The Promise of Home by Rose McCormick Brandon
I’ve been reading the blog, The Promise of Home, kept by fellow writer, Rose McCormich Brandon. I remembered a story about a fellow who worked on my grandparents’ farm when my mother was growing up. He too was a home child, and so I shared a story for her collection.
Now I have invited Rose to share her connection and interest in the British Home Children on my blog. Please welcome Rose.
From 1869 to 1930, approximately 100,000 children immigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom. It’s estimated that 11% of the Canadian population traces their roots to one of these British Home Children. As a group, and individually, these children made a huge contribution to our great nation, yet when I spoke to a group of twenty teens recently, not one had heard anything about this segment of our history.
I grew up knowing my grandmother was a home child, but I don’t recall reading about this decades-long movement in any school history books. In May 1912 my grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith, and her two siblings, Lillian and Edward, arrived in Canada. Their father died before Grace, the youngest, was born. After their mother Esther remarried, the Griffin children’s stepfather, William Kelly, placed them in one of Britain’s many homes for children. They stayed there until after their mother’s death, then the three were shipped to Canada with 150 other children.
Today, no one would consider sending an 8-year-old to a foreign country to work on a farm, especially one that hadn’t stepped foot in a barn. But this is what happened to my grandmother. The Child Immigration Movement was intended to provide abandoned and orphaned children with opportunities for a better future and a home. The children weren’t so much concerned about their futures as they were about belonging to a family. Some landed in good homes where they were treated like family members. Others, like my grandmother, suffered abuse. She was rescued by an alert minister and a kind neighbour and placed with a good family.
After writing several short stories, some fact, some fictionalized, I decided to write a novel based on the experiences of home children. This novel is in the editing process. While researching, I became fascinated and inspired by how these children coped with loss. Some, like my grandmother, created fanciful stories of a privileged childhood to comfort themselves. Others, like my Uncle Edward (Ted), stayed grounded. He was proud of his heritage and showed steely determination. In his twenties, he wrote, “I go where I jolly well please and I don’t take any dirt from anybody.” A sturdy boy with an aptitude for farming, he stayed with the same family from age 12 to 28. He searched for and found my grandmother Grace. The two then maintained a close relationship. Sadly, Lillian Griffin contracted tuberculosis and died in a sanatorium at age 22.
A large number purposely lost their accents and hid their pasts, even from spouses and children. Many of today’s ancestry buffs are finding out that brave stories told by grandparents and great-grandparents of hopping on ships and sailing to Canada alone aren’t true. They were abandoned, orphaned and destitute children, forced into immigration by a well-meaning system that promised a brighter future than their home countries could provide. Most home children became thankful for their Canadian citizenship, but the road to thankfulness, in most cases, was a rough one.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of my grandmother’s immigration to Canada. In her memory, and to honour the contributions of all home children to our great nation, I started a blog called The Promise of Home (http://littleimmigrants.wordpress.com) that features their stories. Telling their stories elevates their standing in our country’s history.
The stories are written by children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and in some cases by unrelated people who have been inspired by a home child. Some stories are heartbreaking and difficult to read. Still, they must be told because telling them brings a measure of purpose to their hardships. Others are heartwarming and tell of siblings reconnecting after years of separation. Next to the stories, the most important feature of the blog is the photos. Dr. Thomas Bernardo, the founder of the most well-known child immigration agency, took pictures of each child who entered one of his homes. Many stories feature photos taken by Bernardo Homes.
A reporter wrote an article for Ontario Farmer about my blog. Through that article, I’ve received several phone calls and an invitation to a church that is celebrating 100 years since its rural congregation of farmers welcomed a group of Bernardo boys. These boys were given an academic and a spiritual education and prospered. I’m always pleased to hear about others who treasure home child stories as I do.
I’m always pleased to receive stories. Email them to me at email@example.com