Between 1869 and 1930, Canada received 100,000 British Home Children
to work as labourers. In 1898, my grandmother was one of those kids.
Recently, a committee headed by Ivy Sucee in Peterborough, Ont., managed to have a marble monument erected in their honour. It stands just steps away from the site of Hazelbrae, the distribution centre for 9,000 of these children.
My husband and I were in Peterborough for a lecture at Northminster United, when I discovered by coincidence that the monument would be dedicated the next day. It was powerful to touch the earth my grandmother had walked on as a 10-year-old child. How did Canada appear to this little servant girl after sailing across the Atlantic and a long train ride from Quebec City?
Years ago, the Home Children, holding hands, dressed in matching hats and frocks, had walked down the street from Hazelbrae to attend George Street United, built by Methodists in 1875. I had not known that the church I was born into exactly 50 years after Grandma’s arrival, had fulfilled Jesus’ words to “welcome the stranger” to this land. In this case, the strangers were little children, orphaned and destitute.
Rev. Allan Reeve dedicated the monument, recalling the command in the Book of Exodus that we keep alive the stories of the ancestors. It was moving for me to hear these words, as I’m currently writing a second novel about the tale of a Home Child.
We sang God Save the Queen and Jesus Loves the Little Children
— at least some did; I had a very large lump in my throat.
Stories of welcoming the stranger continue today. As world climate changes and the number of refugees grows, we need to work with an ever-widening circle to bring food to every plate. The Week of Action for World Food Day is Oct.10 to 17.
Wherever you are on Thanksgiving weekend, I hope that you, too, will recall a time of being fed, body and soul.
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