About the book
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.
Promises of Home is a collection of their stories.
It’s time to cry over the abuses they suffered, to applaud their successes and to say, as a nation, “thank you.”
John Thomas Page 1894-1940
“So many returned broken in spirit after one of the inspectors removed them or after some farmer somewhere decided he no longer wanted them.” Kenneth Bagnall, The Little Immigrants
Golden-haired and fragile as a feather, ten year-old John Page shuddered as he disembarked from the Southwark in Quebec in 1904. Fear formed a knot in his stomach. Suffocating humidity hung in the July air. He felt sick.
Small for his age and prone to nervousness, John struggled to feel optimistic about his “new life” in Canada. Born in the Norfolk Poor House in 1894, with the exception of a few months in a foster home, John had spent his entire life in Barnardo institutions, first at Stepney Causeway, then at Leopold House. Neither of his parents participated in his life, though both were living.
A few days after landing, a rugged southern Ontario farmer arrived at Barnardo’s in Toronto to claim John. He swept his eyes over John’s stick-thin body and shook his head in disgust. “Thought you’d be older,” he grunted. His rumbling voice frightened John. Large and unkempt, the farmer lacked the graces of John’s English role models, the men who operated Leopold House. The ride to the farm in a horse-drawn wagon was a long and awkward one. John longed to speak but his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, dry as sand. Tears threatened to drip onto his new clothes. To keep from weeping, he tried to concentrate on the scenery – first the busy streets of Toronto. Not that much different than London, he thought. As he and the silent man wound deeper and deeper into farm country, scenery foreign to John emerged. With dusk a sense of foreboding descended. It lay heavy on his chest. If the silent man turned out to be a wicked man, how would he find his way back to Toronto? He wished the farmer would talk but the only sounds he made were directed at the horses.
As the team turned into a lane bordered by small trees, John’s heart pounded so loud he thought the farmer would surely hear it. In the distance, he saw a barn outlined against the night sky. Gray on gray – an ominous scene. He thought about the cows and pigs that must live in that building, the animals he would soon meet. A shiver shot through him severe enough to make the farmer look in his direction. But still, no words.
That week, the farmer, a perpetual frown of disapproval carved into the lines of his sun-darkened face, taught John to milk the cows, terrifying beasts that bawled and kicked. He learned to wash out the separator, feed the pigs and clean the stalls – duties that kept him busy from early morning till after dark. John grew thinner. Then the unimaginable happened. John woke to a wet bed. That drove a wedge between him and the farmer’s wife who, up to that day, had remained mostly indifferent to him. She became hostile. The angrier she became the more often John wet the bed. One day in early December, the farmer packed John and his metal trunk onto his wagon and drove him back to the Toronto Home.
“Can’t keep him,” he told the staff. “Filthy habit.” The crude farmer’s words humiliated John but he couldn’t help feeling relieved that his time with this man and his disagreeable wife was over. (cont’d)
About the Author
Rose McCormick Brandon is a descendant of four British Home Children. She writes books and publishes articles on faith, personal experience and the Child Immigration Scheme. She lives in Caledonia, Ontario