John Page: Twice a Home Child
John first came to Canada in July, 1904 at age 10. He arrived in Quebec on the SS Southwark. From there, he was taken to Toronto. In January, 1905 he was sent back because it was reported that had the unacceptable and “filthy habit of wetting himself and the bed.” We can only imagine the humiliation and rejection he felt.
John stayed at the Barnardo home in London until May 1908, when at age 14, he was again sent to Canada. He arrived in Quebec on SS Dominion and again was taken to Toronto. This time, he was placed with the well-known Kirkwood family in Rockside, Ontario. Documents from the time he lived with them show that John was healthy, capable and truthful.
In 21, John joined the third contingent in Georgetown and sailed overseas from Montreal in August 1915. He spent 1 year in the trenches in France with the 42nd Battalion. He was wounded and hospitalized for a short time in 1917. During his time with the Canadian Armed Forces, John went to England on leave. Many child immigrants who joined the military used their leaves to return to their homeland and search for family. Perhaps John considered whether he would return to live in England after the war. Whatever his future plans may have been, he was delighted to discover while he was there that he had a sister, Nellie, in Canada who had also been sent to Canada by the Barnardo Homes.
When John left the army he returned to Canada. In April 1918 he found a job in a Georgetown, Ontario factory. At the same time, he began to search for his sister, Nellie, and eventually found her married and living in North Bay, Ontario. The two kept in contact as much as they could considering the distance between them and the fact that they had never known one another.
John married and had a son whom he named Kirkwood after the family he lived with and worked for. It seems John kept a close connection with this family. After Kirkwood was born, John’s wife died. He moved to Toronto and raised his son there by himself until he also died in 1940. It was his wish that Nellie look after his son after his death but her husband had taken ill and on her meager income, she was unable to accept the responsibility of raising John’s son.
Kirkwood, a teenager, went to live with a member of the Kirkwood family, but he was troubled by the loss of both father and mother and ran away at an early age and joined the army.
John experienced many hardships in his lifetime. But it would make him happy today to know that Nellie’s daughter, Mary Arnold, found his grandchildren in Digby, Nova Scotia and keeps in regular contact with them.
Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, a collection of 31 stories by author, Rose McCormick Brandon, is available here.