Almost 30 years later, his grandfather's time capsule letter opens another mystery

It was a fun project, one designed to ignite the imagination of an 11-year-old boy as he looked ahead to his future life.

It was also the kind of thing Mitch Brogan, now 39, remembers his grandfather Charles Brogan doing often with him during frequent summer trips to visit him in Laval, Que. 

It was August 1991 and the idea was simple: Brogan and his cousin Nancy would answer a list of 11 questions speculating about what their lives would be like almost 30 years in the future, specifically today: Jan. 1, 2020. It was part of a time capsule project, one his grandfather came up with.

Charles Brogan wrote out a list of 11 questions, which the grandchildren each answered on separate sheets of paper. Those papers were then folded into two sealed envelopes to be re-opened almost three decades later. The list of questions was kept with the envelopes, but not sealed inside.

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The questions focused on what Mitch Brogan and Nancy thought their lives — and the world they would live in —  would be like in 2020. 

The questions included: 

  • Will I be married?
  • How many children will I have? 
  • Will I own a house? 
  • How much will I be earning? 
  • Will man be living on other planets? 
  • Will the rivers and lakes be clean? 
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The sealed envelopes containing each letter stayed with Charles Brogan until his death in early 2007. A relative going through his things found the still-sealed envelopes — and the grandkids' list of questions — folded inside a book. 

Mitch Brogan received his envelope shortly after his grandfather's death and though he was tempted, he refused to open it early. Instead, he kept it sealed for 14 years, waiting to open it on this day, New Year's Day, Jan. 1, 2020.

Before he broke the seal, Brogan said he couldn't remember much about how he answered those questions. He did have vague memories of a "crisp" $2 bill his grandfather slipped inside each envelope. 

Opening day reveals new mystery

CBC News was with Brogan when he opened his grandfather's envelope, which still bears the logo and address of his grandfather's commercial diving company. 

The first item he pulled out was not the $2 bill he remembered, but a $1 bill which was designed in the 1950s and appears to have entered circulation in the 1970s. 

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The letter also contained Brogan's hand-written responses to the questions. 

The highlights are: 

  • He thought he would live in Toronto (he lives in London, Ont.). 
  • He thought he would be married and have two children (he did neither). 
  • He thought human beings would "infest" other planets (still waiting). 
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But the most remarkable aspect of the letter was not young Brogan's response to the questions, but a crude map he drew to document the location of two time capsules he and Nancy buried in his grandfather's backyard at the time. 

The maps show the location of a backyard workshop and a boathouse on the property, and pinpoint the location of where the capsules are buried. An "X" even marks the spot (or, spots in this case). 

"Just to see that, it makes me really fascinated to think about what's buried in that yard," he said. 

"I believe I've stayed alive this long to see this." 

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If that last comment seems fatalistic, it's because there's another wrinkle to this story. Something that partly explains why Brogan's life turned out so differently than the one he envisioned when he answered those look-ahead questions as a boy. 

In September 2006 Mitchell was riding his bike along Dundas Street near Oakland Avenue in London, Ont. He was struck by a drunk driver and badly injured. It happened a few months before his grandfather's death and rendered him a quadriplegic.  

It was a life-altering event but one that propelled Brogan to devote much of his work as an entrepreneur to help others in wheelchairs learn to walk again. 

Brogan appeared on Dragon's Den four years ago to raise money for Able Bionics, a non-profit organization which trains wheelchair users to walk using exoskeleton technology. 

"I wonder how much of these things would have changed if I hadn't been in the accident," he said. "But things are what they are. I'm here today to see this unfold and for me, that's huge.

Nancy now lives in Montreal. Brogan emailed his cousin her letter so she could read it on New Year's Day. She opened it and like Mitchell was amused by her answers, though her letter contained no treasure map. 

Opening the envelope his grandfather kept has left Brogan with a mix of emotions. He does plan to venture to Laval and see if, with the permission of the house's current owners, he can dig them up.

He said it will help complete fond memories of summers spent with a grandfather he loved at a time when his adult life was yet to come. 

"I feel uplifted," he said. "I feel a chronicle of my life has been opened and hopefully it can be closed too." 

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