Edward Griffin – by Rose McCormick Brandon
Edward (Ted) Griffin, born in 1900, stepped aboard the SS Corsican, bound for Canada, on August 5, 1912 at age 11. His younger sisters, Grace and Lily, had boarded the same ship on May 14 of the same year.
Edward, along with his two sisters, was taken to one of The MacPherson Homes in London when he was 5. For many years our family believed they entered an orphanage after the death of their mother. Edward and Grace (my grandmother) allowed this myth to continue throughout their lives. Through connections with family back in England, we learned through old letters and other documents that this was not true. They were taken to the Home by their step-father, a Mr. Kelly, not long after their father’s death. Their mother didn’t die until 1911, the year before all three immigrated to Canada.
My mother, Mildred (Galbraith) McCormick, niece of Edward, (daughter of Grace), visited England in the 1990s She and her sister, Evelyn, met with Winnifred, the only child born to Mr. Kelly and Edward’s mother, Esther. Winnifred said then that her father had been a harsh man, even with his own children.
It’s clear Edward held resentment toward his stepfather and blamed him for separating him from his mother. In a letter written in 1928 (Edward’s letters) to his step-sister, Edie Kelly, Edward writes:
“I tried to get around and visit everybody I knew in England when I was there last winter. I didn’t want to see your father as I had no use for him. I guess you know that.”
On arrival in Canada, Edward first went to a foster home (as he called it) in Stratford. At 12, he went to the farm of Mr. Willard Scott at Curries Crossing, near Woodstock, Ontario. He stayed there until age 23, 5 years after his indentured service ended, indicating that he and the Scott family had a good relationship. He spent the next five years moving around, working on farms in the Toronto area and traveling west. Sometime during this five-year period of roaming, Ted searched for and found Grace. At 20, she was already married with children. It was the first the siblings had seen one another in 14 years. Lily, Edward’s other sister, passed away in 1921.
At age 28, Edward returned to England, looking for a place that felt like home. During his time in England, he may have visited his Griffin grandmother who lived in Upper Holloway. In his letters to Edie he speaks of trying to visit everyone he knew. This seems to imply that even though he’d been in the home since age 5 and left England at age 11, he wanted to connect with family. He was also looking for a wife. This is evident in one of his letters. After four months in England, unable to find meaningful employment, he returned to the Scott farm in Curries Crossing.
One year later, Mr. Scott sold the farm due to ill health and moved to the city. After that, Edward felt at loose ends. The story in our family is that the Scotts, who didn’t have children, treated Ted like family and left their estate to him. In the letters we have written by Ted, he doesn’t mention much about the Scotts even though he spent 10 years with them.
Four years after finding Grace, and after leaving the Scott farm, Ted connected with her again. He spent considerable time with Grace and her husband, James Galbraith, sometimes working for the winter months in a nearby logging camp. Ted had great affection for Grace’s five children, all of whom have happy memories of time spent with their Uncle Ted. He spent Christmases and sometimes spent several weeks with Grace and Jim. He courted a woman named Della Legge but seemed to find it difficult to make permanent connections with people. My aunts remember him going out with several girls but not taking any relationship seriously.
Ted eventually moved permanently to northern Ontario to be near Grace and her family. In 1938, he found work at Inco nickel mines in Sudbury, Ontario. He settled there but remained unmarried until 1953 when he met Jean Buell, a widow with two grown children. First, he was her boarder. Then, the two fell in love and married. Ted had a difficult time settling down – his letters show a young man who seems lost, searching, unable to stay put for any length of time.
Ted had a reputation for speaking his mind. My mother tells about a humorous incident that happened on one of his visits to their home when she was a child. The whole family attended a community gathering. A local man, known to be overly-curious, sidled up to Ted and said, “I don’t think I’ve met you before.” Instead of telling the man who he was and where he came from, Ted, in his usual straight-forward fashion replied: “I’m damned sure you haven’t.” My mother remembers Ted as a loner, tight with his money, blunt, kind but unable to relate to children.
My memories of Ted are of an older man. He had a confident air, was well-dressed (this is true of him even as a young man). When Grace and Jim retired from farming, they moved to Espanola, an hour closer to Sudbury and Uncle Ted, and only two doors from my family’s home. Many Sunday afternoons Uncle Ted and Aunt Jean came to visit. Jean’s refined manner rubbed off somewhat on Ted as he tended to bluntness. Neither Uncle Ted nor my grandmother, Grace, seemed resentful of their forced immigration to Canada, though they both suffered from it. Grace never talked about her childhood. Ted did He admitted to being an orphan but not to the fact that his mother had abandoned them. Neither used the term “home child.” In spite of their childhood hardships, both Ted and Grace were glad they came to Canada.
Ted was more fortunate than many home children in that he spent his indentured service with one good family. But, he never lost his yearning to connect with his real family.
When he retired from Inco, in 1965, a photo and article about him appeared in the Sudbury Star. It began
with these words:
Born in London, England, in 1900, within earshot of the ancient Bow bells, Edward Griffin is proud of his Cockney heritage. Orphaned by the time he was five (he considered himself an orphan, but his mother didn’t die until he was 11), he was raised in an orphanage home until he was 11. Edward recalls that he made the sailing on the S. S. Corsican and that the journey took 14 days.
Edward passed away in Sudbury, Ontario in 1978.
Next post: For a look into Edward’s mindset, read his 1928, 29 letters.