I have two grown sons to whom I will now pass these medals on to.”
The military veteran died in 1975 when Scott was 18 years old.
S/Sgt. Sam Cosentino of the Marine Unit is pleased the medals were returned to a family member. He said his officers often get credit for their work on the water but their work in the Waterfront neighbourhood over the winter months has made for a safer community.