This unlikely chain of events started the Friday before Mother’s Day, when Gary’s daughter, Danielle, 27, flicked on Who Do You Think You Are?, the series that tracks ancestors of celebrities. The episode centred on actor Jason Sudeikis (the Saturday Night Live cast member who starred last year in Hall Pass and Horrible Bosses), whose grandfather had abandoned his family.

During the show, Sudeikis’ search took him to in order to find his missing forebear. Straightaway after the show, Danielle registered with the genealogy site Over the years, she and her mother had encouraged Gary to search for his father, but he was reluctant.

On the ancestry site, Danielle typed in her grandfather’s name. No Canadian trace of him.

She switched to an international record search. A family tree for Haakon Sverdrup Nilsen, born 27 June 1918 in Oslo, a member Royal Norwegian Air Force, Toronto, popped up. Without a second thought, Danielle clicked on the contact name and, her hands shaking, dashed off an email about her father to total strangers, “We could be relatives!”

She felt immediate regret, fearing she had just muddied someone’s life. Within an hour, though, she had a message signed “Love from the new-found Australian relatives.”

They compared information and photographs, but Danielle waited to tell her father in person.

“I got an email, an email from your brother,” she announced the next night.

“My brother?” Gary asked, stunned, his eyes welling up.

“I always felt like an outcast, that I never fit in, that something was missing in my life,” says Gary, sitting in Danielle’s downtown condo one summer evening before the Australians’ arrival.