Last week I visited a friend in Ottawa. After a great dinner at The Table (gluten free, vegetarian, and delicious – for those so inclined by necessity or choice) we went for a walk along Wellington Street. There we came across a large, old building that had seen better days. It now belongs to a religious society, but there was a plaque outside that explained its history. It was originally St George’s Home, one of the distribution centres used by the child emigration groups that brought destitute youngsters from the slums in English cities to be placed with Canadian families as farm workers and domestics. It’s similar to Marchmont, the home in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, that’s featured in my novel, FINDING HOME. I’ve read books and articles about Marchmont, but because it no longer exists, I was interested to come across St George’s Home. Hundreds, if not thousands of “Home Children” likely passed through its doors.
It used to be that nobody would admit to being a Home Child because of the stigma – rather like being a British convict shipped off to Australia. But more recently, families are celebrating their Home Children ancestors who were forced into service. Many made positive contributions to their adopted country despite their inauspicious beginning. Unfortunately, as the plaque states, “Monitoring of the children after placement was superficial.” Many were abused and/or ran away or died. The book, “Little Immigrants” tells some of their stories.
Annie Macpherson brought the first Home Children to Canada in 1869. That date determined the time frame of FINDING HOME, since our protagonist, Sarah, earns her passage to Canada by taking care of the children who cross the Atlantic a year later. The names of some of the children in our book are actual names taken from the passenger manifest of the ship on which they sailed. Macpherson and her colleagues ran Marchmont Home until her organization was taken over by the better-known Dr. Thomas Barnardo.
Before my mother died, she was living in a long-term care facility where a dentist regularly came to the Home to attend to the residents’ dental needs. During my mom’s appointment, I was editing the manuscript of FINDING HOME. When the dentist asked what I was working on, I explained the story. I was amazed when she told me that her grandfather was a Home Child, and the dental nurse had relatives in Forest Mills, Ontario, where the Canadian part of the story takes place.
You never know what you’ll discover!