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.
My father, Alexander Walter Cloke, was born in Maidstone, Kent, England on May 26, 1901 to Thomas and Agnes (Aldridge) Cloke. He was the youngest of six children: Gertrude, Frank, Wynifred, Sybella, Kathleen and Alec.
From listening to their conversations and reading letters from his siblings, particularly Wyn, who took a special interest in her little brother, I discovered these siblings were jolly and helpful to one another. Their mother suffered from frequent severe headaches and their father was given to drunkenness and failed to support them. As children often do they looked to each other for support.
When Alec was only five his world was suddenly turned upside down when his mother died. Just as suddenly his four doting sisters were sent to live with aunts and uncles. The auntie who would have taken Alec was ill at the time. He and older brother, Frank, stayed with their father, who more often than not, came home late and drunk. For about a year Frank and Alec carried on by themselves. Frank, a young teen, was apprenticed to a local butcher shop which he later took over and managed for many years. He left for work early each morning while their father slept off a hangover, leaving Alec to get himself off to school.
Wyn was very concerned about her little brother. She wrote a pleading letter to Barnardo’s asking them to intervene. A neighbour also reported her concerns about Alec.
Alec’s father, when confronted with accusations of neglect, signed papers relinquishing Alec into the care of Barnardo Homes. He also signed the Canada Clause giving permission for Alec to be sent to Canada if and when the Home deemed him suitable for emigration. Dad liked to tell us how his father bought him a sailor suit, of which he was very proud. He wore it for his admission to the Children’s Home. To his dismay, it was taken away and he was given a uniform to wear. Later he saw the headmaster’s son wearing what he believed was his sailor suit.
Alec was first admitted to the Stepney Causeway site and later moved to Leopold Boys Home and finally to Teighmore Home on the Isle of Jersey. Here, there was a large outdoor space, opportunity to care for animals, to learn responsibility and grow in a healthy environment.
At age eight Alec was chosen to go to Canada.
He was outfitted with a small trunk (which is still in our family). Inside were one pair of rubber-soled boots, one suit, two long nightshirts, two pairs of woollen socks, one pair of overalls, one set of light underwear, a Bible (which I have), a hymn book, a ball of wool for sock repairs, a needle, thread and boot brush.
On May 20, 1909, Dr. Barnardo himself said goodbye prayers as Alec sailed from Liverpool on the Corsican with 160 other children. Alec celebrated his ninth birthday on board ship. On May 28 he arrived in Montreal where the group was welcomed and processed before being sent to various destinations. Alec went to Lowbanks, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Erie, near the town of Dunnville. He was met there by Herb and Pearl Sider, a young childless couple who had requested a little boy to join their family.
It was apparently love at first sight because another lady at the station offered to trade boys. Herb refused, later saying, “We liked the look of him and we weren’t about to give him up.” Members of a plain church, similar to Mennonites, the Siders were a Christian couple who loved Alec and treated him as their own son. At age twenty-one, Alec became a faithful member of this caring church and remained one for the rest of his life.
Alec learned to help on the Sider farm in Wainfleet. When he’d been with them for about two years, Herb and Pearl had a little boy they named Romie. In spite of several years difference in the ages of the two boys they became good life-long friends.
Alec, whom the Siders chose to call Walter, took some training in auto mechanics, worked for a time in a local garage and also helped with the construction of Highway #3 which was built in the early 1920s. He operated a small car repair business at Sider’s for a time. No wonder he was so good at keeping his own vehicles running smoothly.
The contract between Barnardo’s and the Siders ended when Alec turned twenty-one.
Alec received the Barnardo medal for good behavior. (My mother later gave this medal to her oldest grandson.) Now free to live his life as he pleased, Alec did so with gusto. Always cheerful, often whistling while he worked, Alec set off for Buffalo, New York with a buddy. The two found employment with the Dunlop Tire Company.
In 1927, Alec met my mother at a church conference. Mom always loved to tell of their going for ice cream on their first date. They married in June 1928. A year later, I was born. In 1930 they decided to move back to Wainfleet and rented a farm in cooperation Dad’s friend, Orland Teal, and his wife, Nettie. Because the Depression of the 1930s shut down the Tire Company, Dad got a job with Hall’s Bakery as a delivery man with his own truck and route. This job meant that he was only home on weekends – Saturday afternoon until Monday morning. Much to our delight, he usually brought home goodies left over from his last bakery run. Hall’s made the best coffee cake I’ve ever tasted.
In 1933, they left the rented farm and bought one of their own on Highway 3 near the Sider farm. By this time, my little sister had arrived and two years later, our little brother came along to make our family complete.
Weekends meant lots of activity. In summer, Dad would take us for picnics to the beach or to the Buffalo Zoo and at least once a year to Mom’s family, north of Toronto. Family was so important to him. We were frequent visitors at the Sider home. By this time, Romie was married with a family of his own and shared the big two family house with Herb, Pearl and her mother, dear Granny Thompson. Going there was always such fun. We and Romie’s three children spent hours playing games on the wide front lawn while our elders sat on the verandah sipping lemonade and laughing at our antics. Christmas was especially fun because we always got together with the Siders, either at our house or theirs. Auntie Jean (Romie’s wife) and Gramdma Pearl were both great cooks so the feasts were amazing. Mom’s family lived too far away for Christmas gatherings so we looked forward to times with the family who had not only ‘adopted’ Dad, but all of us.
On weekends Dad was very involved in the church where he taught a Sunday School class of young boys. Probably because of his childhood experiences he had a special concern for the boys, once taking them to the Buffalo jail so they could see where bad choices could lead. Sunday evenings often found us at the Sider farm again where we young ones sat on the wide staircase eating Gran’s cookies and listening to the grown-ups solving the world’s problems.
When the mortgage on the farm was finally paid off, Dad left the job with the bakery. He went to work for John Deere Welland Works where he became a foreman while farming in the evenings and on the weekends. He traded his beautiful horse for a John Deere tractor and taught me to drive it.
This farm had a large orchard from which we sold apples and pears. Dad sold eggs from our big chicken house, many of them to the men he worked with. He and Mom went to Welland weekly with eggs and chickens which Mom dressed to perfection, selling them to regular customers. Dad always had something going on to increase our income as he had it in mind to make improvements to the old farmhouse.
Throughout the years, Dad’s family in England kept in touch with him. At Christmas we received cards and gifts of story books. To Dad’s delight, in 1938, his sister Wynn and her husband and son came for a summer visit. She felt comforted to meet Dad’s Canadian family and his many friends.
In 1947 tragedy struck our family. My little brother, six years younger, he who had almost died as an infant of pneumonia, was struck by a car while riding his bicycle and killed instantly. He was twelve. This devastated all of us but especially Dad who saw the accident happening but was powerless to stop it.
In 1949, Dad and Mom sailed off on the Queen Mary to be reunited with Dad’s long-lost family. They spent three months getting to know his brother and sisters and their families, revisiting the scenes of his childhood and enjoying the love of these siblings after so many years apart.
In 1953, they returned to England once more, this time for Christmas. To Alec, this felt like a return to his childhood, complete with Christmas pudding and the fun of the Christmas crackers he talked about so fondly. That was the last time Dad saw his family, though many of the next generation have come to spend time with us.
Dad retired from John Deere at age sixty-five. Not being one to sit around he carried on with farming, focussing on cash crops and he took on driving the local school bus. His own twin granddaughters rode his bus. He always loved interaction with children.
On a cold December afternoon his bus broke down near Welland after he had dropped off all his passengers. Unfortunately, he sat in the cold for hours waiting for help to come and finally got home late and thoroughly chilled. Later that evening he suffered a severe heart attack and died before the doctor arrived.
His funeral was a large one with family, church and community friends coming together. Looking back on his life, I marvel at how well he adjusted to the huge changes in his life and the kind compassionate and fun-loving man he became.
His life Bible verse, Matthew 6:33 reads, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”
Considering all he lost, and looking at all he gained – a family who loved him, a farm of his own, good jobs, good friends, the love and respect of others, I have to conclude that God honoured and took care of him.
I only wish all of Canada’s Home Children had been as fortunate as my father, Alexander Walter Cloke.
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, a collection of 31 stories of children who immigrated from Britain. This site is dedicated to the memory Rose’s grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith.
Frederick Gatehouse was one of fourteen children born to William David Gatehouse and Elizabeth Ann Oliver Gatehouse (born in Wales). His mother appears to have left her children in the care of their father. Descendants of this family believe she was an entertainer/singer. Members of this family appeared in the first production of Peter Pan. Frederick and twin brother, George, were born August 18, 1904. One week later, George died.
In 1980 Frederick wrote to his nephew, David, giving him the names of family members and including what little he knew of his English history. He writes, “Being one of the youngest of the family and separated from them all until I was about thirteen, it is a wonder I recall so much.”
In a handwritten letter, Frederick wrote the following . . .
– Rose McCormick Brandon
“When my father died, I was put in an orphanage, as were some of the other younger children; others were adopted or went to live with well-established families. When I was three, I was placed with a couple in Norfolk, near Norwich and remained there until I was eight. This was the happiest period of my childhood for I was treated with tender loving care.
“At eight years, I was taken back to the Barnardo Home in London until I reached the age of ten and was sent out to Canada (on the Sicilian in 1914) to work on a farm. The family I was farmed out to was very low, crude and dirty (something I was not used t0) and mistreated me with floggings, hard, heavy work and meals were whatever was left from their table, served out on the back porch, or stoop, as it was called in those days.
“I was there two and half years, when I finally wrote a letter (as if from a friend) to the Authority which had placed me there. In just a short time, less than a week, a gentleman from Toronto came to check into the situation. He found me working out in the stubblefield with bare, bleeding feet, and at once ordered them to pack up my belongings and took me to a very fine couple in Huntsville. I stayed there for about four months, going to school. These people were also kind-hearted and I remember them and my stay in Huntsville with pleasure.
“During this time, the Home contacted my family in Preston, Ontario (some of Frederick’s older siblings had immigrated) and at Christmas I was sent to the family, where I met for the first time, brother Harry and sister, Ivy. In 1916, my mother came to Preston, and that was the first time she had seen me from the time I was three years old. In fact, during those years, no member of the family came to see me, and after going to Preston, I had to meet them one by one.
“I lived with my Uncle Dick and Aunt Martha Gatehouse and went to school in Preston for a time, helping Uncle Dick
clean the school rooms before and after school hours. Then my brother, also Dick, returned from France in 1919 (he was in the army of occupation) bringing sister, Mable, with him – the first time I had met them. Out of the fourteen children, there were five that I never saw.
“I went to work at thirteen – my first steady job. Most kids in those years were at work by that age – supporting themselves. When I look back over the years and remember the various experiences I have had, I am amazed and grateful too, that I have been able to accomplish what I have. The little schooling I was able to absorb during my childhood was very sketchy, but I have done my best to improve upon it by taking night school courses – many times working a full time job and going to school five nights a week. It was rough but well worth it.”
Frederick Gatehouse married Lorraine Bradley. The couple lived in Rochester, N.Y.
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of Promises of Home – a collection of 31 stories of children who emigrated from the United Kingdom to Canada between 1869 and 1939. More than 100,000 arrived, including Rose’s grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith. Many experienced abuse. All struggled to adapt. Shame turned many of these children into silent adults. Rose’s hope is that the reader will empathize with the ‘home children’ and celebrate their coming and the contributions they made to Canada. It’s time for our nation to say to them, “thank you.”
Don’t miss the screening of “Forgotten” at the Art Gallery of Hamilton on Saturday, April 23, 2016 at 4:00 p.m.
Forgotten is about the yearning to know one’s history — what began with a fire at 295 George Street in Toronto becomes the catalyst to share the story of over 100,000 children who came to Canada as indentured farm labour and domestics. This is the forgotten history of many Canadians, both of the children themselves and their descendants.
Jim Brownell, grandson of a British Home Child, will be the special guest at this event. Jim was the MPP for Cornwall and responsible for introducing the bill that made September 29 British Home Child Day in Ontario.
Jim wrote an introduction to Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children.
Read more about the film and its creator, Eleanor McGrath here.
To view the trailer and purchase tickets visit the Art Gallery of Hamilton.
“I can never regret coming to Canada. I have had to work hard, but I don’t mind that, for I love to work.” My grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith, who arrived in Canada at age eight in 1912, wrote these words when she was twenty-five. As a child, she endured several years of hardship. I wrote the book, Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, for her. It’s my way of saying thank-you to her, and to the tens of thousands of child immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1869 and 1939. They entered into the rhythm of Canadian life. They made our country greater. It wasn’t easy. Their stories, and what became of them, beg to be told.
I’m happy to introduce you to someone else who is telling the stories of the children – Eleanor McGrath. I’ll be attending her movie, Forgotten, at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, 123 King St. W., Saturday, April 23 at 4:00 p.m. If you would like to attend, visit the Art Gallery to purchase tickets.
The film will be shown again in Toronto, Saturday, September 26 at Commfest: Rainbow Cinema Market Square, 80 Front Street East.
— Rose McCormick Brandon
A Word from Eleanor McGrath about her movie, Forgotten:
When I turned 45 years old I left a full-time job, bought a video camera and with the full support of my husband and children, I decided to follow my dream and tell stories of people who had come to Canada, often facing many hardships they persevered and helped to make our nation what it is today.
In October 2011, I walked south on one of Toronto’s toughest streets, George Street. Once the home of the 19th century wealthy it is now a forgotten street of Toronto’s homeless and marginalized. I knew it was significant architecturally but when I came to 295 George Street surrounded by construction hoarding I realized that an important part of Toronto’s heritage might be lost. After calling the Heritage Board and beginning a campaign for its preservation, two days later on October 19th a 3-Alarm fire gutted the “Fegan Home for the Distribution of Boys”.
This story found me — I couldn’t walk away.
The journey to uncover what was the Fegan Home of 295 George Street and the Boys that were “distributed” took me across Canada and to Ireland in search of the history of the over 100,000 children that came to Canada from 1850s to 1939 as British Home Children. This is the forgotten history of Canada, the lost memories of these children that are only unleashed after they are gone and discovered by their descendants. This is a story that should not be forgotten.
Forgotten captures some of the stories of the last remaining British Home Children in Canada. The men interviewed are now in their 90s, sadly two of the interviewed subjects have died since I met them. However, it is the children of these British Home Children who are left searching for who their parent was and the burning question of WHY? were they were sent to Fegan’s or Barnardo’s and other institutions before they were shipped to Canada. These descendants are in need of answers and many now struggle with the knowledge of the hardships that was endured by their parent. Some descendants are seeking an apology from the Canadian government which has alluded Canadian British Home Children for years despite both the British and Australian Governments providing restitution and official apologies to their citizens.
A band of child pilgrims in mass exodus, numbering 100,000, spanning seven decades (1869-1939), arrived in Canada. Like seed, they were scattered from Atlantic to Pacific, not in handfuls as would have been appropriate for children, but in singles, one here, another there. Hampered by the derogatory label, Home Child, severed from their familial connections, against the odds, they took root and became grounded and sturdy enough to change the landscape of our young Dominion. It’s time to cry over the abuses they suffered, to applaud their successes and to say, as a nation, “thank you.”
At age five, Ronald Chamberlain was admitted to the Barnardo Home along with his older brother, Reginald. Both boys were illegitimate. Ronald’s father, Jack Bradshaw, was expected to marry Ron’s mother, Maud, when he returned from the war. Sadly, Jack lost his life in battle.
Maud Chamberlain, and her two sons, lived with her father at 13 Victoria Place, Biggleswade. The boys’ grandfather was unable to work and Maud took odd field jobs when they were available. The family lived in extreme poverty. In spite of his home circumstances, Ronald’s teacher noted that he was a “good boy.”
When Maud was deemed an unsuitable parent, her sister, Martha, stepped up and offered to raise Ronald and Reginald as her own but they were removed from her and taken to Barnardo’s Home for Children. Martha left a warm and lasting impression on her nephews. Both boys kept in touch with her throughout their lives.
Ronald Chamberlain arrived in Canada on the Moonclare, April 4, 1925. As often happened with British Home Children, the brothers were separated, but in this case, Ronald’s brother Reginald, was sent to another country, Australia. (Approximately 30,000 children immigrated from the U.K. to Australia. Child immigration to Canada ended in 1939 but continued to Australia into the 1960s.)
On arrival in Canada, Ronald worked as an indentured servant on several farms. One of these farms was in Georgetown with a family that didn’t treat him well. One of his memories with this family is that they would take him to town with them every week but they didn’t include him in the family’s visits to the ice cream parlour. He waited outside while they went inside. On this farm, Ronald suffered from sores on his feet as a result of wearing rubber boots without socks. This family failed to provide Ronald’s basic clothing needs.
Another family, the Pettmans, of Ingersoll, Ontario, gave Ronald his first true home in Canada. Ron’s children grew up calling them Aunt Elma and Uncle Fred. He remained in contact with this loving couple until their death.
For a time, Ron worked for a spinster, Mary Mitchell, and her father in Port Sydney. Ron did well in school when he lived on this farm and Miss Mitchell offered to send him to college but Barnardo’s refused to allow Ron to accept and moved him from this farm.
Ron maintained several friendships from his days in Port Sydney. One was with his teacher, Mrs. Watson, whom he visited until his seventies. Other friendships included the Mulvaney family and Barney Oldfield, a local boy who worked on the Mitchell farm when Ron was there. After he married and had children, Ron returned to that farm often for vacations.
In 1937, Ron met and married Beatrice Laura Demman in Kitchener, Ontario. They moved to Toronto where they lived and raised their family of six children, three boys and three girls. They eventually had seventeen grandchildren.
Ron joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and went to war in January 1940. He served as a Wireless Operator and as Air Gunnner on a Halifax bomber which was shot down April 22, 1944 while on a bombing raid over Germany. Ron parachuted out but landed on railroad tracks injuring his hips and back. He was taken to a prisoner of war camp where he remained until May 8, 1945. The injuries he sustained caused him constant pain in later life.
Because Ron’s life had been saved by a parachute, he became a member of the Caterpillar Club. His Aunt Martha, (Mrs. A. Brown) received a letter from the Caterpillar Club which contained Ron’s membership card.
Ron experienced heart problems and poor circulation and underwent at least three heart
operations. His daughter, Doreen Young, wrote, “Although Dad suffered many hardships in life, he was a wonderfully loving, kind and caring husband and father. A gentle soul, he rarely had a bad word to say about anyone.”
Ron and Beatrice were happily married for fifty-one years. until Beatrice’s death.
Ron, who had lived in Canada since age ten and fought in World War Two discovered late in life that he didn’t have citizenship. Finally, in 1976, he received his Canadian citizenship.
During the war, Ronald and his brother Reginald from Australia happened to be in England at the same time. Both visited their Aunt Martha. The story is told that they missed seeing each other by five minutes. After leaving England, the brothers never saw each other again.
Ronald Chamberlain died on June 1, 1996. His brother Reginald died in Australia in 2006. (Doreen Young, daughter of Ronald Chamberlain, provided the information and photos used in this story.)
Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children by Rose McCormick Brandon, is a collection of 31 stories. Together, the stories give the reader a good understanding of the history, times and the people involved in the child immigration program that spanned the seventy years between 1869 and 1939. The book is available here.
With Remembrance Day around the corner, let’s remember a few young immigrants who did more than their share to make Canada the great country it is today.
(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 during the times.) — Rose McCormick Brandon
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.
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.
John (Jack) William Bean
Jack Bean was born January 1895. Nothing is known about his life before he 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 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
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’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.
Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children is a collection of 31 stories, including a few more about WWI veterans. To purchase a copy, visit http://writingfromtheheart.webs.com
Margaret Roper’s soon-to-be-released book, The Wright Connection, follows the life of her grandmother from a secure family in Scotland, to a home for destitute children and, ultimately, to a new life in Canada.
Margaret Roper writes:
I feel a strong connection to her. In the 1990’s, one of her daughters, my Aunt Dorothy, began searching for information and wrote many letters to various places. She found some dates and facts. After Aunt Dorothy’s death in 2000, I resumed her search.
Here is a preview of The Wright Connection. —- Rose McCormick Brandon
In 1909, my grandmother, Margaret Loudon Wright said goodbye to her sister Jeannie and boarded a ship for Canada. An orphan girl of seventeen she immigrated through Quarriers, a Scottish home for children in Glasgow. She wondered if she’d ever again see her younger sister and two brothers who also entered the home for destitute children.
On Monday, July 5, 1909 Margaret arrived in Montreal and her Canadian life began. The trip across the Atlantic on the Grampian had taken eight days. Two hundred and twelve passengers disembarked from steerage, including sixty Quarrier children. What were her first impressions when she stepped off that ship? Was she frightened by all the activity? Afraid of being lost?
Margaret Wright arrived in Canada with the usual kit given to child immigrants: a Bible, a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (a Christian allegory published in February 1678), writing materials, a brush and comb, a work bag with needles, thread and worsted for darning. All this was packed into a wooden trunk along with a nicely trimmed dress and hat for Sabbath wear and a wincey dress (made of a plain or twilled fabric), a dark hat for winter, a liberal supply of underclothing for summer and winter, three pairs of boots, four pairs of stockings, gloves, collars, aprons, pinafores and a warm hood.
My mother, Margaret’s daughter, has a ring that belonged to Margaret, but other than that, our only possessions of hers are two photos. I imagine she brought photos with her from Scotland of her family, particularly of her sisters Jeanie and Magdeline, but we don’t know what happened to them.
The photo (above) of the three Wright sisters, taken in 1902, which shows Margaret, age ten, Jeanie, age nine and Magdeline, age twelve was discovered by Karen Wright, a cousin in Solihull, England.
How did a girl like Margaret, from a caring family, end up in a home for destitute children?
Margaret Loudon Wright was born on March 7, 1892 in Glasgow, Scotland the
sixth child of my great grandparents Margaret Loudon and James Marshall Wright. At the time of her birth, the family’s address was 228 Dalmarnock Rd. Glasgow, an industrialized area with many tenement buildings. By 1899 my great-grandmother had given birth to twelve babies however, one died at age two and two died at birth.
On June 13, 1899, Margaret’s mother died in childbirth. The family struggled after the mother died with the older siblings looking after the younger ones. The eldest daughter, Jessie, eighteen at the time of her mother’s death and Agnes, seventeen had six children to care for, ranging from ages one to eleven. Life was tough for the two sisters.
About this time, James Marshall Wright, Margaret’s father, who was born in 1855 in Lanark, Scotland and had worked in the coal mines, was out of work. He set sail for Johannesburg, South Africa to work in the gold mines. In 1906, he was stricken with black water fever and died. The eldest of the twelve children, John Wright, went to Johannesburg when he was about twenty-one to care for his father and he also worked in the gold mine.
Without father or mother, the Wright family found themselves in need of assistance. The Quarrier Society was operating an orphanage at the Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, Scotland. There, they prepared destitute children for employment, girls as maids and boys as farm hands. When request was made by a parent or relative to have their child admitted to the Orphan Homes of Scotland, the agreement sometimes covered immigration to Canada, if the child was thought suitable.
William Quarrier, founder of Orphan Homes of Scotland was a successful shoemaker but is best known for his charitable work. In 1871, he opened a night refuge for homeless children in Renfrew Street, Glasgow.
On December 24, 1906, five of the Wright children went to Quarriers’ Bridge of Weir Village for interviews. They returned home, spent Christmas together and then on December 28 the five – Magdeline, Margaret, Jeanie, James and Thomas – entered the Quarrier orphanage. There they remained to prepare for immigration and employment as indentured servants in Canada.
A note in the Quarriers file states, “Margaret has been working in laundry since leaving school.”
After arrival at Montreal, Quebec on July 5, 1909 Margaret boarded a train to Brockville, Ontario, the location of Fairknowe Home, Quarriers’ Canadian receiving home.
Four of the five Wright children who went to Quarriers ended up in Canada. These four kept close contact and at one time all lived in Toronto. Unfortunately, none of them shared their histories with family. It wasn’t until 2004 that we discovered how they came to Canada.
On January 5, 1940, at age forty-seven, Margaret died. My mother, only thirteen at the time, retained few memories of her. One of Mother’s favourite memories is of Margaret dancing the Highland Fling using two brooms on the floor. She also recalls her mother holding her hand while walking to church.
Author, Margaret Roper, lives in Grimsby, Ontario. For more information on her book, email Margaret at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of four books, including Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, available here.