Grace Griffin Galbraith – by Rose McCormick Brandon
On May 3, 1912 Grace Griffin, age 8, boarded the SS Corsican in Liverpool. The ship brought her to Canada along with her 10 year-old sister Lillian. Their older brother, Edward, sailed on the same ship in August of the same year.
Grace is the youngest of three children born to Emily Elizabeth Rayner and Edward James Griffin. Her father took his own life at age twenty-eight, a few months before Grace’s birth.
Grace’s mother then married William Charles Kelly, a nieghbour widower eleven years older and a father of three.
For many years Grace’s family believed that she and her siblings ended up at one of The MacPherson Homes because their mother died. Information shows that they were placed in The Home shortly after their mother’s remarriage. Their mother didn’t die until 1911.
William Kelly put his three children and Emily’s three in the Home. After a time, Kelly reclaimed his children but not the three Griffins. When the Kelly children got back home they discovered another child, Winnifred, had been born to Emily and William. Grace didn’t know about this child until Edith Kelly wrote to her in 1928.
Grace’s mother, Emily Elizabeth died in 1911 at age thirty-three of tuberculosis. A year after their mother’s death, the three Griffin children became part of the British Child Immigration movement.
On arrival in Canada, Grace was separated from her sister, Lillian. Grace was placed with a Thamesville family and Lillian went to Toronto. After two brief placements, Grace was sent to a Manitoulin Island farming family where she was abused and mistreated. She slept in the barn and was seldom invited into the house.
A local minister, Rev. Munro, became aware of Grace’s situation. He removed her from the Knight home and placed her with the George Gilpin family of Brittainville, also on Manitoulin Island. She stayed with this fine family until age 14 when the Gilpin’s daughter Mable married William MacDonald. The young couple took Grace to live with them on a farm in Providence Bay. Her association with the Gilpin/MacDonald family was a happy one. Many members of this family remained life-long friends to Grace and some still remain friends with Grace’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Grace lived with the MacDonalds until she married James Galbraith at age seventeen on February 28, 1920. The wedding took place at the United Church in Gore Bay, followed by a wedding supper at the MacDonald home. Attendants were Nelson Galbraith, brother of the groom, and Mae King, friend of Grace. Jim, 29, was a loving husband and good provider.
The two lived on a farm near Providence Bay until their retirement in 1952.They moved to Espanola, a paper town 70 miles from the island. They had five children: Evelyn Legge Pattison, Lorma Middaugh ( deceased), Mildred McCormick (Espanola), Leona Sloss (Espanola) and Ransford Galbraith (deceased).
A year after Grace’s marriage, her sister Lillian died of TB. We know the two had contact by letter until Lillian’s death. In a 1928 letter to relatives back in England, Grace wrote: “It was lonesome for me when Lily died. I missed her sisterly letters.”
Edward (Ted), searched for Grace and found her a few years after her marriage. A bachelor until his fifties, Ted moved near Grace and maintained close ties with her.
When Jim and Grace retired from farming, they built a house two doors from their daughter Mildred’s, my mother. For most of my childhood, I saw them nearly every day. Grace, like many Home Children, didn’t talk about her childhood. If it had been left to her, none of us would know much about her past. But because the community of Providence Bay is small, everyone knew where she’d come from and some of the troubles she’d had.
In her widowed years, Grace told fanciful stories about belonging to an affluent family who traveled the world. We believe she concocted these fantasies as a child to offset her sufferings. In old age, she returned to the day-dreams for comfort.
A number of years ago, Grace’s son, Ransford Galbraith, was contacted by relatives of Grace’s half-sister, Winnie, in England. Everyone was excited about this, everyone but Grace. Our family felt sad that she couldn’t enjoy meeting these people when they came to Canada to visit. But, she was well into her eighties by then and had lived alone for a number of years.
From the family in England, we discovered Grace had written letters to a step-sister, Edith Kelly, in England. She never mentioned this woman to her children. Now, every member of the family has copies of these letters written in Grandma’s own hand. In one of the letters, dated July 1928 she wrote, “I can’t ever regret coming to Canada for I have always had a good time. I have had to work hard but I don’t mind that, for I love to work.” The “good time” part wasn’t true of most of her childhood but her happy marriage and the births of her children caused her to forget some of her early hardships.
Grace’s letters were written by a young woman pleased with life. She mentions her children and husband with pride. And writes of farm life in words that show she feels blessed and successful. Perhaps the reason Grace wasn’t excited about re-connecting with English relatives appears in one of her letters. She writes: “I was young when I left there (England) and what little I know of things there I forgot about it . . . I can never recollect of ever seeing my mother and I have no picture of her.” In the same letter she expressed, “a longing to see some of my own folks.”
The family received a photo of Grace’s mother along with other documents from the reconnected relatives in England.
Grace Griffin Galbraith passed away at age 99. She spent the last years of her life at the nursing home in Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island. At her funeral, the minister (someone who had known her for decades) said that God often makes up for difficult childhood years by putting kind, gentle people into the person’s adult life. This was true for Grace. Her husband and all five of her children and their twenty-two children loved and cherished her.
Grace was a loving grandmother, gentle and generous. After a childhood filled with loss – her parents, sister, home, family connections, country – Grace’s longings for family and home came to pass in Canada.
Her eldest daughter, Evelyn, writes: “I feel sad for the unfortunate beginning my mother had but am most thankful for the better life she was offered in Canada.”
Grace died in February, 2003. She would’ve been 100 in November of that year.
Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children by Rose McCormick Brandon, is available here. This collection of 31 stories is dedicated to the author’s grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith.