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.

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.

Bert Edwards 1902-1994

February 13, 2017

 Thanks to Patricia Bronson for her diligent research and for this story of Barnardo boy, Bert Edwards. Her story also contains information on Bert’s brothers. Several stories published here have resulted in more information, even family members reuniting. Perhaps some of Bert’s family, still living in England, will read Patricia’s account. Rose McCormick Brandon


Photo taken by Barnardo’s when the brothers were admitted into care.

     I remember it well. Sitting at the kitchen table talking to my Uncle Bert Edwards. We’d had many conversations, but this one would be our last. The next day Uncle Bert was moving to a local nursing home. He did not want to go and we hated to send him, but everyone in the family was exhausted from providing him with around-the-clock care for months.

     Like everything in life, Uncle Bert accepted his fate with courage and grace. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said. The next day he entered the nursing home. Two weeks later, on October 31, 1994 he died at the age of 92. In spite of his humble and difficult early years, Bert Edwards would be the first to say that he had had a good life.

     Bert Horace Edwards was born March 27, 1902 at Leytonstone (Forest Gate), Essex, England to John Arthur Edwards (b.1852 King’s Lynn, Norfolk) and Sarah Jane (Luxton) Edwards (b. 1870 Aller, Somerset). Bert had two sisters Mabel and Tilley and two brothers Arthur and Fred. On July 6, 1908 John Edwards died at the age of 56.

The father was not insured and the mother was left in very destitute circumstances. She has hitherto supported herself and her children by charring but work has now fallen so much through removals that she has now only one day’s work weekly. After gradually disposing of her goods she applied for parish relief, which was granted to the extent of 3/- a week in food. Our officer saw many persons who had known her for two or three years, all of whom, as well as the relieving officer, spoke of her as a very respectable and willing woman. If the three boys are to be taken she proposes to go into service. The children are said to be healthy and intelligent. The mother in very poor circumstances applied for the admission of three of her children – Arthur (8), Bert (6) and Fred (4). (from Barnardo’s file on the Edwards brothers)

     Arthur, Bert and Fred were admitted to Barnardo’s and boarded out in England. Arthur went to the home of Miss H. S. Chamberlain as a protégé mate at the Palace, Hampton Court; Bert to Mrs. Marion Archer, Norfolk and Fred to Mrs. Ellen Leaver, Cranbrook, Kent.

     While the boys remained in England, their mother wrote to Barnardo’s requesting information and visits with. She was granted visits with Arthur and Fred while they were still in London but was denied a visit with Bert as it was against policy for a parent to visit a child once they were boarded out or until they had spent at least three months with their foster family. Sarah Jane Edwards wrote to Barnardo’s from December 1908 until the last of her sons Fred, left England in 1914. Each time she was provided with reports regarding the boys and photos of them.

     She was not able to visit with her sons before they were sent to Canada because she couldn’t afford the fare

Sarah Jane (Luxton) Edwards

Sarah Jane (Luxton) Edwards

and there was no provision for this from Barnardo’s. In addition to this barrier, the letters sent to inform her that the boys were being sent to Canada ended up in the Dead Letter Office. Barnardo’s provided her with the boys’ Canadian addresses and she wrote to them until 1916, perhaps longer. It’s not known whether the boys communicated with their mother after arriving in Canada.

     Sarah Jane (Luxton) Edwards remarried in 1911 and, sadly, died of cancer in 1918 at age 44. Giving up her sons must have been heartbreaking for Sarah. It was not a case of neglect or desertion; it was the result of intense poverty, common in early 1900’s Britain.

     The boys left England at different times – Arthur, age 10, on July 28 1910, Bert, age 9, on September 23, 1911, Frederick, age 9, on March 14, 1914. From Bert’s records, we know that he made attempts to contact his brothers as early as 1925. The brothers did connect with each other and visited over the years. Despite their separation as young children in England and the separation of distance in Canada, brotherly bonds remained.

     The boys had different life experiences and, while I know what happened to Bert, I only know a little about Arthur and Fred. Arthur and Fred developed a close relationship because Arthur moved in with Fred after the death of his wife, Maud. Fred and Arthur had another bond – both experienced abusive treatment at their placements in northern Ontario. The harsh treatment he received and the separation from his mother and family at such a young age had a profound effect on Fred. His family of five children said that while they loved him dearly, he was a very quiet and sad man. He was musically gifted and shared this gift with his family. Fred died in 1976 at the age of 72. The family lost touch with Arthur and do not know what happened to him. We know he enlisted in WWI, married, and had a son and a daughter and his last known location was the Oshawa/Toronto area. His son, Ronald, a talented pianist, was visually impaired. Arthur’s last correspondence with Barnardo’s was in 1935 when he was working in the mines in Timmins. Fred’s last contact with Barnardo’s was in 1925 when, he too, was living in Timmins. Their last contact with Bert was in 1929 while he was living in Peterborough.

bert-edwards-charles-beecher-barnardo-boysBert’s first placement in Canada was with a Mrs. Robert Peters in Forestville, Ontario (near Simcoe). It is here that he met Charlie Beecher (BHC 1909) and perhaps even his brother Robert (BHC 1909). The story of Robert Beecher is well known (The Tragic Life of Robert Henry Beecher – December 30, 2013 Promises Of Home). Robert was accused of killing a Mr. John Simmons. Mr. Simmons had been known for his abusive behaviour towards Robert. At the trial, Beecher was found not guilty of murder but guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. The judge gave him a suspended sentence. This is a unique connection with a photo of Charlie William Beecher and Bert Edwards found among Bert’s personal photo collection.

After leaving the Peters farm, Bert was sent to work on farms in Emily Township, Victoria County (Lindsay-Peterborough area). Bert was a good worker and a pleasant lad. Although, he never said that he became a part of any family he lived with, he said he was treated well and did not experience harsh treatment. He knew of other Home Children who did.

Bert maintained contact with Barnardo’s through letters and requests for books from their lending library. He read in the Barnardo newsletter, Ups and Downs, that he could take out books on loan and requested – The Sky Pilot, Highland the Air and Laddie. He received The Treasure of the San Philipo as the others were not available. Books were to be returned after three weeks to: 50 Peter Street, Toronto, Ontario. In his notes to Barnardo’s, Bert always signed off “one of the boys” or “one of the Barnardo Boys.”

Bert & Violet (McFarland) Edwards

Bert & Violet (MacFarland) Edwards

When Bert completed his indentured service typically at age 18), he road the rails west but later returned to Peterborough, where he married Violet McFarland and had four children. The death of his three year old daughter Eleanor in 1945, the result of a car accident, was a very painful chapter in his life. Bert retired from Canadian General Electric in Peterborough, in 1967. Bert and Violet had purchased a farm in Emily Township in 1945 and this farm became the centre of our family life, the gathering place for all family events – joyful, sad and in between. They were a generous, kind couple who opened their home to everyone. They attended Bethel United Church, the same church Bert had attended since moving to the area as a young British Home Boy. They sold the farm in 1985 and moved to Peterborough. Four years later, Violet passed away.

Bert Edwards never complained about his lot in life. He said he was better off coming to Canada. If he’d stayed in England, he thought he might have been forced to steal food to survive. Bert was respectful, intelligent, well-read, and highly regarded by all who knew him. He had a ready laugh and was always willing to lend a helping hand. Bert had his share of sadness and hardship, but he was not bitter about anything that happened in his life. While there were some negatives – he was very short, had turned up toes from wearing boots that were too small, smoked fat cigars and chewed tobacco – he focused on the positive aspects of life.  

If I knew then what I know now, I would have asked more questions, but at the time, I only had a vague understanding of what it meant to be a British Home Child. I knew about Barnardo’s because my grandmother was also a Barnardo Home Child. It wasn’t until years later that I researched family history and delved into the British Home Child immigration scheme. However, Bert provided enough information for me to find his mother’s family in England. He gave me the names of his father, mother and siblings. And while I did find some statements in the Barnardo records which conflicted with what he told me, his material provided key information. Barnardo’s helped me connect with Fred’s family. The most significant piece of information that Bert gave me, was that he thought his mother’s maiden name was Dean. It turned out that she had been first married to a Henry Dean who died one year into the marriage. The Dean name resulted in a connection to that family in England. They had been searching for Sarah Jane (Luxton) Dean and knew nothing about her marriage to John Arthur Edwards. There was an “aha” moment on both sides of the Atlantic when they realized we were both searching for the same woman.

I shared with them photos and the story of the three Edwards brothers and they provided me with the picture of Sarah Jane as well as her family history. When I look at her picture and read Sarah’s family history, I am left wondering why she didn’t reach out to her family in Somerset. Likely all branches of the family were suffering from poverty.

I am awed that Bert had such great recall of his early life, considering he was so young, only six, when the family broke up. I’m happy that I took notes. Thanks to him, I have been able to piece together a great deal of his family history, including some information about his father’s family. I am still looking for Arthur and his family and the two sisters Mabel and Tilley.

I wish Uncle Bert was here today sitting at his kitchen table. I’d tell him that I found  some of his family.  However, I can honour him and his brothers, Arthur and Fred, by telling their story. (Bert and Violet Edwards are both buried at Emily Cemetery.) —- Patricia Bronson

book coverRose McCormick Brandon is the author of Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, a collection of 31 stories. To contact Rose, email her at :



Edith Mary Pearson/Edith Pearson Pratt 1894-1967

January 5, 2017
Earliest photo of Edith Pearson Pratt

Earliest photo of Edith Pearson Pratt

Edith Mary Pearson knew that she was born in either 1893 or 1894, month and day unknown. She knew also that she had lived in Gateshead, England with her mother, Annie, and older brother, George, until October 22, 1901, when both disappeared from her life. A neighbor, Miss Shotton took Edith to the Gateshead Union Workhouse. Gateshead had recently built cottages to help house some of the enormous number of England’s destitute and abandoned children. Fostering programs and emigration programs couldn’t keep up with the need. The cottages at Gateshead housed up to 120 boys and 90 girls. Edith lived in Pansy cottage with approximately 35 other girls.

In 1903, Edith was sent to Barnardo’s Barkingside Girls Home in Ilford, Essex to prepare for emigration to Canada. At age nine, Edith boarded the SS Dominion with 126 other children. After arrival in Canada on October

Hazelbrae in Peterborough, Distribution Home for Girls, circa 1913

Hazelbrae in Peterborough, Distribution Home for Girls, circa 1913

2, 1903, she journeyed on to Barnardo’s transition home for girls, Hazelbrae, in Peterborough. From there, Edith and a girl named, Sarah Slack, went to the farm of John and Mary Ann Cox in Uxbridge, Ontario.

Like all Home Children, Edith became an indentured servant which means there was a contract between Barnardo’s and Mr. and Mrs. Cox which specified an annual wage for the child. This money was kept in trust until the end of the contract when the child could withdraw the money to begin an independent life in Canada. (see sample contract)

cox-family-with-edith-pratt-and-other-barnardo-children-1908Many kind and loving Canadian couples welcomed Home Children into their families, not merely as workers but as cherished members. This was the case with John and Mary Ann Cox. This couple became “parents” to several Barnardo children.

Documents show that in February 1904, Edith was “healthy but has a cold at present and a sty in her eye. She is a bright looking little girl with very good conduct, truthful and a good disposition.” The inspection report mentions that things are still new to Edith and that she has not yet settled. But, she “is happy, lovable and affectionate, a sweet singer and a member of the church choir.”

Two years later, on February 2, 1906, the same inspector, a Miss G., wrote that Edith “is a healthy bright intelligent girl with very good conduct.” She mentions that Edith and Sarah Slack are both doing well in school.

On January 20, 1909 another inspector noted that “Edith is a very good girl but her eyesight isn’t good.”

Edith and Clarence Russnell on their wedding day

Edith and Clarence Russnell on their wedding day

Edith married Clarence Rusnell on December 6, 1911. Clarence came from a farming family in the Uxbridge area. Miss Kennedy of Hazelbrae wrote to Edith: “I was glad to have your assurances that your friend bears good character and belongs to a respectable family.”

Clarence and Edith moved to Saskatchewan where they had four sons and five daughters. The boys’ names were Barton, Elwyn, Ross and Melwyn. The girls were Bernice, Dolores, Ernestine, Mavis and Gail. In the 1950s, most of the family moved back to Ontario with their parents. Only Barton and Elwyn, the two eldest, stayed out west.

Edith had always longed to know what  happened to her mother and brother. She wrote to Barnardo’s for information about her past. They wrote back on March 23, 1915.

“I am in receipt of your letter of the 22nd with reference to information required by the girl Edith Pearson regarding her relatives. From enquires which I have made, it has been ascertained that she was admitted to the Workhouse from Hartington Street, Gateshead where she and her mother were staying with a Miss Shotton.

“Owing to Miss Shotton’s complaints as to the irregular habits of the girl’s mother, the latter left Hartington Street on the 22nd of October 1901 and nothing has been heard of her since. Miss Shotton brought the child to these offices and she was admitted to the Workhouse on October 28th, 1901.

“I am sorry that I am not able to give you any further information regarding the mother. It was thought that perhaps further information might have been obtained from Miss Shotton but, it is found that she has left the address given and her whereabouts are not known.”

Between 1915 and 1965 Edith wrote many letters seeking information on the whereabouts of her mother and brother.

On July 23, 1965 a letter from the County Borough of Registration stated:

I have received a letter from Gail Rusnell (youngest daughter to Edith) of 3 Marden Avenue, Cullercoats asking for information about the death of Catherine Pratt. The Christian name is in doubt.  

According to the death registers in this area, there was an Emma Pratt aged 69 years, widow of William Hunter Pratt who died December 31st, 1903 at 83 Hudleston Street in Cullercoats. Should this answer your enquiry and you need a death certificate, please forward dollar value and the death certificate will be forwarded to you, signed by R. A. James, Superintendent of the Registrar. 

In July, 1965 Edith and daughter, Gail, went to England. They sent a note to the Barnardo offices requesting a visit. They hoped to receive information on Edith’s mother and brother. The request was granted but no further information was gleaned.

During their visit to England, The Northeast Journal in Northumberland

Fishing was one of Edith's passions.

Fishing was one of Edith’s passions.

England ran a story (July 12) entitled, A grandmother’s Pilgrimage. The article stated: Seventy year-old exile risks life to seek out relatives. Edith didn’t risk her life as the sensational headline infers but she did become unwell on the plane and required oxygen.

Soon after Edith returned home from the trip to England, her husband of fifty-four years passed away. Edith lived another two years and on March 9, 1967 at age 73, she passed away without knowing what became of her mother and brother. Members of Edith’s family continued to seek answers.

In the early 2000’s Edith’s granddaughter, Kimberlee Gruenwald, contacted Barnardo’s and requested Edith’s records. One of the few memories Edith had retained of her childhood in England was of a visit to a “Granny Pratt” at a sweet shop on Dove Street in Cullercoats, Northumberland, England.

Kimberlee couldn’t match Edith’s memories of Granny Pratt with the information that was available. Over the years, she posted her story on Curious Fox and Ancestry UK. She paid for numerous searches through Tyne and Wear Archives and the Durham County Records but received only bits of information that did not lead to the identity of Edith’s mother or brother.

When Edith’s youngest daughter, Gail, and the last of Edith’s children passed away in January 2011, Kimberlee received a letter from Patricia Bronson of Peterborough. Kimberlee says, “When I opened the letter, I assumed it was from a friend in Peterborough expressing their condolences at my aunt’s passing. I was very shocked and surprised to learn that Patricia Bronson was the granddaughter of Sarah Slack, the Barnardo girl who lived at the Cox farm with Edith.”


Grandchildren of Edith Pearson Pratt, Tiny Baker and Sarah Slack.

On September 28th 2011, more than one hundred years after Edith arrived in Canada, the grandchildren of Sarah Slack, Tiny Baker (another girl who lived with the Cox family) and Edith Pearson met for the first time in Peterborough at the first Ontario British Home Children Ceremony hosted by Ivy Sucee and the Hazelbrae Barnardo Home Memorial Group.

These grandchildren of child immigrants refer to themselves as foster cousins and keep in regular contact.

In early 2015, Kimberlee posted Edith’s story to the British Home Children and Research Association (BHCHRA) site. She received an email asking if her grandmother could be Edith Pearson Pratt as this person was listed on the 1901 England Census as an inmate of the Margaret McClusky Union Workhouse in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Edith had always been known as Edith Mary Pearson, not Edith Pearson Pratt. No wonder Edith and her family had searched in vain. The name discrepancy also explained Edith’s memory of visiting Granny Pratt’s sweet shop.

Kimberlee learned that Edith had been born to Annie Pratt on February 4, 1894 at 96 Meldon Terrace in the Sub District of Byker in the Counties of Newcastle Upon Tyne. No father is listed on the birth certificate. Since Edith’s name was changed to Pearson, Kimberlee believes this was the father’s name. Annie had been married to a Thomas Pratt who died one year after their wedding. This union produced a son, George. Four years later, Annie bore a second baby, Edith Pearson Pratt, father unknown. Illegitimacy carried a stigma and often these children were surrendered to Children’s Homes or abandoned.

The 1901 census showed that George Bold Pratt, son to Annie and the late Thomas was living with his grandmother Emma Pratt in Cullercoats. On the census, he’s listed as George Bold which hindered the search for him.

Edith’s illegitimacy explains why George’s grandmother took over his care but did not claim Edith since there was no blood relationship between them. However, Granny Pratt must have shown Edith kindness since she retained a warm memory of her. (George passed away on December 11, 1935 without seeing his sister Edith again.)

Kimberlee continues to search and would someday like to meet her relatives in England.

Edith’s name is memorialized on the Monument that Ivy Sucee and the Barnardo Home Memorial Group raised funds for and erected in Peterborough.

This prayer written by Edith Pearson Pratt Russnell expresses her love for family and her devotion to God.

Dear Lord, in that beautiful Heaven above

A home for all those who are good and loved

Save one little corner for me and dad.

Sometimes we’ve been good and sometimes bad.

We’ve raised a large family, some girls, some boys.

Shared all their heartaches and shared all their joys.

We’ve never been rich, mostly just poor

But we gave them our love and care ere o’er

We’ve prayed by their sick beds by night and by day

We asked for your guidance along the way

Dear Lord, you’ve been good loving and kind

Take care of them and those I’ve left behind

At the end of the road, we’ll be oh, so sad

So dear Lord save a corner for me and for dad

Information and photos for this story came from Kimberlee Gruenwald, daughter of Edith’s son, Ross.

book coverRose McCormick Brandon is the author of Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children. She writes for magazines, contributes to books like Chicken Soup for Soul O Canada, speaks at libraries, museums and genealogical societies. As well, Rose teaches Bible studies, writes articles of faith and speaks at Christian gatherings.

%d bloggers like this: