By Jenn Watt
They think it was the little things that kept them together while others gave up.
Judy Snow and Sonja MacKay have been writing to each other since 1953, sharing stories, photos and family news in letters from Toronto to Arbroath, Scotland, that haven’t ceased for more than six decades.
“There were the two classes – one in Scotland, one in Toronto – and people were given a name and told to write to this person. It kind of went from there,” says Judy.
They found common ground and were able to keep each other interested enough to pick up the pen and paper for 62 years.
Turns out, it’s not really that hard to find things in common if you try.
“You went camping, we went camping,” says Sonja.
“It really seems even now we have things that come up that we have in common without knowing each other really over all those years,” Judy says.
Sonja was 11 and Judy was 10 when they started writing to each other. One of the topics was Judy’s time at the cottage in the Haliburton Highlands, where her family has been visiting since the late 1940s.
So, when Sonja and her husband Grant came to Canada last week for the first time, Haliburton was one of the stops on the tour.
They spent an evening at Judy and her husband Dave’s cottage on Miskwabi Lake and got a chance to see another version of “the Highlands.”
“I’ve always wanted to come to Canada because of Judy,” says Sonja. The couple also visited the famous sites of Ontario including Niagara Falls, Toronto and Ottawa.
Dave and Judy visited the U.K. in 1968 and did a whirlwind tour of Edinburgh with the couple. Other than that, the lifelong pen pals haven’t seen much of each other.
As kids, the concept of writing to someone across the ocean was an intriguing notion, but they didn’t do much thinking about the meaning behind the exercise orchestrated by two ambitious teachers.
Now, they see there were likely some more educational intentions behind the activity.
“The teacher was probably smarter than I thought she was,” Judy says. “This is exposing kids to other countries.”
She also points out it was a good writing exercise.
With the advent of email, the pen pals have become more prolific lately, able to write to one another from just about anywhere and send photos instantaneously.
Judy and Sonja don’t think anyone else in their class kept in touch and expect if their teachers could see them now, they’d be impressed by the connection.
“If I was the teacher I think I’d be really delighted,” Judy says. “And very surprised. Tremendously surprised.”