There’s a spirit of celebration that spices most reunions but David Lorente doesn’t expect to encounter it Sunday. Instead, Lorente is preparing for and possibly an outpouring of pride when dozens of “Home Children” and their descendants gather here. “I think it will be cathartic,” says Lorente, whose father Joseph was one of the more than 100,000 British “orphans, waifs and strays” who were exported to Canada as farm laborers between 1870 and 1930. “There will probably be a lot of emotion,” adds Lorente, who organized this first reunion of the “little immigrants.” “And I hope some of the stories will come out.”
The stories are likely to be heart-wrenching “A little boy, a big land and not a friend in the world,” one Home boy wrote of his childhood experiences. Besides loneliness, many Home Children endured exploitation and abuse. Another Home boy bitterly recalls being introduced with the words: ” ‘He’s only a Home boy we’ve got.’ It’s a wonder he (the farmer) didn’t say ‘We call him Fido.’ ”
To improve their chances in life, the Home Children were given the option of being sent to a still-in-the-making country that was mostly rural and rough. In return for the children’s work, farmers promised to treat them like members of the family and pay them a small wage. Instead, many farmers gave the children nothing more than stoop labor and the back of their hand.
“I know of one case in which a Home boy got a lump of coal at Christmas, nothing else,” Lorente says. “That’s like something out of Dickens.” Although they were victims, many Home Children have tears and anger hidden their past. “There was a stigma attached to being a Home child,” Lorente says. “They have been very reticent to talk about it. “Other people looked down on them. They were made to feel ashamed.
Many of these kids were denied a childhood and nobody seemed to care.” They came from philanthropic organizations, including the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society, the Fegan Home of Southwark, London and the largest of all, the Barnardo Homes founded by Dr. Thomas Barnardo. Barnardo established a network of children’s homes throughout the British Isles. By the turn of the 20th century, almost every second immigrant child in Canada was from a Barnardo Home.
Lorente estimates about 10 per cent of Canadians are descendants of Home Children, and he is hoping to find somebody who can tell him more about his father. Joseph Lorente came to the Ottawa Valley through St. George’s Home on Wellington Street, which “served as a “distributor” for Home Children. He was sent to a farm near Brudenel, about 16 kilometres south of Killaloe, and eventually worked on a farm near Bells Corners.
Beatings were frequent and brutal. Young Lorente, a runty teenager, was expecting a beating one day after an argument with a farmer. “The farmer was standing on a hayrick, so my father threw a pitchfork at him. He wasn’t seriously injured but my father was so scared, he hid in the woods for two days.” But the incident, and others like it, so troubled Lorente’s father that he spoke of them only on his deathbed. “When he told me, he broke down,”
Lorente says. “But I still don’t know when he got here or on what ship. And I don’t know much about his family life in England.” In her book The Home Children, author Phyllis Harrison, a “former information officer for the Children’s Aid Society in Ottawa; writes of the loneliness that dogged the children, some of whom yere as young as four or five. “Invariably, children were sent from the distributing home alone.
Name tags around their necks, to be met by unknown farmers on unknown railway platforms. It was the loneliest moment of their lives. Loneliness looms as the hardest thing to bear in their letters. But there were other trials.
Michael Driscoll, a Home boy from Essex, told Harrison of his experiences, on an Ottawa-area farm. ‘. “At this farm I was given to understand that an orphan was the lowest type of person on Earth just about, and the insults I had to take even at the age of 10 or 11, have always stayed with me.
“It’s only the bruises on the outside I don’t feel any more. I was horse-whipped, kicked, and belted ground until I got so hard I could I longer feel it. Many nights I went to bed and cried and prayed for what I don’t know.
“This farmer took great pride in telling me that there was no law for an Englishman in Canada.” Charles W. Carver of Winnipeg told Harrison of the seven years he spent on a Manitoba farm near Arrow River. “Those seven years were hell. I was beat up with pieces of harness, pitchforks, anything that came in handy to hit me with I got it. “I didn’t get enough to eat. My dinner was put in a 10-pound syrup pail. Not wrapped just a piece of paper to cover it. When it came time to eat it, it was dry as old toast. ‘ “I never had a coat if it was raining. Just a grain sack over my shoulders and no shoes. They made my underwear from grey flannelette. It did not keep out much cold.”
Joe Brown was one of the lucky ones. Brown, a retired priest living in Pembroke, came to Canada in 1929. He was 14. An orphan, Brown was sent to live with Sam and Molly Coyne in Brudenell. The Coynes provided love and kindness to Brown in full measure. ‘ “I was a member of the family,” Brown says in an interview. “And not only me, the Coynes took in five other children.
The Home Children a stronger sense of what they accomplished. “They had to struggle when they were only kids,” he says. -“But they raised families, fought in wars, and built a piece of this country.”
CLIPPED FROMThe Ottawa CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada26 Jan 1991, Sat • Page 14
British Home Children – Quebec Assoc click
Ontario East British Home Child Family click
British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association click