Because Sarah, the protagonist in our novel, Finding Home, comes to Canada in 1870 with Annie Macpherson and the early Home Children, I’m always on the look out for stories about these young immigrants. In the library I found: Mary Janeway – The Legacy of a Home Child by Mary Pettit. It chronicles the early life of her godmother who was sent to Canada as a Home Child. Although she immigrated later than the Home Children in our novel, the conditions these children had to endure did not seem to improve over time. The sequel, Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway? (to be published in 2012 by Dundurn) tells of her life after she leaves the Jacques family at sixteen.
Belleville, Ontario was the site of Marchmont, the first distributing home used by Annie Macpherson. In 1870 it was donated for her use by County Warden Wood, no doubt in the hope that providing child labour would not only assist local farmers, but also enhance his political career. Annie Macpherson brought along Ellen Bilbrough to manage the home, and turned it over to her care in 1877. She arranged to receive children from various agencies in England and Scotland. Ellen Bilbrough married Rev. Robert Wallace in 1887 and together they carried on the work of distributing Home Children until Bilbrough’s death in 1902. Marchmont was then turn over to other organizations including Barnardo’s (the most well-known) which closed the home in 1925.