A student exploring the University of Calgary archives inadvertently stumbled upon three letters between a Calgarian and the theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.

Harold “Tim” Horne sent the letters to the library in 1972, but they were forgotten for years.

“They weren’t lost, they had just never come up for staff who work here presently,” Allison Wagner, a senior rare books and manuscripts advisor at the university, told CTV Calgary.

Horne was not a scientist, but felt that his correspondence with the man whose theory of relativity revolutionized our understanding of time and space was worth preserving.

Wagner said that Horne was “just a guy who ran a garage and was interested in the bigger questions.”

While fishing near the Ghost River Dam, Horne developed a theory about lunar rhythms and the oxygenation of water, even creating a timetable detailing the best times to go fishing.

Academics largely ignored or dismissed Horne’s research, so in 1943, he took a chance and wrote to Einstein, who was then teaching at Princeton University.

Einstein wrote back, offering thoughtful and at times bluntly critical responses, which included handwritten notes and drawings in the margins.

One letter from Einstein includes a post-script asking Horne to “excuse my critical attitude,” adding that “this state of mind is critical to every truth-seeker.”

“[This] tells us quite a bit about Einstein and his nature,” Wagner said. “He was not someone to dismiss somebody like this. I’m sure he was sympathetic to people who couldn’t get someone to listen to their ideas.”

Education leaders say that this type of feedback, even if critical, is important to fostering curious minds.

“These are the kinds of moments that really help get the mind going about what’s possible, about innovation, about problem solving,” said Elka Walsh, an education and learning officer at Telus Spark, a science museum in Calgary.

David Daley, a conservation advisor with the University of Calgary, said that the letters are well preserved, allowing them “to live indefinitely.”

With a report from CTV Calgary’s Alesia Fieldberg