U of T news
  • Follow U of T News

Lost and found: University College’s revitalization uncovers a 30-year-old mystery

Lost for 30 years, this purse was found in the rubble during University College renovations (photo courtesy of UC)

For Suzanne Rochford, getting her purse stolen was a major blow.

Rochford, who was a fourth-year engineering student at the time, was about to cash $2,000 in Canada Savings Bonds to help pay for her tuition. The bonds were sitting snug in her purse on her Knox College dorm room dresser while she went to the washroom. When she returned, her purse, its contents and the bonds were gone.

When she received an email from University College Alumni Relations Officer Mike Henry saying her purse was found, she was shocked. Finding a stolen item is one thing – but the theft occurred more than 30 years ago.

It was 1987 when Rochford’s purse went missing along with the bonds, a bank card, birth certificate, a Simpsons department store card (her first credit card), her favourite silver necklace – and a coupon for one free hug. Five minutes away from her dorm room and everything was gone.

Panicked, she reported the incident, and a notice was issued to all residents. It was also an enormous hassle for an already busy student.

“This was before the internet,” says Rochford. “I had to physically go to each administrative office and fill in paper forms to get replacements.”

This January, University College embarked on its revitalization project – a massive undertaking to rejuvenate and update the historic building. Demolition crews began removing the building’s old plaster and drywall in East and West Halls, and Croft Chapter house.

Read about UC's revitalization project

Find out what goes into conserving and updating U of T’s heritage buildings

While working, a crew member came across an object peeking out of drywall. As he continued to remove the debris, he discovered that it was Rochford’s purse – in perfect condition and full of personal contents.

The crew member immediately advised management and the purse was delivered to Henry who contacted Rochford.

“When I received the email and read the first few lines, I thought it might be a scam,” says Rochford. “But as I continued to read there was far too much very specific detail for a scam.”

Rochford, of course, emailed Henry back, recounting to him what she could remember about the event.

Henry, in turn, described the items still in the purse: the savings bonds, birth certificate, Simpsons card and free hug coupon.

Thirty years later, Rochford’s purse was returned with its contents, which had become somewhat of a time capsule of another lifetime.

September 28, 2018