Skip to content

The Home Children, an important piece of Canadian history

This site is dedicated to raising awareness of the British Home Child Movement and to recognizing the contributions these little immigrants made to Canada. Their stories inspire others who face loneliness and exile from their people.

David Nunn – In His Own Words

June 18, 2019
David Nunn, WWI

David Nunn, WWI

Very few of Canada’s British Home Children wrote about their lives. Of those who did, few accounts survived which makes this short auto-biography by David Nunn precious. His great-granddaughter, Debbie Nunn Woytta, says, “My father says he (David) never talked about when he was a child and how he came to Canada.  He was a quiet man and never revealed his past. My father never knew about this letter and was amazed when he read it, especially to learn he had fourteen aunts and uncles.”

Thank you to Debbie Nunn Woytta for sharing David Nunn’s story and photo. Through stories like this, Canadians learn to appreciate the extreme difficulties home children faced, and yet, they contributed so much to our nation. David, like nearly all home boys of eligible age (and some that weren’t), enlisted in the Canadian army during WWI.

West Ham Union Workhouse (2000)

West Ham Union Workhouse (2000)

June 2, 1925. I, David Nunn, was born in 1895 in London, England, came to Canada in 1904. When taken away from Mother and Father, I was two years old and put in the West Ham Union Home, London, in the year 1898.

In 1900, my brother Bill kept me for about two years. And then I was in Dr. Barnardo’s Homes, London, England, in 1903.

From there, I came to Canada in 1904. The first place I came to was Toronto and then sent to . . . . . I was there from 1904 till 1906 and from there back to Toronto.

And from there, I was sent to a farm in Port Hope, east of Toronto for seven years. The farmer’s name was W.G.N. I was knocked from pillar to post many a day during the seven years I was there.

All the school I had was three winters in Canada and I started to work when I was nine years old. I got $100.25 for six years work. But, the seventh, I worked for $100 a year.

I had never heard of my mother and father and brothers till I was fourteen years old until I heard of my brother, Tom, who was around Stratford, from 1902 till I met him in 1911.

I never did know my proper age.

After I met my brother, Tom (he arrived in 1903), we worked for farmers around Stratford, Mitchell, Monton and all around the district till the war broke out in 1914 and I joined the army in 1915 on Sept. 30. Stationed in London, Canada and when the winter came on, I came to Galt and I left Galt for overseas on March 28, 1916. I went to England, France and Germany.

I came back to Canada in 1919, 28 of May. I came back to Galt and settled down.

I never got to see my mother and father after all. Mother died when I was twenty and Father died when I was twenty-two years. Some of my brothers I seen and some I didn’t. I never seen my sisters at all. There were fourteen of us altogether. All I knew was:

John Nunn, the oldest, died 1917.

William Nunn, second, died 1924.

Ben Nunn, third

Tom Nunn, fourth

Dave Nunn, fifth

All five brothers was in the Great War. There was nine boys and five sisters.

Note: The Workhouse was the worst possible place for a child. No wonder David’s older brother rescued him from the West Ham Workhouse. And when he could no longer look after him, he took David to Barnardo’s Home for Children, a much better option for a destitute child than the workhouse. David states that his brother, Tom, arrived in Canada in 1902. It was actually 1903. – Rose McCormick Brandon


If you liked this personal account, read this by William Conabree. To order Rose book coverMcCormick Brandon’s book, Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, visit her website.

George Higgins

January 21, 2019
George Higgins

George Higgins

Sisters, Dorothy and Helene Higgins, sent me this touching story of their father’s life. Also mentioned in George’s story are Wilfrid and Doris Higgins. Three of the four Higgins children became child immigrants to Canada.

Baby George

Baby George

Our father, George Higgins, was born in Birmingham, UK, on May 24, 1911, the third child of Henry and Carrie (Horne) Higgins. In the early life of the Higgins family, the parents and children lived happily in a home with grandparents living nearby.

In October 1914, the father, Henry, a hardware packer, died suddenly, leaving his wife and children in deep sorrow, pain and misery.

Between 1914 and 1918, their story has a big hole. From documents received from St-Edward’s Home in Coleshill, UK, we presume that our grandmother Carrie had help from her family while she worked to support her children. Relatives kept Wilfred and George while Doris stayed with her mother to take care of the baby, Ernest. Later on, Ernest went to live with his maternal grandfather, Alexander Horne. Alexander’s second wife, Elizabeth Hill, became affectionately called Auntie Lizzie by Ernest.

A Family in Peril

By May 1918, Carrie, now living in a workhouse, had applied to the Father Hudson  Society in Coleshill asking them to look after Wilfred (9) and George (7). Doris (11) went to Nazareth House in Moseley. (Read the history of Father Hudson.)

After much research, we received the files from the society that contained letters written by Carrie requesting visitor passes to see her boys and enclosing money for their upkeep. The file also contained reminders sent to Carrie of payments missed. Reading these letters brings tears to us because our poor grandmother had only a few glimpses of her children when they were in this Home.

In February 1920, Carrie received a letter from the Home proposing to send her boys to Canada to the care of St. George’s Home in Ottawa. She was very reluctant to let them go but finally she agreed to this believing they would have better lives.

Immigration to Canada

St. George's House, Ottawa (now Holy Rosary Church)

St. George’s House, Ottawa (now Holy Rosary Church)

On May14, 1920, Wilfrid boarded the ship Minnedosa under the care of the Catholic Emigration Association from Liverpool, UK. He landed in Quebec City on May 23, 1920. From there, he took a train to Ottawa. He was accepted by Mr. and Mrs. Ovila Pajot in River Canard near Windsor. Wilfrid stayed with this family all his life. He worked for the Ford Company until his sudden passing in September 1966.

June 18, 1920. It was our father George’s turn to board the same ship. He also landed in Quebec and took the same road Wilfrid had taken. He was eager to see his brother but Wilfrid was already gone to the Pajot farm. George’s first home was with the Dunlop family in Chelsea near Hull. For unknown reasons, he was sent back to St. George’s in Ottawa.

The McIntyres             

He was placed in a second home with Mr. and Mrs. James McIntyre in Aubrey, PQ. When he arrived alone at the train station, a tall man was waiting for him. At first when this man saw George, skinny and small for ten, he doubted whether he’d be up to the rigors of farm work. With kindness in his eyes, James McIntyre told George that he would try him with the chores on the farm. So off they went travelling in a horse-drawn buggy down Northern Creek Road. James’ wife, Helen, happily received George into their home. He became part of the McIntyre family.

A Mother Pines for her Children

Meanwhile in Birmingham, Doris asked her mother to allow her to immigrate to Canada and work as a domestic. Carrie finally agreed with one stipulation. She must promise to keep in touch and try to find her brothers, Wilfrid and George. With the help of the Father Hudson Society, Doris was sent to Montreal to the home of Mrs. Rinfret as a domestic aid.

A year later, my grandmother Carrie was able to come also and work with Doris. She pined for her children and longed to re-unite her family. She married David Gunn in London, Ontario on July 22, 1922. Her goal was to get her boys back but their new families (Pajot and McIntyre) would not let Wilfrid and George go. She continued living in London, Ontario, fixated on her goal of re-uniting with her children but in 1926 she became very ill and passed away. Our grandmother, Carrie, had travelled so far to reunite her family but she was not successful. She finished her life in sickness, sorrow, and loneliness. She is resting in peace in London, Ontario.

Here in the story, let us go back to Aubrey where my father George lived. Being on a Quebec farm, he had to learn to speak French. He also had to learn farm work, go to school and attend church on Sundays. Once a year, the Ottawa Home sent a sister or an inspector to visit the children in their care. On George’s report, everything was good. The receiving family kept  him and he became the son they never had. At age 18, his indentured service completed, George continued to stay with the McIntyres. This family gave him the love and care he needed to grow into his new life as a Canadian.

James McIntyre never drove a car but he bought one for George so he could enjoy a ride, run errands and be the envy of the neighbourhood.

Thanks to his mother’s arrival and the promise his sister Doris made, the Higgins children always kept in touch with one another through letters from George in Quebec, Wilfrid in Windsor, Doris in Pembroke and Ernest in England.

A Family Finally Reunites

George & Helene

George & Helene

In 1934, after 14 years of separation, Doris and George visited Wilfrid in Windsor. In 1937, my father

George, Doris, Wilfred Higgins

George, Doris, Wilfred Higgins unite in 1934 at Belle Island

George married Helene Caron, a godchild of the McIntyres. They had eight children: five boys and three girls. George and Helene stayed on the farm, raised their children there and took care of Mr. McIntyre after his wife passed away. He became Grandfather Jim to us children. We all have beautiful memories of this man. When James McIntyre died, our father inherited the farm.

When WWII was declared, my father did not go to war because he had the farm to keep. As his family grew up, George dreamed of going back to England to see his brother, Ernest. He was able to go in 1973 with his wife, his eldest daughter, Helene, and her husband. He was sad at this time because Wilfrid and Doris had passed away some years before. Ernest was ill and the trip couldn’t be postponed.

Their reunion was like a dream come true. Dad finally met Ernest, his wife Dora Busby, and their girls, Valerie and Sheila. George’s visit revived Ernest. He came to Canada to visit in 1976. We were all glad to meet him and his family and share with them our life on the farm. Ernest died in 1979. His family kept in touch by letter.

The Stigma

George and Ernest Higgins together again after a lifetime apart

Ernest and George Higgins together again after 53 years apart

There was a stigma about being a “home child.” This stigma set George apart from others. He didn’t mingle much. Even after 60 years in the community, he was known as “the immigrant.” It made him angry to be called this.

Our father had many interests. He liked to read, fish, play cards and play the fiddle for family and friends. When we asked him questions about his young life in Birmingham, he always answered to the best of his knowledge. He was a man of peace, a kind man with a good smile, helpful to everybody, sincere and true in his heart and mind, upright and just till the end of his life, which came on March 4, 1981.

Our memories of him and the life he provided for us in Canada are good. To be together in the same old way would be our fondest wish today.

We write this story in memory of a beloved father and grandfather and a good husband.

Helen and Dorothy Higgins.

Remembering the Service of British Home Children in WWI

November 9, 2018

poppyIt’s estimated that as many as 10,000 men who arrived in Canada as child immigrants (British Home Children) from Britain enlisted in WWI. That means almost all those of eligible age, and probably some who weren’t, joined the army.

On this 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, let’s remember a handful of these young immigrants who did more than their share to make Canada the great country it is today.

Note: It wasn’t until I finished putting this post together that I noticed that every single person has William either as a first or second name. Just goes to show how popular this name was at the time.– Rose McCormick Brandon

William Francis Mason (Frank)William Francis Mason

Born April 1894 in England. Following the death of his mother, William and several brothers and sisters were placed at the National Children’s Home in London. On March 21 1908, William Francis Mason arrived in Canada with a party of 62 boys. Dr. Stephenson, founder of the National Children’s Home led this group to his transition home on Main St. E. in Hamilton, Ontario. From there, William was placed on a farm in West Flamborough. At age 21, William enlisted and was assigned to the 86th Machine Gun Battalion. He saw action at Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele where he suffered a major wound that led to amputation. After rehabilitation, William returned to Millgrove in West Flamborough township where he married Ellen Mitchell in 1926. William passed away on November 17, 1977 at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington at age 83. He is buried in the Millgrove Cemetery.

Corporal William MayburyWilliam Maybury

William Maybury, a Barnardo boy, was wounded on October 28, 1917. He never recovered from his wounds and died on Dec 1, 1917. He was 25. William is buried at No. 2 Stationary Cemetery in Abbeyville, France.

“It is hard for anyone today to imagine the horrors of the 25th year of his short life. He commanded a small group of men who fired mortars from the heart of battle. In the spring of 1917, he helped take Vimy Ridge. In summer, he fought in the Battle of Hill 70. In the fall it was Passchendaele. By then he would have known his luck was running thin, if not altogether out.” Roy MacGregor (read the rest of MacGregor’s story about Maybury here.



Jack Bean

Jack Bean

John (Jack) William Bean

Jack Bean was born January 1895. Nothing is known about his life before hecard from Jack Bean to Isadora Thompson 001 entered Barnardo’s. He arrived in Canada at age seven on May 25, 1902. He went to live with Sandy & Isadora Thompson in Franconia (near Dunnville, Ontario). Jack enlisted at age twenty in 1915. He sent this photo of himself in uniform to Mrs. Thompson with this inscription on the back: For dear mother from your loving boy, Jack. At the time of his enlistment, Jack’s birth mother – Mrs. E. J. McCallum – was still alive and living in Oberland Cottage in Guernsey. Jack must have corresponded with her because he named her as his next of kin. After the war, Jack returned to Canada and moved out west.

William Frances Conabree

William Francis ConabreeWilliam Frances Conabree arrived in Canada in 1904 at age fourteen. He was sent by the Catholic Emigration Association and accompanied by Mr. Tupper. William enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and fought in WWI. He was a horn player and stretcher bearer for the 49th Loyal Edmonton Regiment. He lived through gas attacks and was a prisoner of war in the same camp as Con Smythe, the famed owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Read William’s stirring account of his early life in Canada here.





William Edwin Hunt

William Edwin Hunt

William Edwin Hunt

An Irish boy who immigrated through Smyly Homes for Children, William Edwin Hunt suffered wounds that resulted in the amputation of a leg. Undaunted, he pursued a career in government office, wrote poetry and made music. He spent his early years in Canada in the Hespeler/Guelph area and his adult years after the war in Sault Ste. Marie. (Smyly boys went to the Hespeler receiving home called The Coombes.) William wrote the poem, The Little V.A.D. (Volunteer Aid Nurse). Recently, a reader of my book, Promises of Home, contacted me to say that he found a copy of this poem, hand-written by William, in the archives at Trent University. The nurse the poem was written for left her letters and memoirs to the university. Read more about William Edwin Hunt here and here.



William Blay with niece

 William Blay

William’s father died when he was a baby and his mother, who had sold all her furniture to pay the rent, could no longer afford to keep him.  In September of 1903, she placed him in London, England’s Barnardo Home.

Upon arrival in Canada, he was put to work immediately on a farm where the culture shock was intense:  city-bred William, who had never seen a cow before, was whipped because he did not milk fast enough.  He ended up running away.  Such was the case for many home boys who worked as farm hands in a country that had a high demand for labour but a low population. Read William’s story, written by his great-niece, Linda Jonasson, here.



book cover


Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children by Rose McCormick Brandon  is a collection of 31 stories, including a few more about WWI veterans. To purchase a copy, visit


British Home Child Day – September 28, 2018

September 27, 2018

It’s fitting to celebrate the lives of several British Home Children today on National British Home Child Day. Few Canadians know that in the years between 1869 and 1939 approximately 100,000 children immigrated to Canada from England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. It’s estimated that today ten percent of the Canadian population can trace their roots to one, or more, of these Home Children.
On their journeys to becoming grateful Canadians, these children suffered many hardships. Even those who landed in good homes struggled to overcome extreme loneliness and homesickness. Adjusting to Canadian farm life

Walter Goulding, age 8

was especially difficult. Walter Goulding, the oldest living home child in Canada until his death at 106 on August 1, 2014, said, “I was from the big city of London. When I landed on that farm (in Southern Ontario), I looked up and said, ‘Oh Lord, where am I?’”

No agency today would consider sending an eight year-old to a foreign country to work as a live-in mother’s helper. But, my grandmother, her sister, and thousands of other girls were placed in Canadian homes as indentured servants, contracted out by the sending agency to work until age twenty-one for girls and eighteen for boys. Most boys became farm hands; a few obtained apprenticeships.

My grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith, and her two siblings were sent to Canada in 1912 after the

Grace Griffin Galbraith, aged 15

deaths of both parents. Most child immigrants had at least one living parent. Unemployment, death of the earning parent, abandonment and illegitimacy are some of the reasons children ended up in Homes.
Britain was in a poverty crisis. Many social reformers (they were nearly all dedicated Christians) like Dr. Thomas Barnardo, Annie MacPherson, the Quarriers of Scotland and the Smylys of Ireland, founded homes where they fed, educated and churched thousands of needy children. Barnardos, an agency that emigrated more than thirty thousand children to Canada, established the motto, “No Destitute Child is ever Refused Admittance.”
The Child Migrant Scheme, viewed as a practical solution to the problem of bourgeoning numbers of destitute children, was meant to solve Canada’s need for young workers and give these children opportunities they’d never find in their home countries.

George Everett Green

Despite the good intentions of the sending agencies, many children became victims of abuse, neglect and over-work. In 1895, George Everitt Green, a fifteen year-old was placed with a spinster farmer, Helen Findlay. Seven months later, George died. The coroner reported that his emaciated body was covered with ulcers and bruises, that his skin was discoloured, his feet and hands swollen. The conclusion: George’s death was caused by criminal neglect and malnourishment. Helen Findlay was found guilty of assault and sentenced to one year in the Ontario Reformatory for Females in Owen Sound.

Jack Bean

In contrast to George Green, Robert Wright arrived at the home of Sandy and Isadora Thompson of Franconia, a rural settlement near Dunnville, Ontario. Robert became the Thompson’s third placement child. (The other two were Jack Bean and Samuel Ashdown.) Isadora Thompson cherished Robert who was fostered until age fourteen. In her book, The Golden Bridge, Marjorie Kohli writes: “Boarding was a practice unique to Barnardo’s. Any child under twelve years of age was to be boarded out to a foster family. The family was paid for its efforts.”

One of the conditions placed on host families was that children would attend school three to four months each year. Most of the sending agencies believed education provided a way out of poverty for the children. Hosts were also required to send the children to church and to feed and adequately care for them. When these obligations weren’t met, children were often removed by visiting inspectors.

Most child immigrants, like my grandmother and her siblings, were separated. They often lost contact and never reconnected. In some cases, one brother was sent to Canada and another to Australia. (Thirty thousand children went to Australia. There, children immigrated until the 1960s. As large as these numbers seem there were a very small portion of the actual number of destitute children in the U.K.)

A large percentage of Home Children buried their roots. They deliberately lost their accents and when they were grown moved to places where no one knew of their immigrant past. They seldom spoke about life before Canada.

Edward Griffin

My grandmother’s story is known, not because she shared it but because her husband knew her background when they married as did everyone in their small community. For that reason, her children knew and passed her story on. Her brother, Edward Griffin searched for and found her. She was a mother of four by then. He was unashamed of his past and boldly proclaimed himself an orphan from London’s east end. He once wrote, “I go wherever I jolly well please and I don’t take any dirt from anybody.” He was placed by MacPherson’s with a good and caring childless couple who, when they died, remembered him in their will.

After enduring the trauma of exile, Canada’s child immigrants grew up to become soldiers, factory workers, ministers, railroad workers, telephone operators, secretaries, miners, nurses, community leaders and farmers. They invested their sweat and toil in their new country.

Cecilia Jowett, who arrived in 1901 at age eight, nursed for a time at both The Toronto General and the Hamilton General hospitals. In her autobiography, No Thought for Tomorrow, she wrote, “Oh, I’d never take a child like that into my home, I have heard ladies say. You never know how they will turn out. And there was I, a graduate nurse, in their homes, rendering skilled assistance, perhaps saving, or helping to save, a life. Yet they didn’t dream I was one of those children.”

It’s of major significance that nearly all home boys of legal age, and some that weren’t, enlisted in the Canadian army

William Henry Lamb

at the outset of World War One. There were approximately ten thousand. Some, like William Henry Lamb, died of disease before embarking. More than one thousand lost their lives in battle. Don Cherry, whose grandfather was a Barnardo boy and a WWI soldier, paid tribute to all the BHC soldiers at a memorial service in Toronto at Black Creek Village in 2014.

The Home Children entered into the rhythm of Canadian life. They made our country greater. It wasn’t easy. Against the odds, they became proud Canadians and good citizens. Their stories beg to be told. Most shunned the limelight while they lived and wouldn’t want anyone to make a fuss over them now. But, it’s past time to honour their contributions and to cherish their memories.

Shame turned many of the children into silent adults, mysterious people, misunderstood by their families. Their stories are as varied as their personalities, yet similar threads run through them.

In 2013, a segment on the Home Children was introduced into the Ontario curriculum for grade six, helping to shine a light on these forgotten immigrants. It can be immensely inspiring for today’s children to read about the plight of the Home Children. Though separated from parents, brothers and sisters, extended family, friends and country, they thrived.

Maggie Abernethy

Maggie Abernethy Wedrick, a Barnardo girl who lived with the Doughty family in the Hagersville area, wrote this to Mr. Hobday, the administrator of the Barnardo Home in Toronto. Her letter shows that after four decades in Canada, she still thinks of the organization as family and that she considers her life successful:
“I have been married thirty-one years. My husband is a farmer; he owns one hundred acres of land. I have two children, a son and daughter, both are married. My daughter has two children so you see, I am Grandma. My daughter married a farmer and my son is a farmer also. We are members of the United Church and are striving to live Christian lives.”

My grandmother wrote this in a 1928 letter to a step-sister back in England:
“I have a good and loving husband and a good home. We have a one hundred acre farm, a large barn and a fairly good house. Jim is very good to help me. He is very fond of children. We have our place paid for now and I must add that we have a 1918 model car but we intend dealing it on a new one next spring.”

My grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith, also wrote something that sums up the attitude of most Home Children: “I can never regret coming to Canada. I have had to work hard, but I don’t mind that, for I love to work.” 

In my book, Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, I’ve tried to tell a variety of stories – tragic, mysterious, funny, successful, heartwarming – all these stories work together to produce a document that gives the reader an overview of the history of our child immigrants.
To order this book, visit my website at or contact me at

© 2018 Rose McCormick Brandon
Rose Mccormick Brandon is the author of many articles and books. Her book, Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, shines a light on the forgotten child immigrants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Thomas Madden: The Scotsman on Paradise Island by George Farrow

March 12, 2018

George Farrow has written a biography titled, “Scotsman on Sanibel: the Life of Father Thomas Madden.” Thanks to George for sharing with me and the readers of Promises of Home, a little of Father Madden’s story. Like many British Home Children, Thomas Madden kept silent about his past. George discovered that Thomas was a Home Child while researching.

– – Rose McCormick Brandon

Father Madden at first baptism on Sanibel Island

Father Thomas Madden was orphaned in the heart of industrial Lanarkshire after the First World War and died on Sanibel Island, Florida in 1985 having brought about racial integration of both school and church in 1962 – the first in Lee County. He was a fearless, prayerful Scot who broke barriers of many kinds. He worshipped along Roman Catholic, Wesleyan, Episcopalian and Greek Orthodox lines. Father Madden became best loved for his devotion to Island underdogs. (He pastored Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church on Sanibel Island but he also at St Luke’s and St John’s, Brantford, Ontario, simultaneously, and at St John’s Episcopal Church, Milwaukee.)

Judy Neville of Ontario East British Home Child Family at Wall dedicated to Thomas Madden

Inside Father Madden’s church

Thomas left Liverpool on 14th June, 1924 aboard the S.S.Montreal, one of a group of 44 boys with the Salvation Army’s “Boy Farmer Programme.” Most were from England but there was a leavening of ten Scots and six Irish. All were either Church of England or Protestant with five declaring themselves Roman Catholic and the youngest proudly announcing himself as Salvation Army.

Most boys were sent to Woodstock but Thomas was one of nine, and likely the oldest, sent to Smith’s Falls on the train. The Salvation Army may have placed him at Smith’s Falls rather than Woodstock because it was located in the county of Lanark, synonymous with home.
The Smith’s Falls Receiving Home was brand new. Ideally, boys would hope not to be spending long there.

“In all cases, when possible, the prospective home and situation is visited before placement of the boy.…The boys are all visited, at least twice a year; some receive four or five visits in this period. Visitation generally starts when the boy has been one month in place. . . The boys are paid $125 or more for first year. Average wage would be $150 per year. $1 per week pocket money allowance is given to the boy under indenture . . . At this date Commandant Smith said they had three-hundred-and-fifty applications for boys.”

This was written only weeks before Thomas’s party arrived in Ontario and gives us an excellent idea of what his initial situation would be. The archives of the Salvation Army in Canada include seven written reports by Commandant Brace, a busy man, who by 1927 was directly responsible for 360 immigrant boys.

The following boys were sent to Smith’s Falls Salvation Army receiving home in late June 1924: William Duckworth, Roy Green, Victor Harvey, Henry McVeigh, Fred Mears, Arthur Roney, Donald Smith, Henry Walker and Thomas Madden.

Thomas was assigned to work for Milton Best, RR 2, Smith’s Falls, Lanark County, Ontario in late June 1924, Milton Best was farming Lot 9 in Concession No.6, about four miles due west of Smith’s Falls in the Township of Elmsley North. Milton was 40, his wife Harriet 34. Their only child, Edna Irene, was seven. The North & South Elmsley Directory of 1918 shows several members of the family farming there, or on adjacent lots, including Milton’s father, George Senior. The Bests and their parents were born in Ontario but were of Irish extraction, as was Thomas’s father.
The Salvation Army reports start on 28th July 1924, a month after Thomas joined the Bests: the lad is doing well; getting down to work fine. Signed agreement for the year $100. Goes to church with people on Sunday. 

On 12th September 1924 Thomas was rated “good” on all four counts upon provincial inspection and his $100 rate was noted. Comdt. Brace visited the farm again on 22nd October 1924 and reported: They were away. I saw the lad later and he says he is doing well. He is looking strong and healthy. Likes his place. Has a good home. Goes to church regular.
The following spring (22nd April 1925): Lad getting along well. Employer speaks well of him. Attends church regular.
On 3rd September 1925 a second provincial inspector (MJS) turned up expecting to see Thomas but reported: “Did not see – Gone”
Thomas’s rate of pay, at $100 per year may not appear generous, but his age was given [erroneously] as only 17, instead of 19 – perhaps a necessary obfuscation to get him into the country in the first place.

The Farming Land

In England, William Booth had chosen the difficult clay-like land at Hadleigh Farm in order to prepare his boys for the worst in Canada. Lanark County, having been recently glaciated (which Hadleigh had not) was more like the Midland Valley of Scotland than Hadleigh near London, a fact celebrated in this delightful anecdote from a local lawyer who was also a keen and slightly eccentric amateur geologist. He wrote this while thinking of running a competition to discover the largest glacial erratic in Lanark County.

I suspect that some will argue that this contest unfairly gives those of Irish descent an unfair advantage. I make that statement because eight years ago when I mentioned to my dentist in Ottawa that I had moved to Tay Valley Township in Lanark County he told me that he had been born and raised in Lanark County, that the English had received the good land and the Irish the rocky land. Memories run deep in Lanark County. His family was Irish. I can only say ‘play the hand that you are dealt.’ If this contest does give those of Irish descent an unfair advantage, then it is poor compensation for having farmed rocky land for 200 years.

The superficial geology was tough, but so too was the weather with its much greater extremes than Thomas was used to in Scotland or England. There was a fierce rainstorm in North Gower, only 23 miles north-east of Smith’s Falls, the day he arrived. Twenty-five mm fell on 29th June, 1924. However, there were only one or two summer downpours, temperatures were ideal and no rain interrupted the harvest in October. By mid-November it was beginning to get chilly at night, down to -14°C; -28°C on 21st December; -37°C on 28th January, 1925. Only 42 cm of snow fell in January. This would have turned to black ice after 60mm of rain fell over two days in mid-February. Conditions would have been ideal for sledging. Going to church “in the bleak midwinter” on horse-drawn sleigh must have been fun. It would have been a round trip of about 3.5 miles to St James Anglican Church, Port Elmsley. Thomas, in his first fifteen months in Canada, almost certainly was fitter than he ever was in Scotland.

One would have expected Father Madden at some point in his later life to acknowledge his debt to the Salvation Army, but after exhaustive research, I’ve not found a single mention of the Army nor of his having been a Home Child. However, this isn’t unusual as many child immigrants felt it unnecessary to mention how they arrived in Canada. Others deliberately hid their pasts.

George Farrow has written a biography of Thomas Madden titled, “Scotsman on Sanibel: the Life of Father Thomas Madden. “Chapters are as follows: Born amongst the Blast Furnaces; Rescue by the Salvation Army; Home Child in Canada; Trouble with the Rector’s wife; Depression in Toronto; Brantford YMCA and the demands of War; TV star in Milwaukee; Sick-leave in the South; Sanibel, Blessings Abound. If you can add anything to the story, or are interested in Father Madden’s biography, contact author, George Farrow, at . George thanks Rose McCormick Brandon and Judy Neville of Ontario East British Home Child Family for their encouragement.

Rose McCormick Brandon’s book, Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, is available here. 

William Henry Lamb, Child Immigrant, Canadian Soldier

January 18, 2018

William Henry Lamb – registration photo from Barnardo’s

On March 14, 1898, William Henry Lamb was born to Henry and Ada Lamb in Hull, England. In 1901 William’s father who had become an abusive drunkard abandoned the family. In her struggle to pay the rent and look after her little boy, William’s mother took in a boarder, a Mr. Giles. The two had a romantic relationship and planned to marry but when Ada became pregnant, Giles abandoned her. She admitted later to a social worker that Giles was a “lazy, besotted drunkard who wanted her to work and support his idleness.”
With two children to support, Ada’s struggles increased. She earned 4p a week from charring. Her rent was 3p. With little left to clothe and feed her children, she fell behind in rent. With no money to hire a sitter, Ada left William in charge of his baby sister, also named Ada. Neighbours complained to authorities.

The desperate young mother sought help from Barnardo’s. The social worker who visited the home described her “as a woman of good general character who was taken advantage of by two lazy drunkards.” He described William as a “strong, healthy, pleasant little fellow.”

William Henry Lamb – taken while living in Dundalk

Barnardo’s sent William, by then five, to live with a foster family, the Watson’s. Soon, his sister Ada was sent to the same family. This Salvation Army home not only provided food, clothing and education, but kindness. Both William and Ada did well in school and thrived in this environment.
At age 8, Barnardo’s re-moved William from the Watson’s and sent him to their London residence to prepare him for emigration to Canada. His mother’s  situation hadn’t improved since putting her children into care. She believed sending William to Canada was best for him and gave her permission.
In March 1907 William sailed on the Dominion with a photo of his

William carried this photo of his mother

mother tucked into his trunk. He went to live with the Carr family of Dundalk, Ontario.


Several years later, his sister Ada also arrived in Canada. She was sent to  the Reburn family in Shelburne 15 miles from Dundalk. Brother and sister didn’t see much of one another but they were aware of the other’s location.
In 1916 William showed up at the Reburn farm in Shelburne.

Ada Lamb before leaving for Canada

He told Ada that he couldn’t stay in Canada any longer. Things had not gone well for him. He hated living in Canada, he said, and had joined the army for a way out. He would soon be shipped to England where he planned to re-unite with their mother. He had come to say goodbye.
After that visit, William went to the Niagara area where he awaited deployment with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He looked forward to once more boarding a ship that would cross the Atlantic and return him to the place of his birth. While he prepared for combat, a contagious disease swept through the military barracks.
William Henry Lamb died. Sadly, he was never re-united with his mother. He is buried in Ventry Cemetery. After Ada married, one of the first things she did was put a headstone on her brother’s grave.
More than 10,000 home boys, like William Henry Lamb, joined the Canadian military. Many joined with the aim of visiting or re-uniting with their families in England. Sadly, many like William Henry, never made it.

Cousins Barbara Powers & Helen Cockburn. Rose McCormick Brandon, center.

(There’s an interesting epilogue to this story. Not long ago Barbara Powers of England read William’s story and his sister, Ada Lamb Stinson’s story. She contacted me to say that she was the grand-daughter of Ada Lamb. It turns out that Ada married and had other children. This grand-daughter came to Canada to visit her cousin, Helen Cockburn who provided me with the photos and information for this story. Helen said it was if they had always known one another. I met the two for tea. Rose McCormick Brandon 


Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children. The book which contains 31 stories is available here.

A Child Immigrant Comes to Canada

September 30, 2017

Grace Griffin Galbraith, aged 15

This was written to celebrate Canada’s 150th; published in the Manitoulin Expositor. Always a pleasure to write about my grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith. – Rose McCormick Brandon

“I can never regret coming to Canada. I have had to work hard but I don’t mind that for I love to work.” Grace Griffin Galbraith, my grandmother, wrote these words in 1928. She was twenty-five and a perfect candidate for regret. She immigrated to Canada as an eight year-old with her sister, Lily. The two, and later their brother, Edward, arrived through a child immigration agreement between the United Kingdom and Canada. After their father’s death and their mother’s remarriage, Grace and her siblings were placed in the Annie MacPherson Home for Children in the east end of London, England. They remained there until their mother’s death, after which their paternal grandmother signed the Canada Clause giving the Home permission to send the children to Canada.
Thus, Grace became one of more than one hundred thousand children to immigrate to Canada between 1869 and 1939. She landed in Quebec on May 13, 1912.
Most child immigrants became indentured servants contracted to work as farm hands and mother’s helpers. Lily Griffin  was sent to Toronto and Grace to a southern Ontario farm. At the end of her thirty-day trial period Grace was returned to MacPherson’s Canadian Home in Stratford because she “not wholly satisfactory.” This isn’t surprising since she had never been on a farm. Her next placement also ended after thirty days.
Grace’s third placement took her to Manitoulin Island. This home welcomed her at first but later reneged on their contractual responsibility to send Grace to school for at least three months each year. One day, a local minister, Rev. Munroe, arrived at the farm and found Grace in alarming condition. He immediately removed her and took her to live with a family that attended his church, the Gilpins. She stayed at this safe and kind home until her marriage at age seventeen.

Jim and Grace Galbraith and their 3 oldest children: Evelyn, Lorma & Mildred (baby)

One year after her marriage to James Galbraith, a farmer with Scottish roots, Grace received the sad news that Lily had died of tuberculosis. She wrote, “It was lonesome for me when Lily died. I missed her sisterly letters.”
Meanwhile, Grace’s brother, Edward Griffin, who had the good fortune to live with a couple who considered him a son and included him in their will, had returned to England where he visited relatives and contacted MacPherson’s for information about his sisters. On his return to Canada, he began a search for Grace. By the time he found her they had been separated for fourteen years.
Grace wrote, “I always have a longing to see some of my folks.” She also made the sad statement, “I can never remember seeing my mother.” How happy she must have been to reunite with her brother. Edward spent a lot of time on Manitoulin with Grace and then moved from Southern Ontario to Sudbury to be closer to her.
By 1928 when Grace wrote that she had no regrets about coming to Canada, she was married, had re-united with Edward and had four daughters. (A son arrived later.) Her difficult childhood days over, Grace’s writings reveal a full and happy life. “I have a good and loving husband and a good home. We have a 100 acre farm, a large barn and a fairly good house. Jim is very good to help me. He is very fond of children. We have our place paid for now and I must add that we have a 1918 model car but we intend dealing on a new one next spring.”
The Home Children were unprepared for the harshness and isolation of Canadian farm life. One boy expressed it this way: “When I landed on that farm, I looked up and said, ‘Oh God, where am I?’” Whereas most immigrants form communities in their adopted homelands, these children were scattered in ones and twos throughout Canada’s towns and farms. Like Grace, most had more than one placement making it difficult to put down roots.
As we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, it’s estimated that the descendants of Canada’s child immigrants, the Home Children, make up ten percent of the population. This period in our history serves to remind us how much immigration practices have changed. Today, no serious consideration would be given to a program that sends children overseas to live with and work for strangers. What a debt our country owes these young ones who endured heartbreak and loneliness to become some of Canada’s hardiest and most dedicated citizens.
Grace might have become bitter. Instead, she, like most child immigrants, chose to find hope in her new land. Grace’s positive attitude is reflected in her statement – “I can never regret coming to Canada.”
Grace spent her last twelve years at The Lodge in Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island where she passed away at age ninety-nine in 2003.

Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children by Rose McCormick Brandon is available for purchase here.

%d bloggers like this: