Monday, August 03, 2015

Quotes Bring Non-Fiction Characters to Life by Rose McCormick Brandon

When writing non-fiction, it’s always helpful to use quotes that not only inform but touch the reader’s heart. In writing the stories of children (more than 100,000) who immigrated to Canada from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales between 1869 and 1939, I like to use the words of the children themselves. It’s difficult to find these but when I do, I store them away and treasure them like gold.

Sometimes it takes a few back and forth conversations with descendants before someone hands me a nugget. Like this one that came to me from Linda Clarkson Pagnini, daughter of Arthur Clarkson.

Arthur Clarkson
Arthur Clarkson, a boy who came to Canada in 1909 through Barnardos, an organization that facilitated the immigration of some 30,000 children, was the victim of severe abuse. The farmer he was indentured to whipped him, left him out in the cold and half-starved him. He almost lost both feet. An intelligent and determined boy, Arthur survived, married and made a successful life for his family of eight children. He didn’t speak to his children about his near-death experience at the hands of the cruel farmer but they had a vague idea about it.

 Near the end of his life, as Arthur lay in bed, his daughter read to him the poem, Invictus by William Ernest Henley. When she came to these words -

 In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 Arthur wept. Then he said these marvellous words: “Life can beat you up, for sure, but you can’t let it break you.”

 When I wrote Arthur’s story, these words became the center-piece.

Cecilia Jowett, front row right
Cecilia Jowett, another Barnardo child immigrant (1901), grew up and fulfilled her dream of becoming a nurse. She wrote these words in her book, No Thought for Tomorrow and I used them in telling her story:

 Oh, I’d never take a child like that into my home, I have heard ladies say. You never know how they will turn out. And there was I, a graduate nurse, in their homes, rendering skilled assistance, perhaps saving, or helping to save, a life. Yet they didn’t dream I was one of those children.

Grace Griffin Galbraith
Whenever I speak about the British Home Children, I always explain that my interest in them grew out of my grandmother’s life. In 1912 Grace Griffin Galbraith was an eight year-old orphan, brought to Canada from England by Annie MacPherson’s organization. As with all child immigrants, she became an indentured servant. She ended up in a caring home, after experiencing rejection and trauma in at least three placements. Her difficulties make this quote from her extremely meaningful. 

I can never regret coming to Canada. I have had to work hard but I don’t mind that for I love to work.

William Edwin Hunt, back row, left
Often the writer’s words alone don't do justice to a story. The story begs for quotes, here and there, to bring it to life. Words from the people for whom the event was no mere story, it was reality.

I never look in the rear-view mirror, I just keep moving forward. William Edwin Hunt, immigrated, age fourteen, 1906, through Smyly’s of Ireland.
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of four books including, Promises of Home - Stories of Canada's British Home Children, Visit her website Writing From the Heart. Two blogs: Promises of Home and Listening to my Hair Grow.


Peter Black said...

Rose, your personal connection through your grandmother helps to account for your passion in telling these Canada's British Home Children stories. Those statements they made later in life are quite telling, and certainly lend towards their poignancy. You give them a voice, so that although many are already dead, they still speak.~~+~~

Rose McCormick Brandon said...

Thank you Peter. That's my goal - to give the children a voice. So many of them hid their pasts, some out of shame, others simply because they were taught to leave the past and move forward. It's good to remember those who contributed to our country's greatness.

fudge4ever said...

What treasured stories and quotes! It's good that you are telling these stories, but sad that it's always the children that suffer.
Pam Mytroen

Lux G. said...

I love books with quotes that would just make you stop and think or say, "yes!"

Glynis said...

A wonderful, heartbreaking, gripping, truthful book, Rose. I recommend this book highly and I sure wish it could somehow wind its way into the high school history curriculum. People need to hear these incredible stories. The quotes are marvellous and they allow us to enter the head and heart of those who experienced such. Great post Rose. I don't often reread books but I might just put yours back on my 'pile'!

David Kitz said...

What beautiful words! What meaning-filled stories!

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