A fresh new chapter in the storied saga of a 113-year-old white lace christening gown has a cheerful ending thanks to the tenacity of a Surrey Mountie who returned the stolen heirloom late Saturday night to a grateful Whalley family.
Nathanael Powell, 34, said his great aunt in Newfoundland had been the “keeper of the dress” and would actually travel with it when duty called, but unfortunately she passed away a couple of years ago. With Powell’s son James, who is almost two months old, set to be christened on Aug. 9, Powell’s dad’s cousin sent it to him by FedEx from Ontario.
The gown was originally worn by Powell’s great grandmother in 1907, in Newfoundland.
“It was created for her. It’s been worn subsequently by all of her children, and all of her children’s children, and now even the next generation, with my kids. To date, 59 people have been christened or baptized in it.
“It arrived on Thursday but I didn’t know at the time that it had arrived. Somebody stole it,” Powell explained. “She contacted me on Friday to say, ‘Hey, did you get it?'”
Powell said he asked a neighbour if he’d seen the package. The neighbour checked his surveillance camera footage, which captured the delivery and theft.
The footage revealed the package had been stolen 20 minutes after it was delivered to Powell’s front porch, by a thief who was wearing a reflective vest, carrying a clipboard, and had pulled up Powell’s in a van.
“I checked my own camera and I actually got a decent picture of the guy and the car and the whole scene, so I called police and a constable came out,” Powell said.
“This would have been on Saturday, so the theft was Thursday. I didn’t realize it until Friday night but Saturday morning the police came out. I want to give a ‘shout out’ to the Surrey RCMP because this constable is fantastic. Very sympathetic.”
Constable Brenden Vogt, the hero of this story, said he found the package ditched inside a forest, about 20 feet off the roadway.
“I found this FedEx box, it didn’t look too, too beat up,” he said. “Holy cow, I looked inside the box and lo-and-behold, the dress was still inside.”
Vogt’s safari didn’t scratch him up too badly. He said he had to give his boots “a nice little polish” before his next shift, “and that’s about it.”
The Surrey Mountie had already drawn local praise in 2019 headlines after he pulled over in his patrol car to shoot some impromptu hoops with neighbourhood kids who were playing basketball near Bear Creek Park.
Corporal Elenore Sturko noted that Vogt “spent a lot of time” on the stolen gown file, “actually, extra time.
“It was past his shift and he was still looking through the bushes because he wanted to try to find it for the family. He was determined to find the dumped package and so he went through the bushes on Old Yale, west of 128. And not long after that, he returned it to the family.”
Powell praised the constable’s effort.
“It sounds like a bit of a wild goose chase,” he said.
“We ended up posting to Facebook, hoping that somebody in the city would see it or know something. I guess a fellow who works at an impound lot recognized the van that got pulled in there. So that info was given to police, and he was able to follow that lead and at 10 p.m. he came back to our house and had the gown in hand.
“There was a caterpillar on it, and a couple of leaves in the box. I think it must have been tossed out. A bit of minor cleaning, my mom’s going to take care of that.”
Powell said the precious gown was “literally down the street’ from his place.
“I guess the guy realized it’s not worth anything, you know, any money, and he must have tossed it out the window or something.
“We’re just thrilled,” he said. “This is a great piece of family history that maybe I took for granted before, but man, like I’m going to be so pleased to have him wear it on his baptism.
“Maybe this will be kept in a family safe or something for now.”