The Wright Connection by Margaret Roper
Margaret Roper’s soon-to-be-released book, The Wright Connection, follows the life of her grandmother from a secure family in Scotland, to a home for destitute children and, ultimately, to a new life in Canada.
Margaret Roper writes:
I feel a strong connection to her. In the 1990’s, one of her daughters, my Aunt Dorothy, began searching for information and wrote many letters to various places. She found some dates and facts. After Aunt Dorothy’s death in 2000, I resumed her search.
Here is a preview of The Wright Connection. —- Rose McCormick Brandon
In 1909, my grandmother, Margaret Loudon Wright said goodbye to her sister Jeannie and boarded a ship for Canada. An orphan girl of seventeen she immigrated through Quarriers, a Scottish home for children in Glasgow. She wondered if she’d ever again see her younger sister and two brothers who also entered the home for destitute children.
On Monday, July 5, 1909 Margaret arrived in Montreal and her Canadian life began. The trip across the Atlantic on the Grampian had taken eight days. Two hundred and twelve passengers disembarked from steerage, including sixty Quarrier children. What were her first impressions when she stepped off that ship? Was she frightened by all the activity? Afraid of being lost?
Margaret Wright arrived in Canada with the usual kit given to child immigrants: a Bible, a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (a Christian allegory published in February 1678), writing materials, a brush and comb, a work bag with needles, thread and worsted for darning. All this was packed into a wooden trunk along with a nicely trimmed dress and hat for Sabbath wear and a wincey dress (made of a plain or twilled fabric), a dark hat for winter, a liberal supply of underclothing for summer and winter, three pairs of boots, four pairs of stockings, gloves, collars, aprons, pinafores and a warm hood.
My mother, Margaret’s daughter, has a ring that belonged to Margaret, but other than that, our only possessions of hers are two photos. I imagine she brought photos with her from Scotland of her family, particularly of her sisters Jeanie and Magdeline, but we don’t know what happened to them.
The photo (above) of the three Wright sisters, taken in 1902, which shows Margaret, age ten, Jeanie, age nine and Magdeline, age twelve was discovered by Karen Wright, a cousin in Solihull, England.
How did a girl like Margaret, from a caring family, end up in a home for destitute children?
Margaret Loudon Wright was born on March 7, 1892 in Glasgow, Scotland the
sixth child of my great grandparents Margaret Loudon and James Marshall Wright. At the time of her birth, the family’s address was 228 Dalmarnock Rd. Glasgow, an industrialized area with many tenement buildings. By 1899 my great-grandmother had given birth to twelve babies however, one died at age two and two died at birth.
On June 13, 1899, Margaret’s mother died in childbirth. The family struggled after the mother died with the older siblings looking after the younger ones. The eldest daughter, Jessie, eighteen at the time of her mother’s death and Agnes, seventeen had six children to care for, ranging from ages one to eleven. Life was tough for the two sisters.
About this time, James Marshall Wright, Margaret’s father, who was born in 1855 in Lanark, Scotland and had worked in the coal mines, was out of work. He set sail for Johannesburg, South Africa to work in the gold mines. In 1906, he was stricken with black water fever and died. The eldest of the twelve children, John Wright, went to Johannesburg when he was about twenty-one to care for his father and he also worked in the gold mine.
Without father or mother, the Wright family found themselves in need of assistance. The Quarrier Society was operating an orphanage at the Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, Scotland. There, they prepared destitute children for employment, girls as maids and boys as farm hands. When request was made by a parent or relative to have their child admitted to the Orphan Homes of Scotland, the agreement sometimes covered immigration to Canada, if the child was thought suitable.
William Quarrier, founder of Orphan Homes of Scotland was a successful shoemaker but is best known for his charitable work. In 1871, he opened a night refuge for homeless children in Renfrew Street, Glasgow.
On December 24, 1906, five of the Wright children went to Quarriers’ Bridge of Weir Village for interviews. They returned home, spent Christmas together and then on December 28 the five – Magdeline, Margaret, Jeanie, James and Thomas – entered the Quarrier orphanage. There they remained to prepare for immigration and employment as indentured servants in Canada.
A note in the Quarriers file states, “Margaret has been working in laundry since leaving school.”
After arrival at Montreal, Quebec on July 5, 1909 Margaret boarded a train to Brockville, Ontario, the location of Fairknowe Home, Quarriers’ Canadian receiving home.
Four of the five Wright children who went to Quarriers ended up in Canada. These four kept close contact and at one time all lived in Toronto. Unfortunately, none of them shared their histories with family. It wasn’t until 2004 that we discovered how they came to Canada.
On January 5, 1940, at age forty-seven, Margaret died. My mother, only thirteen at the time, retained few memories of her. One of Mother’s favourite memories is of Margaret dancing the Highland Fling using two brooms on the floor. She also recalls her mother holding her hand while walking to church.
Author, Margaret Roper, lives in Grimsby, Ontario. For more information on her book, email Margaret at email@example.com
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of four books, including Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, available here.