Honouring Barnardo Boys in Wainfleet by Rose McCormick Brandon
On Saturday, April 28, the Wainfleet Brethren in Christ Church held a special luncheon event to honor Barnardo boys who arrived in Canada 100 years ago. These boys went to farms in the Wainfleet area and grew up in the church.
Lester Fretz, organizer of the event, told more than 200 attendants that their church had been enriched by these young immigrants.
Penny Morningstar, Curator of the Welland Museum, talked about organizing an exhibit of British Home Children stories and artifacts. “It was the most emotional exhibit I’ve ever worked on,” she said. She told of a man in his 90s who had always been afraid of mice. As with most home children he hadn’t talked about his childhood. In his last days he revealed to his family that at 6 years of age he was sent to live with a farm family who housed him in the barn. Afraid of the dark, he cuddled up with his only friend, the dog. Mice scurried about him at night terrifying him. The pain of this experience stayed with him his whole life.
Morningstar told of another BHC who, in his last days, ended up in hospital. He muttered in semi-coherence about his early days of suffering in Canada. His family thought he was hallucinating but the man in the other bed recognized his memories because he too had been a Home boy. She concluded that BHCs find other BHCs.
Morningstar remarked that in her interviews with BHC she was surprised not to find anger and bitterness. “They had every right to anger,” she said, “but I found generous people, hard workers, but people who didn’t want to talk a lot about their experiences. The door of information opened and closed quickly.”
Christine Hill, granddaughter of William Hawkins told how she and her mother visited Barnardo Homes in London and received documents from his file, including a photo of William and his brother Samuel when they were admitted in 1905. Ms. Hill became teary in her presentation. She explained that even though her grandfather died in 1959 before she was born his plight touched her heart. She shared how medical reports in the Barnardo file showed that the brothers were malnourished, had rickets and other diseases. Both boys came to Canada in 1906. William went to Burney Township.
Mary-Jean Charlton Steckley, daughter BHC William Charlton, told of her father’s immigration to Canada when he was six. He was placed in a few difficult homes before going to the home of Andrew and Elizabeth Sider in Wainfleet. He attended the Wainfleet Brethren in Christ Church with the Siders and as an adult became a minister in the denomination.
Alexander Cloke’s daughter, Rhoda Marr, told how her father immigrated in May 1909 at age 9. Alexander went to live with a Wainfleet family who loved him. Clark told how this family remained close to them her entire life. She referred to them as Grampa and Gramma. Alexander kept in touch with his siblings in England and visited them. His older sister also visited him in Canada. Clark ended by saying that she wished all Barnardo Boys could have experienced the happy home life in Canada that her father experienced.
Lester Fretz concluded the day by listing some of the names of known British Home Children who lived in the Wainfleet area. Florence Smith Fraser, born in 1897, arrived at age 8. Frank Bright. Fred Taylor, Ken Crier and a Mr. Thwait. He asked for all descendants of BHC present at the meeting to stand. Approximately 40 people stood.
Amongst the fascinating display of BHC memorabilia was a trunk, a Bible, a New Testament, a boot, documents from Barnardo files and many photographs of the children. One man brought his grandfather’s good behavior medallion.
Thanks to Mr. Fretz for providing a much-needed opportunity for the offspring of BHC to meet. For me, it was also an opportunity to meet Lori Oschefski and Lori Siddall, two people I’ve corresponded with on-line. Lori O. is related to 13 BHC. She is committed to providing information for the children of BHC and continues to do extensive research. You can read stories of her relatives here and here. (visit Lori O.’s website here.)