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Grace Griffin Galbraith – by Rose McCormick Brandon

January 10, 2012

Grace Griffin Galbraith, aged 15

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.

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

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.”

Grace and brother Edward (Ted) in center (Jim to Grace’s left, her 5 children behind)

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.


book coverPromises 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.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Melody Rooth permalink
    January 16, 2012 3:14 am

    Such a courageous story you tell of Great-Grandma, Mom! I really enjoyed reading this and am looking forward to the other stories. It’s such a blessing to have these stories of family history to share with our children one day.

  2. January 18, 2012 4:30 pm

    This comment comes from my sister Brenda . . . it’s important to share the memories she has of our grandmother:
    Well this true story about Gramma is hard to read without feeling sad for her, yet what we saw as we grew up was a generally happy women with five healthy children who have contributed a whole lot to their communities. I want to focus on the happy part of her life and Grampa was the perfect husband for her and they had a good marriage. Although she had some unusual coping skills especially after Grampa died, my good memories are visiting them and playing crib for two hours at a time. We all laughed alot. They enjoyed their grandchildren. Always had to offer us lots of candy and cookies for the “kiddies”. She sure was strong and so is our mother. Thanks for the research and writing her story Rose. Love Brenda

  3. January 18, 2012 4:34 pm

    The following comment comes from Kim Legge Bone, a great-granddaughter of Grace’s:

    Thanks so very much for writing this and as a great granddaughter of Grace’s, I must say that I knew some of this information but I had no idea what Great Gramdma went thru when she was a young child and woman!
    I am in tears as I write this and feel for her so much that life had to be so hard and lonely, but but I am thankful for her being such a strong woman who no matter what moved forward with her life and loved her family so very much!
    She was truly and still is an insperation to all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren and now great great children.
    As a woman I thank her for being the stregth in the family that raised such strong women as my grandmother Evelyn and my Aunts!!
    Thanks you so much Rose for this it truly is an amazing thing your doing!!!
    Love Kim

  4. bill mccormick permalink
    January 20, 2012 5:15 am

    Hi Rosie -just a short note to let you know that I was inspired to look for more information on Gramma’s siblings. namely our great aunt Lillian. After several hours of searching I found the death registration that is needed to tell her life story. As short as it was I think it was eventful. That’s all I’m going to tell for now, wouldn’t want to spoil a good story. Love, your little brother BILLY

    • January 20, 2012 1:19 pm

      Sounds intriguing Bill – How about writing her story? I’d love to post something with your name as the author.

  5. February 2, 2012 10:07 pm

    Thank you, Rose, for sharing this story. I came to Canada at age 11 with my parents and siblings. Despite having my family with me it was a hard adjustment and I missed my grandparents, cousins and friends greatly. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a child, alone in a strange land, a child that people were prejudiced against (orphans were looked down upon). Your grandmother sounds like a great woman who managed to overcome the things she suffered. I’m glad she had a happy ending in her life.

    • February 3, 2012 1:37 pm

      It’s so hard for any of us to imagine being separated from every single family member in a foreign country. And put into a farm setting when most had never set foot on a farm. My grandmother had a very difficult time until she was about 13. That’s when she finally went to live with a kind family.

  6. Amanda Lewis permalink
    May 28, 2012 7:57 pm

    I just happened to come across this website today and I wanted to leave a comment to say how nice it is to read this! Grace would have been my great great grandmother, I was named after her (Middle name) and we have the same birthday, I always remembered that. Her daugher Evelyn is my great grandmother, Evelyns daughter June is my fathers mother. This has been really great to read and I will make sure I show this to my parents as well! Thank you so much!

    • May 28, 2012 8:01 pm

      Amanda – what a treat to hear from you. We’ve met, but of course, you were much too young to remember. I do recall that you are named after her but I’d forgotten that you shared a birthday. Edward Griffin and Lillian Griffin (their stories are here too) are also your ancestors. You can also read Edward and Grace’s letters. It’s really special to have a comment from a great, great granddaughter of Grace’s.

      • Amanda Lewis permalink
        May 28, 2012 11:33 pm

        My mom and I read all of the letters from everyone a few minutes ago. It is so amazing to read them especially because I don’t really remember the few times I met her. I only have pictures of me as a baby with them. I wish I could say I remembered meeting you but I don’t. My parents both remember you though and say hello. Thank you again for posting these they really are very special!!

  7. May 29, 2012 12:05 am

    Amanda, I’m so glad you got to read the stories and letters. It’s so important for us to know the people whose blood flows through our veins. Knowing you come from a strong woman like your great-great grandmother who faced the struggles of life alone in a strange country at such a young age, lets you and I know that no matter what struggles we face, we can make it too. She held no grudges. And she maintained a faith in God that she learned while in the children’s home in England. It’s made my day to hear from you.
    Blessings to you and your parents. I hope I get to see on Manitoulin one of these days. We’ll be there for the whole summer.

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