Hazelbrae Barnardo Home Memorial Group Celebrates British Home Child Day
On Saturday, September 27, I attended a gathering in Peterborough of the Hazelbrae Barnardo Home Memorial Group. Founder and President of the organization, Ivy Sucee, was winner of the 2011 Civic Awards for the City of Peterborough for helping people trace their Barnardo ancestors. Ivy, and her committee, put together a great afternoon, complete with lunch at Northminster United Church.
Ivy Sucee is also the only honorary Barnardo girl in Canada.
Sean Arthur Joyce introduced the audience to his newly published book, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest, Canada’s Home Children in the West and shared the story of his Home Child grandfather. (Sean’s story of his grandfather, Cyril William Joyce, is included in my book, Promises of Home.) I met Sean once before when we visited at our cottage on Manitoulin Island. This time, his lovely wife, Anne, accompanied him.
My mother and sister attended this event with me. They made themselves at home, visiting with strangers, glad to speak to other Home Child descendants while I took my place beside the other two visiting authors, Sean Arthur Joyce and Reginald Charles Longman, author of the memoir, Suffer Little Children. Reginald was raised in Dr. Barnardo Homes in England until 1950.
Hazelbrae was Barnardo’s Canadian transition home for girls. For a couple of years boys also arrived here but most of the 8,000 plus children who stayed briefly at this home were girls. Hazelbrae stood on Conger’s Hill across the road from what was once Nicholls Hospital. (In 1944, Nicholls Hospital became Eastern Pentecostal Bible College. A portion of this building still stands.)
Cecilia Jowett, arrived at Hazelbrae in 1901, as a nine year-old. She would happily have spent her entire life in the old mansion. In her book, No Thought for Tomorrow, she recalls gazing from an upper story window, watching the happenings at
Nicholls hospital. Nurses, starched and dutiful, sometimes stood on the building’s wide porches with no idea that a little girl was pledging to be just like them when she grew up. “When I get big I want to be a nurse and always be kind to people,” she said.
Also present at the meeting was Mary Arnold, proud daughter of Nellie Page. I mentioned all the other girls in my book who passed through Hazelbrae – Cecilia Jowett,
Ada Lamb Stinson, Ethel Parton Crane and Daisy Blay, but I chose to read Nellie Page’s story. Nellie’s early years of extreme hardship didn’t prevent her from becoming a lovingly devoted and affectionate mother and grandmother. Mary says of her mother, “I’m proud of her because in spite of her challenges, she always showed kindness to others. In her situation many would have been bitter, but she wasn’t.”
The girls who passed through Hazelbrae faced loneliness and homesickness. But, the mansion given to Dr. Thomas Barnardo by George A. Cox in 1883 became the place they remembered throughout their lives as their first home in Canada.
On September 28, 2011 (British Home Child Day in Ontario), a monument to the children who passed through Hazelbrae was unveiled. More than $100,000 was raised for the cause by the Hazelbrae Barnardo Memorial Group. An incredible accomplishment. Today, many people visit the monument to find the names of their loved ones.
British Home Child Day in Peterborough was a great success. It was heart-warming for me to meet many others who share my love for the Home Children, people who want to celebrate the lives of thousands of child immigrants. It was especially moving for my mother to hear so many speak openly about their Home Child ancestors. All her life, she’s longed to know more about her mother who immigrated to Canada through Annie MacPherson’s organization in 1912. She was eight years old. Like many of the children, my grandmother never spoke about her early years.
— Rose McCormick Brandon
Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, by Rose McCormick Brandon, with foreword by Ivy Sucee, Founder and President of the Hazelbrae Barnardo Memorial Group, is available here.