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.
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
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
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’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.”
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
Rose 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 : email@example.com.
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
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)
Many 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 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
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.”
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.
Rose 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.
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.