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‘It’s a miracle’: 93-year-old mystery quilt returns home to Echo Bay

Featuring 240 embroidered names, an Echo Bay United Church quilt from 1930 was discovered hanging out of a California dumpster, which was eventually shipped back to its roots by the surprised discoverer

From trash to treasure to triumph.

Echo Bay residents have been left in awe after a nearly century-old quilt that was made by women from the Echo Bay United Church miraculously found its way back to town.

In September 2021, Leslie Buck, a landscape pruner and lecturer living in California, was taking a walk with her friend in Oakland when she noticed something peculiar.

Buck could see that there was a quilt hanging out of a dumpster, which left her curious why such a thing would be tossed away.

“My grandma was a quilter,” Buck says.

“I found the quilt on West Street near the overhead crossing of the Bay Area Train BART in Oakland, a very quiet street with many shuttered shops.”

“I picked up the quilt, and my friend said, ‘don’t touch that!’ She thought I was crazy,” she laughed. “It was a quilt of plaid pieces, and I love plaid because my heritage is Scottish.”

Buck took the quilt home and washed it before leaving it on her front porch for a few days to air out.

“I noticed it had an orange stain and a tiny hole, so I was afraid that the embroidery had caused the stain,” she says. “The back of the quilt seemed so odd because it didn’t match the front at all.”

“I took it to a quilting shop in Berkeley just to make sure the threads inside wouldn’t cause more stains over time. The workers at the shop peeked inside of it and they said there was writing on it.”

Buck took the quilt home to investigate it further, eventually opening it up like a pillowcase from inside out.

“When I did that ‘whoosh’ to open it, I felt this energy released,” she says. “I looked down and there was a ton of these names sewn onto the sheet.”

“I opened the quilt in my back garden and found a secret inner panel with all the names embroidered so lovingly by different hands.”

The quilt was discovered to have 19 pie shapes of around 240 embroidered names, featuring one large pie of names in the centre that reads, “Echo Bay United Church 1930.”

Once Buck had some time to examine the quilt and do some research on Echo Bay, she contacted the church.

The church’s lay worship leader Vivian Hall says they received a letter from Buck on Oct. 31, 2022.

“My cousin Mary McKay is the church secretary and was handling this,” Hall explains.

“It’s a crazy miracle. We were beyond excited.”

After making several attempts to get it shipped north, Buck was able to successfully send the heirloom to the church, which was received by the Echo Bay Post Office on Jan. 12, 2023.

“It’s just crazy that I pulled this from a gunky trash pile in a dumpster,” Buck says. “Several people told me to give up on trying to send it to the church and that I should just keep it. But I couldn’t do that.”

Featuring 240 embroidered names, including ministers, doctors, MPPs and dozens of members of the church at the time, the attention to detail, as well as the condition of the quilt, is leaving residents astonished.

“They’re quilted amazingly,” Hall says. “The embroidering to put these names on is quite remarkable for how wonderful they did.”

Once pictures of the quilt began circulating on social media in Echo Bay, many residents started making connections to past friends and relatives who were listed on the sheet.

“We’re trying to figure out the history and we’d like to find out a little bit about everybody who was on the quilt,” Hall says.

While the community has begun uncovering the backstory to some of the names, nobody has yet solved the mystery of how the quilt found its way to California.

“We believe it has something to do with the Great Depression as people were heading west to make a living at that time,” Hall says.

“Way back when, they’d reverse the quilts so there would be something inside of it, as opposed to the writing being on the outside. It was turned inside out likely to preserve the names.”

“For it being from 1930, it’s in amazing condition.”

Hall’s brother-in-law Ralph McPhee, the president of the Echo Bay Museum committee, says members of the church would often pay a few cents to get their name on a quilt back then as a fundraiser for the church.

While they’re unsure if that’s what happened in this case, they are nearly certain about what to do with the quilt now that it's in their possession.

“The quilt will likely end up in the Echo Bay Museum because they have a number of quilts that have been made in the area already,” Hall says. “None of them have the history like this quilt however, and to be that old is quite amazing.”

The quilt spent some time at the Davey Home in the Sault on Tuesday as some of the residents had recognized their relatives' names on the sheet.

“It’s wonderful,” Hall says. “We all need a bit of a hope story because we’ve all been through a lot.”

The Echo Bay United Church will be holding an open house on Sunday Feb. 19 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. for locals who may recognize some names to stop by and share some history and information on them.

The church says they will try and publish a full list of all 240 names online in the next few days.

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Alex Flood

About the Author: Alex Flood

Alex is a recent graduate from the College of Sports Media where he discovered his passion for reporting and broadcasting
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