Designers Colin And Justin Find Antique Dresser, Unlock Memories For Ontario Family

What would you do if you bought an antique cabinet and found all sorts of sentimental figurines inside a locked drawer?

Would you keep them, throw them out or try to find the previous owner?

TV hosts and designers Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan purchased an antique dresser from ReStore in Etobicoke for a refurbishing project they were working on.

“One of the drawers was open and one of them was locked and in the ReStore they said that’s what’s putting people from actually buying this piece,” Colin said.

The pair decided to purchase the dresser and brought it home to be refurbished, but when they began cleaning the cabinet they found the key that would unlock some special memories for an Ontario family.

“We started to clean it before painting it and underneath we found a key and the key was to this secret drawer which we opened and inside there were all manners of gorgeous bits and pieces,” Justin said.

“We found a couple of photographs, some stamps, an old penny from the 1930s, some banks cards … and all manner of things that really sparked our interest.”

Erica Vella/ Global News
Erica Vella/ Global News
Erica Vella/ Global News
Erica Vella/ Global News
Erica Vella/ Global News
Erica Vella/ Global News

Justin took a photo of all items and posted it to their social media page to see if the owner would be able to identify and retrieve the items.

“When [we] put the photographs on Instagram, the response was unbelievable,” said Colin.

“Suddenly, our army of followers became detectives.”

Desperately Seeking Helen. ALSO – please read the update at the end of this post: HOLY CRAP – what a coincidence! We wouldn't generally post this on our photo site – but it's fascinating and we can't help ourselves. Perhaps one of you can help solve this? We just visited Restore to buy a little cabinet as the subject of our next column (see it on Friday across The Sun and various Postmedia newspapers) and left with a little pine dresser. It has two drawers, one of which was open and the other locked shut without a key. Anyway – the locked drawer wasn't an issue for us. It is what it is, right? The dresser had potential, so hey ho. So we got the piece home and have just taken it apart to clean it before painting and, hidden in a groove on the underside, taped out of sight, was a key… which opened the drawer. Inside were three stamps, two photographs, a clay pig (so cute) and a little glass bird. There's a video store card and a health club card as well as a gorgeous British penny from the 1930's. Crucially, there's a bank statement that catalogues a huge sum of money. No, really, we mean a HUGE sum of money. We've arranged everything on the bank statement, with each piece serving to hide personal information etc to protect this woman's privacy. The name on everything is Helen Hunt – resident of Denver, USA. The health club and video store membership cards are registered to different addresses in Etobicoke, Ontario. We're already captivated by all of this and would very much like to return all these effects to Ms Hunt, or indeed to one of her family member. Does anyone recognise the subject of either of these two photos? Or does anyone know Helen Hunt? Cheers all, C&J xx. UPDATE! A friend on Facebook has just posted the obituary for Helen's husband Donald. Transpired he was one of the founders of The Toronto Sun – the paper from which our column originates and where, indeed, the dresser makeover will run this very weekend. How can this coincide even be true? In a country of 36 million people?!

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Soon after Colin and Justin posted the picture on Instagram, Christine Decaire received a message from a high school friend.

One of the pictures found in the cabinet was a grade eight graduation photo of her.

“My girlfriend from high school saw the original post on Instagram,” Decaire said.

“She sent me a message and I thought, wow I haven’t hear from this person in 10 years, and I read the message and she I think this is you and I think they are talking about your grandmother, check it out.”

The items belonged to Helen Hunt, Decaire’s grandmother, who is in her late 80s and is living with advanced stage Alzheimer’s disease.

“I was in complete shock,” she said.

“I’m pretty sure my grandmother had the [cabinet] since she was quite young. I think it was with her since she was a teenager and into university and it moved with her wherever she went.”

Colin and Justin gifted the cabinet and its contents to Decaire and her sister Rachel Goldenberg.

“Anything that belonged to them has a very special place in my heart,” Decaire said.

“My grandmother is still with us – not in the way that I would hope – but she is with us physically and sometimes has a glimmer of memory,” she said.

“Anything that we can show her that could reignite her memory is always a great thing.”

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