Gordon woman’s find of message in a bottle brings families together

Bottle full of memories! Shandelle Carrigan found this memorial bottle for Brandon James George Walli on a Barrie Island shoreline last week.

GORDON/BARRIE ISLAND – Who knew a bottle could hold such memories and emotions. A very determined Shandelle Carrigan found a memorial bottle for Brandon James George Walli on a Barrie Island shoreline recently and didn’t rest until she found Brandon’s family. 

“It certainly brings up a lot of emotions,” stated Thomas Walli, Brandon’s father. Brandon was 23 years old when he passed away after being struck by a car in 2016.

In an April 14 post on Facebook, Ms. Carrigan explained, “a super cool thing happened yesterday on this magical Island. I found a message in a bottle. It was a memorial to a young man named Brandon James George Walli, who passed away tragically when he was struck by a car at the age of 23, on October 8, 2016 in Waterdown, Ontario. There was a beautiful poem and a note with a $10 bill inside and it was signed by his family and those that loved this young man. Jason (Poulton), my husband, searched his information and we found his obituary. I’d like to find the family who sent this and have that drink virtually with them to celebrate their son Brandon. I’m sure his family would love to hear the news of this bottle’s journey and that it was found intact. Brandon’s memorial bottle couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful landing spot here on Barrie Island, Manitoulin Island. We have found a memorial page for Brandon so I feel pretty confident we will make contact with the family.”

In an update, Ms. Carrigan posted that she had made contact and had shared a video call with Brandon’s mom Eileen, dad Thomas and sisters Robyn and Paige. “It was awesome. The world just became small. Their camp is right beside us on the Island. They sent the bottle from here a few years back and although it didn’t go far I truly believe it ended up where it was supposed to.”

“We will also have the chance to meet and do this in person,” she added. Mr. Poulton and Ms. Carrigan are very eager to meet some of Brandon’s family when they visit the Island in May. They have neighbouring camps on Barrie Island but have never met in person. “My heart is so full of joy right now. Thank you for sharing and commenting and being part of this with us. I feel blessed.” 

Ms. Carrigan had gone for a walk on the on the shore when a bottle with a lid on it and paper inside caught her eye. “I climbed over a log and opened the bottle. I found that the paper had purposely been placed inside to tell Brandon’s story. There was also a $10 bill with the memorial.”

Mr. Poulton’s parents had originally purchased the property on Barrie Island to build a new house. There is still a family hunt camp on the property. “We’re up here a lot,” explained Ms. Carrigan. “We pretty much live here now.”

The couple and their four boys are from Curtis, Ontario and have been up at the camp for a month. Their kids are doing online learning while here. “We’re doing our part to stay away from everybody,” Ms. Carrigan noted. “They’re now saying we can’t leave so we will be here for a while.”

“When Shan found the bottle she wanted me to video and document it,” Mr. Poulton said. He then searched the name and found Brandon’s obituary online. Brandon’s family “were flabbergasted, in tears and overly grateful” when Ms. Carrigan contacted them, he added.

After finding the bottle, Ms. Carrigan posted messages on the Waterdown Post. Brandon’s mother Eileen Doyle initially thought someone was playing a cruel joke. Ms. Doyle’s Facebook account had been hacked and thought it had happened again. “When we talked, I realized the story she was relaying was true and it was a really emotional thing.” 

“I’m so grateful to her for finding this bottle and taking the time to contact us,” said Ms. Doyle. “I’ll never be able to repay her. She kept going, posting it and posting it until somebody actually contacted us,” she told Hamilton’s CHCH News last Friday evening. 

Brandon’s niece Kaley Tulloch had released the bottle in Lake Huron four years ago. “I’m so grateful (Shan) did this,” Ms. Doyle added. “Anyone could have taken the $10 out of the bottle and spent it but she went way above and beyond. We are grateful.”

“We have a memorial at camp,” Brandon’s father told The Recorder. Ms. Doyle and Brandon’s sisters put together the bottle, he said.

“In May 2017, 21 of us were there to let it go. No, it didn’t go too far. We watched it float out. It went out into the water quite a way until we couldn’t see it anymore.”

“At first I thought some crazy person was trying to get a hold of me and send stuff,” Mr. Walli said. “It brings up a lot of emotions. Some are just, wow.”

The memorial bottle was to get Brandon’s name out there and to provide awareness about the dangers of not paying attention to other drivers and while texting. 

Awareness is something that Geotab, the company Mr. Walli works with, is helping promote. Geotab has created a scholarship in Brandon’s name, with five $1,000 scholarships available every year. Brandon was a pedestrian and was texting when he walked into traffic and was struck by a vehicle. The conversation generated by the finding of the bottle is “giving a huge boost and a refresh of the campaign,” Mr. Walli said.

Ms. Carrigan feels very compelled to help Brandon’s family spread the message of Phones Down, Eyes Up and responsibility on both sides of the wheel. “I think it’s so important that this new wave of life this message has provided should not go to waste. If it can save even one life then it is worth its weight in gold,” she said. “Brandon’s bottle is a true treasure that has touched my heart and so many others.”

The Brandon Walli “Phones Down, Eyes Up” Memorial Scholarship is open to Canadian students graduating secondary school in 2021 who will be pursuing a post-secondary education in the arts, creative arts or music. Brandon and his father, Thomas Walli, shared a passion for music and the scholarship is meant to be a continuation of that by hopefully bringing enrichment and joy into the lives of others through the arts and music, as it did for them.