George Algernon Charles Tanner 1910-2000
Dr. Thomas Stephenson, a Wesleyan minister founded the National Children’s Home in 1869. “They needed a friend and a home,” he said of England’s destitute children, “someone to tell them of God and to teach them a trade.” Three years later, Stephenson established a receiving home at 1080 Main Street East in Hamilton and began to send children to Canada. Over the course of their operation, the NCH brought 3600 British children to Canada, mostly boys.
One of these was fourteen year-old George Tanner who arrived from England on March 30, 1924 with sixty-three other boys.
George, the youngest of three Tanner children, became a ward of the NCH as a three-week-old baby, after the death of his father. The oldest of his two sisters, Christine, also went to the Home. The middle child stayed with their mother.
George, a sickly boy, was often taken to the seaside for health reasons. He said the worker at the Home (someone he referred to as Cavvy) took good care of him and taught him to knit. He said that one family (most likely a family that fostered him) wanted to adopt him – but in the end they couldn’t keep him.
When the opportunity was offered to him, George chose to come to Canada because he knew he believed a better life awaited him.
Like most child immigrants, George became an indentured servant. He was placed on several farms in Southern Ontario. He recounted the names of some of the farmers but didn’t specify which one threatened him with a pitch fork or which one refused him a second piece of meat after a hard day’s work. Still, George was more open about his experiences than many Home Children and never sought to cover the fact that he had been given into the care of the National Children’s Home.
A forgiving man, George visited one of the abusive farmers years later when the man was in a nursing home. The farmer apologized to George for being too hard on him.
George took to Canadian farming and dreamed of owning land. While working on one particular farm, he made a deal with the owner to parcel off a piece of land and sell it to him. George purchased machinery and livestock in preparation. The farmer reneged on the deal, sold the land to his son and George lost his animals and machinery because he had nowhere to take them.
As an indentured servant, annual payments from the farmers George worked for should have gone into a trust fund for him. He would have accessed this fund at age eighteen. But, George’s family say there was no such bank account for him.
Eighteen, and no longer under the Home’s oversight, George continued to work on various farms in the Hamilton area.
Adjusting well to life in Canada after ten years, George married Grace Jones on February 17, 1934.
One of the farms George worked on as an adult belonged to the Stallwood family. Mrs. Stallwood took a keen interest in George. She sent him a letter with a two dollar bill tucked inside. She suggested he use it to take his family to church. By then, George and Grace had a young son and a nine-month old baby girl, Lois. George took his little family to the Hagersville Pentecostal Church. There, he committed his life to Christ and from that day on, he became known as a man who never stops talking about the Lord. George had a comeback for that criticism. “If you tasted a good cake,” he said, “you’d tell everybody about it because you’d want them to taste it too. And that’s how I feel about the Lord.”
A third child, a boy, arrived at the Tanner household. Sadly, this little one died at four and a half months.
George went to work at the Canadian Gypsum company in Hagersville and spent thirty plus years there. His longing to farm never went away and during his time at the plant he continued to work the farms of others and care for livestock. He loved spending time with animals.
George’s sister, Christine remained in England. She wrote to him expressing that she wanted to be close to him and his children. He went to England to visit her and while there, also visited the sister who stayed with their mother. That sister wasn’t anxious for people to know that George and Christine existed. Christine and her husband travelled to Canada twice to visit George and meet his three children. She wrote consistently over a span of many decades. It’s not known whether George had contact with his mother at any time after he went to the National Children’s Home.
George’s daughter, Lois Rounce, recalls that an uncle, Ray Tanner, of Montreal, came to visit her father on two occasions. She was a teenager at the time and never thought to ask questions about how he was connected to the family.
George and Grace had three children: two sons and a daughter. They lived in the Hagersville/Cayuga area all of their married lives. Daughter, Lois, lives in Cayuga. And, she still attends the church her father took her to as a baby. I met her there when I was invited to talk about my book of home child stories, Promises of Home.
George died in June, 2000. He is buried at the Gore Cemetery near Hagersville.
– Rose McCormick Brandon
Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children
by Rose McCormick Brandon is available here.