Forty years after a Canadian soldier’s First World War medal was discovered by a woman snorkeling in Hawaii, his family has been reunited with the long-lost decoration.

The Victory Medal was mysteriously discovered submerged in the ocean off Hawaii in the 1970s. The name “Private R.C. MacDonald” was inscribed along its edge.

The award was bestowed upon British and British Empire Soldiers following the war in 1919.

The medal was eventually given to the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum in Amherst, N.S. After plenty of research, the museum finally located several of MacDonald’s family members on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island.

On Saturday, two of the soldier’s granddaughters, Sandra Corbeil and Carol Pereira, were presented with the medal in Nova Scotia at the museum after travelling across the country.

“My heart wants to explode,” Pereira told CTV Atlantic after being handed the medal.

“This is just the most fantastic thing… The only thing we have that physically belonged to my grandfather was his hat, his army cap. So to have something like this that he wore and he was awarded for his service is pretty amazing for us.”

Born in the town of Glace Bay on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, Private Ronald Campbell MacDonald enlisted in 1914 at the dawn of the war. A member of the 25th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry, MacDonald was one of few members of his unit to survive through the duration of the conflict.

He died in B.C. in 1953.

Prior to getting a call from the museum, MacDonald’s family had no idea that the medal existed -- and they still have no idea how it ended up in Hawaii.

“He would never vacation,” Pereira explained. “I mean, they had eight children at the beginning of the Depression, so he wasn’t vacationing for sure.”

Museum volunteer John Wales, who helped locate the family, says he’s happy to see the medal returned to MacDonald’s relatives.

“It belongs in the family,” Wales told CTV Atlantic. “We have many things on display in the museum, but an artifact like that, it’s a very personal thing and it belongs in the family.”

MacDonald’s family now plans to bring the medal back to B.C. where they will show it to the soldier’s last remaining child.

With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Dan MacIntosh