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Charles Holloway: Man of Mystery by Ruth Ann (Holloway) Adams

March 6, 2012

In the final year of the 1880s, a boy child, named Charles Edward, was born in England to W. Ernest Holloway and Mccatherine Burt. What his early life was like is open for conjecture. Did he have a Dickensian childhood, complete with crime and poverty, or was there a gentler side to his story? Whatever his early background, my paternal grandfather, traveled on the ship, Canada, to Canada in 1911, as one of the many British boys who were offered a new life away from England’s shores.

St. George's House, Ottawa (now Holy Rosary Church)

Charles was taken to St. George’s House (now Holy Rosary Church) on Wellington Street in Ottawa.  A plaque commemorating the Home Children was unveiled there in June, 1998.  From there, Charles was assigned to work on a farm. Nearby, on the Old Prescott Road, near Enniskerry, lived James and Catherine (Larkin) McEvoy. The family had ten children, including a daughter named Cecilia Mary. A courtship ensued and Charles and Cecilia married and headed west to homestead.

The couple settled in Saskatchewan and had seven children: Beatrice, Patrick, Kathleen, Bernard, Lillian, Shirley and Robert. My dad, called “Bernard” after a brother of Charles, shared very little with me in the way of personal memories of his father. He said his dad was a away a lot, working on the railroad. Cecilia struggled to manage her large brood of children. She was distracted enough that Dad thought for years his name was “Bernard John,” only to find out that his mother had mistakenly written “Bernard James” on his birth certificate!

Charles led something of a rough existence, a heavy drinker and gambler. On the weekends, though, when he returned home from work,  he always brought his youngest son, Robert, a large penny. My dad enlisted in the war when he was only 15, and by the time he returned, his father had died, at the relatively young age of 54. The circumstances surrounding his death are something of a mystery. He drowned in a river that runs through Peterborough, but his body wasn’t discovered for six weeks. During my childhood, I heard various explanations of his death.  Was it merely an accident or something more sinister, such as a murder over a gambling debt? I wonder why it took so long to find his body and how his family felt during those long six weeks.

Charles was buried in a pauper’s grave, in Belleville, Ontario, with at least some of his family in attendance for his funeral. Robert remembers his sisters “giving him heck” for not crying, but he was only a very little boy. Some years later, Robert and his wife, Helen, returned to Belleville and found the old grave marker.

I have long wanted to see a picture of Charles, to get a sense of his physical appearance. The only picture, though, that I have ever seen is a group photo, with very indistinct faces. I like to think he was a bit like my dad: just under six feet tall, slim build, expressive eyes. Perhaps he had Dad’s marvellous and offbeat sense of humour. What  I do know is that Charles was one of the many Home Children who came to Canada and helped create its history.

Next Story: Ethel Crane by Diana Holvik

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