Just before the holiday, I read Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest by Sean Arthur Joyce. My father had opportunity to meet Joyce at a presentation at the Belleville Public Library and he kindly purchased this book…a gift for me. A strong historical context is given for those readers who have little knowledge about the huge movement of more than 100,000 children from Britain, Scotland and Ireland for use as indentured servants in Canada, the United States and Australia between the years 1869 and 1949. It is a part of Canadian history that has largely been swept under the carpet of our arrogance and our ignorance. This is a topic that I strongly advocate as another one necessary to our history programs. A combination of memoir and short biography, this book focuses on Canada’s home children moving west, revealing to me for the first time, a history of the Fairbridge Farm Schools.
Recently, I read both The Street Arab and Belonging by Sandra Joyce. These two books would be in the genre of historical fiction, although I’m certain, having met Sandra and heard her speak about her family, that this is closely rooted to Sandra’s own family history, as a descendent. I feel blessed to have met Sandra and her friend, Karen Mahoney, when they presented at the Calgary Public Library, just a few months ago.
They work tirelessly to educate Canadians, across the country, about the British Home Children and their struggles in the face of abandonment (in some cases), separation and in most cases, hardship/abuse on their journeys, in their communal orphanages and in their various placements.
The Street Arab: The Story of a British Home Child and Belonging included elements of romance that created emotional relief as I processed the hardships encountered by the children; Robbie, Tom and Emma. Including beautiful description and intimate interactions in family and in community, the books were accessible and ‘quick’ reads.
Already somewhat researched on the topic, having read and heard about many unsettling stories, I know that Sandra did not stray from the truth and that all of the situations that came up were based on fact. Belonging illustrated the truth that children who grew up without any roots and without tenderness, grew to be adults who suffered a particular sort of separateness and struggled throughout their lives with openness and affection. I appreciated the attention to wartime detail as my own Great Uncle Joe gave his life and rests in Ortona, Italy, one of the settings in Sandra’s book.
I think that the more books that come out on this subject, whether they be historical fiction or vastly researched biography, the more Canadians have the possibility of learning about another aspect of our Canadian identity. I think that all politicians, at whatever level, and all organizations need to further the propagation of this information to give a full accounting of decisions made in the past. Along with the appalling history of residential schools in Canada, the deceptive approach to colonization and enforcement of Treaties, the perpetuation of slavery in the Atlantic provinces and evident bias against blacks in Canadian Court systems in the day, the heartless expulsion of the french, the internment of Ukrainian and Japanese families during wartime, the recognition of injustice served upon these British Home Children must be recognized for what it is, a grave and sad mark on our collective history.
I recommend these three books…a beginning for your own discovery. I include the following short video because my own great grandfather came to Canada at the age of 13 in 1898. He died, a soldier for Canada in World War I on May 19, 1918.