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The Four Bowling Children

June 23, 2014

After the death of their mother, Emma, the four Bowling children were referred to Annie MacPherson’s Home of Industry by a minister from Paddington City Mission.

Their father, John, showed little interest in the children. He went on to produce two more families of children, abandoned them all, lived a long life and died a pauper.

After the four Bowlings went to the MacPherson Home, all were sent to Canada on the Tunisian. Martha 12, Albert 9, Robert 8 and Barnes 6 arrived on May 19, 1900.

On arrival in Canada, the four siblings went to the MacPherson transition home in Stratford and from there were sent to separate homes.

Martha Bowling went to live with the Mispel family as a domestic. She looked after their two young children and later moved to Detroit, Michigan with this family.

Albert Bowling went to Elgin West to live with Charles and Margaret Shaw and was considered by them as an “adopted son.”

Robert Bowling went to Harriston in Wellington County to live with George and Harriet Barber and their two children. Later, when he joined the military, he listed Martha as his next of kind.

Barnes, the youngest of the Bowling children, had the most difficult time. He was placed with six different families in Ontario before he found a good home. Each of the six described him as shy, an unwilling worker or as having “a bad habit” which most likely meant that he wet the bed.

Emma Bowling - half-sister to Four Bowling Child Immigrants

Emma Bowling – half-sister to Four Bowling Child Immigrants

Ann Bowling, a descendant of Emma Bowling, one of the four Bowling’s half-sisters, who lives in England, wrote about this about Barnes Bowling in The Guardian, March 6, 2010:

Having survived until the age of 60, Barnes was run over and killed by a car in 1954. He died single, with no family, and with “parents unknown” listed on his statement of death. He was buried among fellow soldiers in the First World War veterans plot at Woodland cemetery in Ontario. What had seemed to be a very sad story had a rather uplifting ending. Barnes’s obituary notice in the local Ontario paper was headed: Had no wife or children, Good Samaritan leaves big family of mourners.

Barnes had apparently provided financial support to an old friend, his wife and their eight children when illness had prevented them from working. This was summed up in the words of one of them: “Barney stuck by us … kept us all well-fed and in school.”

All three Bowling brothers enlisted for Canada in WWI. This fact alone makes the Bowlings more than worthy of mention even is little else is known about them. On his Attestation Form, Robert listed his sister, Martha, as his next of kin, indicating that these two had some contact.



A band of child pilgrims in mass exodus, numbering 100,000, spanning seven decades (1869-1939), arrived in Canada. Like seed, they were scattered from Atlantic to Pacific, not in handfuls as would have been appropriate for children, but in singles, one here, another there. Hampered by the derogatory label, Home Child, severed from their familial connections, against the odds, they took root and became grounded and sturdy enough to change the landscape of our young Dominion.

It’s time to cry over the abuses they suffered, to applaud their successes and to say, as a nation, “thank you.”

PROMISES OF HOME is a special collection of thirty-two British Home Child stories. Includes photos, foreword by Lori Oschefski, notes from Jim Brownell, Phil McColeman and John Sayers, plus eight additional stories by Canadian authors who are descendants of BHC.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Arnold....proud daughter of Nellie Page a Barnardo girl.... permalink
    June 23, 2014 4:04 pm

    Rose another sad tale of these poor kids and dead beat dad. My MOM came in 1912, from the time her mother died when she was 4 years old. She knew or heard nothing from her father, never mentioned him, only talked about the death of her Momma. These kids who became parents of children, grandparents, aunt, uncles, I am guessing thousands here in Canada, certainly deserve a BIG THANK YOU.. never complaining, never telling their stories, only after death are we finding out how deplorable things were for them! I am very pleased about your book, and I can’t wait to read it, and some of my family also want to know when?? Thank you again for another well written story of another BHC family!! and yes there are tears in my eyes… Mary Arnold

    • June 23, 2014 4:53 pm

      Thank you Mary. When the book is available for purchase, I’ll send out a special blog post. Your dear mother’s story, and your uncle’s, are both in the book. I always like the way you sign yourself as “the proud daughter of Nellie Page.” And you should be proud of a courageous mom who kept a loving attitude throughout her life in spite of the many difficulties she faced.

  2. June 24, 2014 4:27 am

    Gosh; another heart breaking story; these poor unloved children who must have felt so alone, so mixed up at such young ages. You really wonder about the father, just how could he neglect his children??? Sadly this is a question we will never know the answer. That was amazing of Barnes, he looked after his friends wife and children; after the friend died. He had a heart of compassion, something he learnt, but not from his father. Bless him.

  3. June 24, 2014 11:49 am

    Barnes, a boy who grew up neglected, left a legacy of kindness. Lives like his inspire me.

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