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Celebrating 100 Years: British Home Child, Grace Griffin Galbraith (Letters:1928-29)

May 14, 2012

Grace (Griffin) and Jim Galbraith (baby Lorma)

Today is May 13, 2012. One hundred years since 8 year-old Grace Griffin boarded the S.S. Corsican in Liverpool. She was headed to Canada, with her sister Lillian, to work as an indentured servant. The following 3 letters were written to her stepsister, Edith Kelly. The letters languished in a trunk in Edith’s attic in London for six decades, along with 3 from brother Edward. When she died, they were discovered by her niece and returned to my family.

Separated from her mother, her siblings and her country, Grace suffered mistreatment in at least one of her placements. (Read her full story here). These letters were written at a good time in her life. She is 24-25 years old. They are presented today to celebrate her gentle courage.

– Rose McCormick Brandon

Letter #1:

From: Grace Galbraith, Spring Bay, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada

July 1928

Dear Edith & Percy:

We received that wonderful and surprising letter a few days ago and all those lovely snap shots which I am always glad to get when they are of my own friends and relatives. Did you really mean to say that my mother had another baby after she was married again? I never knew anything of Winnie till you told me.

Well, I must relate a little of my own life since coming here. I worked out till I was sixteen then I got married and I have a good and loving husband and a good home. We have a 100 acre farm, a large barn and a fairly good house. We generally keep around 8 or 9 cows and pigs. I try to raise a lot of fowl every year so you know we ain’t idle. We have our place paid for now and I must add that we have four of a family, all girls at that. Evelyn is 7, Lorma 5, Mildred 3 and Leona 1 year of age. We have a 1918 model car but we intend dealing it on a new one next spring. 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.

This is our busiest time of the year. Jim is at the haying just now. I sometimes help him if I can. Jim is very good to help me at times. He is very fond of children and he was badly disappointed when one of the girls wasn’t a boy. (two years later they had a son).

I must say I was greatly pleased over your letter for you know I was young when I left there and what little I know of things there I forgot about it but I remember you people but I can never recollect of ever seeing my mother and I have no picture of her. I often have a longing to see some of my own folks. It was lonesome for me when Lily died. I missed her sisterly letters but I have quite a number of friends here and I like living here, it is a lovely place in the summer time but very cold and stormy with lots of snow in winter. Tedcame up to visit us one winter. He thought it very cold and

family photo Grace sent to Edith

backwood but it’s a great place for tourists in the summer. This was my first home and I guess that’s why I like it so well. I am sorry I haven’t more snap shots to send. I have no Kodak. I generally get someone to come and take a few for me whenever they can. This one is a group of Jim and I and the three oldest children. I’ll try and get some more taken after a while.

I would like to hear from Winnie, if you could see her and give her my address to write I would be very glad and her letters will be greatly appreciated. Ted is taking in a nice income I guess but it would take a great deal more than what he is earning for to buy a farm and keep a family. He has no idea of what responsibility is yet.

The Manitoulin can boast a good crop this year. We had some poor crops for the last few years that a good crop will be quite welcomed. Well, I think I will close. I am writing with the baby on my knee so I hope you will excuse my poor scrawling. With love from Grace & Jim and family.

Wishing you both every happiness that life can give in your married life, Grace XXXXXXXX Goodbye and write soon. You letters will always be welcomed.

P.S. It is a shame that your father had such a spirit to use the family as he did and it must have been very hard to have stood it all but I hope he will yet realize his mistake before he gets too old. I would like to have heard from you before now for I haven’t heard any word from England for 8 years. I hope when you write again that your dad will be more softened towards you. It makes life hard when your parents are against their own. With love and sympathy from Grace. If ever I should go to England I will certainly go to see you but I don’t expect we will ever get that far away but if you can ever make the grade to come you will both be greatly welcomed.

Letter #2 – December 17, 1928

Dear Edie & Percy –

We received your most kind and welcome letter of Oct. I am sorry not to have answered it sooner. I received a letter from Winnie (half-sister to both Grace and Edith – Grace’s mother married Edith’s father, both were widowed) some time ago and I have just answered it lately. I am preparing for Xmas and the days seem too short for the amount there is to be done but I have got at your letter which should have been wrote long ago.

Edith Kelly (right), stepsister who saved Grace’s letters
Winnifred Kelly (left), the half-sister Grace asks about in her letters

The children are all the time talking of Santa Claus and what he’ll bring. Evelyn is going to school and there’s no end to the things she wants. It doesn’t seem no time since I used to be wonder what Xmas would bring. Now I have to help play Santa Claus for my own. It’s good past time. Ted is here for Xmas this year (see his letter of December 1928). He is having a great time, especially with the young ladies around.

I suppose by the time you get this letter, Xmas will be over and we will be looking forward to what the new year has in store for you. I hope it brings you both many joys and pleasures – they say each year brings joy and sorrow but I think we can always look back with something to be thankful for.

I hope this finds you both in the best of health and that Winnie is on the mend. Ted speaks a lot of England. He talks of wanting to live there. I guess I was pretty young when I left there for I can’t remember very much of anything over there. I can’t even ever remember seeing my mother although I often wish that I had a mother now to go and see but I never seemed to have a real desire to go to England. For one thing I have never done any traveling since I cam to this country and money is another problem but I would like to see you all just the same but I feel glad that I have met you in this way itself.

I wish you could see our little girls. The baby is getting real cute. She is able to talk a little and she is running all over. I’ll try and get some snaps taken of them and then I can send some to you. Our car rides for this year are over. Jim laid the car up for the winter. We have had some snow storms but our real winter has not set in yet. Ted is looking for the ice to freeze good to go skating. Jim and I don’t bother going any more. It is too cold to take the little ones but it is good sport for the young folks. We have been busy these last few days plucking fowl. We haven’t as many this year as what we usually have but it all helps – 5 geese, 20 chickens and 14 turkeys. A year ago we made $120.00 out of our fowl but this happened to be our year.

Well, news is scarce. I’ll close for now. Wishing you both a Merry Xmas and a happy new year from your loving sister and Jim and family. Write soon.

Letter #3

March 21, 1919 – from Spring Bay, Manitoulin Island, Canada

Dear Edie & Percy –

We received your welcomed Xmas card and I would have answered long ago but I had mislaid your letter somewhere or else the children got it and Ted had gone to the logging camp about 60 miles from here and I waited till he came back to get your address. He was away 2 months and was very glad to get back. He said the work was very hard. The job was new to him and I guess that didn’t help him any.

I hope you are both well. We are all fine now. The baby and I had the flu but we got over it all right. Jim is as well as ever again. Ted is talking of going back down east again as he can’t find no steady work here. I would like him to stay and he may yet, I don’t know. He earnt around 100 dollars while he was in the camp. I told him he was doing better than we were. Of course, we have a family to keep now. Well, it is crawling on to Easter and the children are looking forward for a feed of eggs. That’s the way they celebrate the Easter season here – the hens have just started to lay. We don’t trouble much with fowl any more for the foxes and owls seem to get the most of them in the fall.

Our cold weather will soon be at a close. The snow is pretty near gone but it freezes hard at night and it is very windy through the day. Those that has hardwood bushes will appreciate the weather for it is just what they want for making maple syrup. Jim is talking of buying some. It sells around two and half to three dollars a gallon. I suppose you haven’t seen a sugar bush as they call it here but if you ever do you will think it great fun. They tap the maple trees or chop a piece out of the tree for the sap to run. Then it’s boiled down in large kettles till it is syrup and sometimes it is boiled right down to candy. I have seen it made in a small way. I would like if we had a few treats but we haven’t.

How is Winnie getting along? I wrote to her and intended writing to you at the same time but I lost the address. I’ll be more careful next time. Well, news is scarce just now. Ted will likely write to you later on when he decides on what he is going to do. With love and wishes for a happy Easter from Grace & Jim & family.

P.S. Jim said those kisses you sent were all for him. I told him it was a long way to go for a kiss.


book coverPromises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children by Rose McCormick Brandon was published in 2014. This collection of 31 stories is dedicated to the author’s grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2012 7:47 pm

    Rose – what an extraordinary woman your grandmother was – and what a gift the letters are to your family – I was so struck by how she had little memory of her mother – but despite that seems to have gone on to create loving relations with her husband, children, gchildren, friends and family back in England – she sounds a gentle loving soul who somehow found her way despite everything – Cheri

    • May 15, 2012 6:38 pm

      Thanks Cheri – Yes, my grandmother was a gentle soul. Considering the only foundation she had for life was what she learned in the children’s home, she did so well. WhenI think she was only a young child when sent to live with strangers, it’s astounding that she thrived in life.

      Rose McCormick Brandon Professional Member of The Word Guild

      Listening to My Hair Grow: The Promise of Home, Stories of British Home Children:

  2. Amanda Lewis permalink
    May 28, 2012 7:55 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 these! 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!

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