2023-–Researching British Home Children--Released on September 28th 2016, this Registry combines the former Perry Snow database and the Norah Dennis database into one large complete registry. The registry is run by Mrs. LeeAnn Beer and contains information on over 80,000 BHC CLICK
Norah Gray really didn’t want to come to Canada. She had a brother whom she barely knew, and he sent her the occasional letter and photos about the wilds of Canada and all the animals he trapped. One has to wonder how he knew where she lived because shortly after Norah’s birth her mother soon placed her in a foster home in Essex.
Her mother had insisted that Norah be returned to her at the age of 16, but that was not to be. At 11 she was sent to Canada in 1920 aboard a ship called the Scandanavian with other Barnardo children. Arriving in Peterboro, she was placed at one of the distributing homes calls the Hazelbrae. In the late 1800s Hazelbrae was shut down for awhile because the girls were not adequately supervised –in that they were unduly the objects of sexual attentions of their employers and other men in their homes and workplaces. Also the state of sanitation at Hazelbrae was allowed to get into such a sorry state that it took Thomas Barnardo himself during his 1890 visit to sanitize the sleeping quarters by burning sulphur in the room. Read more about this here. So when Norah arrived it had basically become a clearing house for girls that were hard to place.
Norah was sent immediately to a farm in Carp, Ontario. She was lucky to have been placed into a loving family and she looked after the family’s children. But, Norah never had any education as the family did not want someone who went to school, they needed someone full time. However five years later the truant officer finally caught up to her, but by then it was too late. She happily stayed in Carp for seven years.
She wanted to become a Bell Telephone girl and went to Ottawa at the age of 18, but in 1927 jobs were scarce, so once again she became live in help for a teacher and a veternarian where she stayed for three years. But the memories of Carp were still in her heart, and having the choice of a free trip to Toronto or Carp, she quickly chose the trip to Carp which was barely 20 miles away.
In January of 1931 Norah married. Times were hard. They went by train to Moar Lake and then travelled 28 miles through the bush to Rowanton above Rapides-des-Joachims. It wasn’t easy, and supplies were not near by, so she baked everything from scratch, including bread. She also fed three other fire rangers and anyone that dropped in for a meal was charged 35 cents. Typical menus included plenty of preserved meats and fruits, (if they could get them) fresh bread, and lots of desserts.
A few years later they went to Mattawa so her husband could work on the Trans Canada Highway and then he went overseas in 1939 when war broke out.
Norah always got a lump in her throat remembering the Royal family still wishing all those years she could have gone back to the UK. If her Dad had not died before she was born, she might not have found herself in this predicament as he was a dentist and just starting up. Nothing against Canada, she said, but even if Canada was a great country she had to work very hard for everything she received. People always had the idea that Home Girls and Boys were just a burden and could never amount to anything good.
“I dont know what I expected. We were conditioned to think great things were in store for us – that Canada was one big apple tree, and our worries were over for life.”
With files from The Home hildren- Phyllis Harrison
Between 1869 and 1932, over 100,000 children were sent from Britain to Canada through assisted juvenile emigration. These migrants are called “home children” because most went from an emigration agency’s home for children in Britain to its Canadian receiving home. The children were placed with families in rural Canada.
Douglas G Barbour of Brockville who was sent out in 1927 on the very day he turned 16 recalled being very sick on the voyage. The journey which took seven days “wasn’t a bad crossing” he said, “but the first day out was rough. All the children were put down below to get out of the way of the waves which were just swishing over the deck.
Another lad and myself just had to see the waves so we walked out on deck. A big wave came along and swept over us and we were washed overboard. I grabbed the rail so hard I think the marks are still there on my hands and I saved myself.
His companion was washed overboard but was rescued. On the same ship was his friend John Thomson now of Gananoque who had been in a home for five years. His father was killed in an accident at the creamery where he worked and he and his four younger brothers had all been sent to live at Quarrier’s Home. He also was 16 years old.
Both boys along with the 40 or 50 others in their group were sent to receiving homes in Brockville. From there Thomson was sent to the market garden farm of Howard Keyes in Cataraqui which then was well outside the city of Kingston.
“It was all right” he said “but it was all work. If you want to eat you’ve got to work they say.”
He worked on the farm from 1927 to 1931 when he married and rented the farm next to Keyes and set up market gardening with his wife. “It turned out OK” he said with a smile, But a lot weren’t as lucky as I was to get a good home.”
Diana Thompson of Huntsville had a sizable display of family photos and documents detailing the experiences of her grandmother Margaret Watt who was with her twin sister Sarah and was sent over in 1890 when they were 14.
Their mother had died when they were three and their father, a joiner, remarried. When he was killed in an accident on a ship his wife gave the girls to their uncle to care for. However one day when he was at work his wife and her sister took the girls to the Quarrier’s Home and left them there.
Their crossing took 21 days and after landing at Quebec the twins were separated and sent to farms in the Brockville area “My grandmother wouldn’t talk about her life story” Thompson said, “She had left two older sisters and a brother behind.”
Beth Bruder, chair of the Canadian organizing committee, also touched on the theme of separation and loss – loss these children suffered going into the home loss when they came to Canada and especially loss of innocence. Many she said were shocked to find that they were viewed only as workers, not as equals in their new country.
Bruder recalled her own mother telling her of overhearing someone ask who she was on her first Sunday in church. “Oh she’s just a Home girl” came the reply- a reply whose sting was never forgotten “Today however” Bruder said “I want to focus on the success that many of these children had in a country that gave them a chance to grow and prosper.”