Two sisters separated for over three-quarters of a century had an emotional reunion after finding each other online through a genealogy site.
Bea Belair grew up in Brantford, Ontario in a family struggling with poverty. She had to help raise her brothers and sisters, of which there were many. With 11 children total, her parents couldn’t afford to raise them all — which is why two of the children, including younger sister Margaret Otter, were placed for adoption. “We were so poor, like really poor,” Belair told CTV News Toronto. “They just couldn’t afford to have two more, so that’s why they let the two girls go.”
For Otter’s part, she grew up knowing she had been adopted. But she wondered about the family she had come from. “I always knew that someday I’d try to find them,” she told CTV News Toronto. “But I lost interest around the age of 13 when I discovered boys. That just took me in a whole different direction.”
Belair said the siblings tried to find their missing sisters for years but were never successful. Six of the siblings passed away before any reunion was able to happen. And on Otter’s part, she didn’t even know if they would welcome her. “‘Could I ever meet them? Would I ever meet them?'” she recalled. “And then I thought ‘would they want to meet me?'”
But last year, Otter’s son found an uncle living in California, and this finally helped her connect to her long-lost big sister. “I thought no no no, it’s probably a scam,” Otter said. “But then too many of the pieces of the puzzle started to fit together.”
For Belair, it was almost too good to be true. “She said, ‘I’m your baby sister,'” Belair said. “I said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ She said, ‘No, I’m your baby sister.'”
At 91, it was a major life-changing event for Belair, whose sisters had all died. Otter, Belair, and two of their brothers spoke on the phone for months before Otter and Belair were able to have the long-awaited reunion. Along with her son, daughter-in-law, and the widow of one of their siblings, Belair drove to Toronto to meet her little sister. “[W]e kept thinking, I wonder who she looks like,” Belair said. When the time came, the two sisters hugged for a long time, an emotional moment for everyone there. “[S]he makes me think of my mother really, a whole lot,” Belair said.
“She’s beautiful,” Otter said of Belair. “She’s lovely. She’s warm and friendly and lovable and I gave her a great big kiss! It feels like science fiction. It doesn’t feel real. One of them went to my dad’s barbershop in Paris — that shocked the hell out of me! I had no idea!”
Now, Otter and Belair are hoping to find the youngest sibling, who is believed to now be 75 years old. “The family were looking for me and for her and they never succeeded,” Otter said. “But technology has allowed so much more to happen now so I’d be so happy to see her. I’d be thrilled to see her and get to know her.”
In previous decades, closed adoptions — where an adoptee’s family of origin was kept secret — were the norm. But now, open adoptions are slowly becoming preferred, where the biological family remains an integral part of the child’s life. With open adoption, much of the trauma surrounding being taken away from one’s biological family can be eased and prevents siblings like Otter and Belair from spending most of their lives missing the brothers and sisters they still love.
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