Forgotten: A Movie by Eleanor McGrath
“I can never regret coming to Canada. I have had to work hard, but I don’t mind that, for I love to work.” My grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith, who arrived in Canada at age eight in 1912, wrote these words when she was twenty-five. As a child, she endured several years of hardship. I wrote the book, Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, for her. It’s my way of saying thank-you to her, and to the tens of thousands of child immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1869 and 1939. They entered into the rhythm of Canadian life. They made our country greater. It wasn’t easy. Their stories, and what became of them, beg to be told.
I’m happy to introduce you to someone else who is telling the stories of the children – Eleanor McGrath. I’ll be attending her movie, Forgotten, at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, 123 King St. W., Saturday, April 23 at 4:00 p.m. If you would like to attend, visit the Art Gallery to purchase tickets.
The film will be shown again in Toronto, Saturday, September 26 at Commfest: Rainbow Cinema Market Square, 80 Front Street East.
— Rose McCormick Brandon
A Word from Eleanor McGrath about her movie, Forgotten:
When I turned 45 years old I left a full-time job, bought a video camera and with the full support of my husband and children, I decided to follow my dream and tell stories of people who had come to Canada, often facing many hardships they persevered and helped to make our nation what it is today.
In October 2011, I walked south on one of Toronto’s toughest streets, George Street. Once the home of the 19th century wealthy it is now a forgotten street of Toronto’s homeless and marginalized. I knew it was significant architecturally but when I came to 295 George Street surrounded by construction hoarding I realized that an important part of Toronto’s heritage might be lost. After calling the Heritage Board and beginning a campaign for its preservation, two days later on October 19th a 3-Alarm fire gutted the “Fegan Home for the Distribution of Boys”.
This story found me — I couldn’t walk away.
The journey to uncover what was the Fegan Home of 295 George Street and the Boys that were “distributed” took me across Canada and to Ireland in search of the history of the over 100,000 children that came to Canada from 1850s to 1939 as British Home Children. This is the forgotten history of Canada, the lost memories of these children that are only unleashed after they are gone and discovered by their descendants. This is a story that should not be forgotten.
Forgotten captures some of the stories of the last remaining British Home Children in Canada. The men interviewed are now in their 90s, sadly two of the interviewed subjects have died since I met them. However, it is the children of these British Home Children who are left searching for who their parent was and the burning question of WHY? were they were sent to Fegan’s or Barnardo’s and other institutions before they were shipped to Canada. These descendants are in need of answers and many now struggle with the knowledge of the hardships that was endured by their parent. Some descendants are seeking an apology from the Canadian government which has alluded Canadian British Home Children for years despite both the British and Australian Governments providing restitution and official apologies to their citizens.
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.”