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Heart of Our City: Long-lost family reunited

Mona Powers said the kisses and hugs were non-stop during her visit to Prince Rupert. Her brothers Sheldon and Travis Bolton planted one on each cheek during Friday’s gathering. - Martina Perry
Mona Powers said the kisses and hugs were non-stop during her visit to Prince Rupert. Her brothers Sheldon and Travis Bolton planted one on each cheek during Friday’s gathering.
— image credit: Martina Perry

After spending more than 50 years of her life not knowing her biological family, Mona Powers recently met up with members of her late mother’s family in Prince Rupert.

“It has been the most incredible experience,” said Mona at a joint reunion event and surprise birthday party for her brother Sheldon on Friday.

Vina Bolton (Nee-Reece) gave birth to Mona in 1962, but because Vina wasn’t married at the time she was adopted out through the United Church.

“Unwed mothers were frowned upon in those days, so she was forced to give her child up,” said Lillian Fisher, one of Vina’s sisters.

Mona became the daughter of a German couple, who already had adopted a French-Canadian boy and later adopted an Indonesian-Dutch girl.

“Growing up, we were always told we were adopted and we were encouraged that if we ever wanted to find our family, that was okay,” said Mona.

“We were always told we were chosen.”

After Mona was given away, Vina went on to have two sons, Travis and Sheldon Bolton. It was a dream of hers to be reunited with her first born child, but unfortunately she never got the chance before she died in 1972. Vina passed away when Travis was five years old and Sheldon was seven, but it wasn’t until Sheldon was 17 years old that he found out he had a sister.

“I know my mother would be very happy [that we’ve met],” Sheldon said.

“Knowing that Mona found us would make her extremely proud.”

“We’ve been searching for her since 1987,” said Lillian.

Mona’s uncle Tom was at the event, along with her other aunties, Lianna Faust and Charlotte Reece. Reece said the situation is straight out of a movie.

It all started after the passing of Mona’s adoptive father two years ago, at which time she began looking for her biological family. Because Mona’s mother had registered her as a Status Indian, Mona knew she was from Hartley Bay.

On Dec. 31 Mona sent an email to Hartley Bay’s chief executive officer Ellen Torng explaining her story and asking for any information available.

Patty Leighton, who is Mona’s cousin and the daughter of Vina’s brother Daniel, heard about the email and looked up her on Facebook. When she saw a photo of Mona, she said she felt intrigued to investigate further.

“I just felt it was something I needed to look into,” said Patty, adding she didn’t know her aunties and uncles had been looking for Mona for years.

“I had no clue my auntie Vina ... had a daughter. After I showed my mom the picture she called my auntie Lilly.”

After initially being denied, Patty found out Mona’s number and left her a message on her answering machine. When the two finally connected, they were on the phone for over an hour.

Mona then got in contact with her aunties Lillian and Lianna, also talking on the phone with them for extended periods of time. She then began sending out friend requests to family members on Facebook, which led to more lengthy conversations.

After connecting with members of her immediate family members, Mona and her husband of more than 10 years, Randy Powers, decided it was time to make the trip to the North Coast.

Vina’s brother Tom was the first to see Mona face-to-face, with Mona and Randy stopping in Prince George on their way to the North Coast.

“As soon as I spotted her my eyes started to well up with tears. Because of my tears there was an aura around her that resembled my sister,” Tom said.

“We embraced each other. It was so emotional. We didn’t let each other go for a long time.”

The emotional experiences only continued when they all arrived in Prince Rupert in late-June.

“I thought ‘this is what this family has been waiting for’ ... Looking at their faces, it was like they were seeing a ghost,” Mona said.

Members of the family came from all over to meet Mona, including her youngest brother Travis who came up from New Westminister.

“For the longest time, it’s just been the two of us. We were raised by our aunties and uncles and our grandmother,” Sheldon said of himself and Travis.

“It was very emotional. It’s like an empty space being filled.”

Sheldon, who currently lives in Prince Rupert, said it was eerie meeting his long lost sister in person.

“The first time I saw her picture, I could’ve swore I was looking at my mother,” said Sheldon.

“When she came here I started noticing the little things, like how she smiles, her eyes. Just listening to her voice.”

This is something that many members of the family reiterated.

“She looks exactly like her mom,” said Lillian.

“We don’t even need a DNA test. The looks are there,” said Patty.

There were a lot of firsts for Mona while visiting the North Coast, including a helicopter tour, and a lot of affection from her newly-discovered family members.

“The hugs and kisses have been going nonstop since I got here,” Mona said.

The family taught Mona as much as they could about her culture during her visit, and gave her traditional regalia and First Nations jewelery.

“I think what’s most important for them is for me to learn the culture,” Mona said.

While Mona and Randy headed home this week, Mona said she fully intends to come back, planning a trip to Hartley Bay next.

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