Message in a bottle found 107 years later on a Tofino beach

A Courtenay man believes he may have found the oldest message in a bottle, after stumbling upon what appears to be 107-year-old bottle on a Tofino beach.

Steve Thurber, 53, was walking along Schooner’s Cove on Monday when he noticed a green glass bottle with a rusty cap lying in a sand dune. Through the murky glass, he could see an envelope inside.

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Thurber was able to read the cursive writing on the outside of the envelope — signed by someone named Earl Willard and dated Sept. 29, 1906 — without opening the bottle. The envelope says Willard threw the bottle into the ocean 76 hours into a journey on the steamer Rainier as it sailed from San Francisco to Bellingham, Wash. What’s inside Willard’s envelope, and who the message was for, remains a mystery.

“People want me to open it,” Thurber said. “I’m not going to just yet.”

Because of all the rust around the lid, he said, he would likely have to break the bottle to open it. It’s unclear whether there’s a note inside the envelope.

“I just showed everyone I ran into. Everyone is amazed,” Thurber said. “They think it’s really neat.”

In 2012, a Scottish fisherman found a message in a bottle dating back to 1914, which Guinness World Records officials acknowledged as the oldest of its kind.

The bottle was one of 1,890 bottles cast into the water as part of an experiment by the Glasgow School of Navigation to map the undercurrents of the sea around Scotland.

“So [that one] is a little more common than the one I found,” Thurber said.

In the days since the find, Thurber has started to do more research. He has found an Earl Willard in Bellingham but hasn’t been able to verify whether the man is related to the person who wrote the note.

A friend of Thurber is doing a genealogy search for more clues.

Based on the bottle’s label, he found it was made by North Star Bottling Works, which was operating in the early 1900s in San Francisco. The envelope lists an address in Bellingham that is now a railway museum.

Thurber plans to contact the Guinness World Records committee, but has been too busy responding to media interest from around the world.

The area where Thurber found the bottle had recently been excavated as part of a Parks Canada restoration project.

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