Norah Gray, Carleton Place, Ontario
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
British Home Children – Quebec Assoc click
Ontario East British Home Child Family click
British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association click