The Reluctant Canadian: Inspired by the true story of a Canadian Home Child
By Brad Barnes
This is probably the saddest story I’ve read for awhile, and though written as a Novel, it tells the story of the life of the authors grandfather.
The story begins in east London, in a poor slum. The family consisted of Frederick and Eleanor and their three sons, Reginald, George and Sidney. Reginald is twelve and a great trouble to his parents, out of control and mean. George is ten years old and has a crippled leg, which causes him to limp.
Sidney is just five, a sensitive and caring young boy.
The family have a happy though meager Christmas together, but a month later Frederick is dead, and with no money for rent, Eleanor and the boys begin living by their wits, on the streets. The year is 1911, and this pathetic group are not the only family struggling just to stay alive.
A man who describes himself as the Superintendent of the Children’s Organization befriends a desperate Eleanor and promises warm beds and three meals a day for the boys, “just until you can get your things in order.” With no choice, Eleanor signs the documents he presents.
During the years from 1860 -1920’s there was a scarcity of farm workers in Canada.
A program was put in place that would take youngsters, poor and supposedly orphans from Britain, to live in Canada. These “Home Children” were to be servants and farm labourers.
The agreement said they were to be sent to School, fed and housed and to be payed a small amount. It was this “trap” that the boys had fallen into.
George was pronounced unfit because of his twisted leg, but Sidney, now eight years old, along with seventy-four other boys, boarded ship for Canada.
Because Sidney was a bright, and obedient child, he was frightened, but still hopeful that he would see his mother again. He had no conception of the distance to Canada.
So we follow Sidney from one horrible place to another; his first “home” with a brutal drunk and his abused wife.
Next, a placement with a “good Christian” woman, no less a brute than the drunk. He is fearful and lonely, but he learns to work very hard, and for self protection, becomes watchful. Eventually he lives a life on the run.
Now, Sid the old man is dying estranged from two families, but he has a friend, and he tells her of his journey. There is no doubt that bad choices along the way made his life very difficult. Though he hurt others, most of his anger was directed at himself. When love finally came to find him, the small sensitive boy had been destroyed. Similarities to Residential School experience is obvious.
Not every “Home Child” had bad treatment, Sid’s brother Reginald landed with a good caring family, and prospered.
This author has written a very readable and moving story. I recommend it.
Peggy Freeman is a local freelance books reviewer.