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Sunday, September 03, 2017
A Child Immigrant Comes to Canada by Rose McCormick Brandon
Grace Griffin Galbraith
can never regret coming to Canada. I have had to work hard but I don’t mind
that for I love to work.” Grace Griffin Galbraith, my grandmother, wrote these
words in 1928. She was twenty-five and a perfect candidate for regret. She
immigrated to Canada as an eight year-old with her sister, Lily. The two, and later
their brother, Edward, arrived through a child immigration agreement between
the United Kingdom and Canada. After their father’s death and their mother’s
remarriage, Grace and her siblings were placed in the Annie MacPherson Home for
Children in the east end of London, England. They remained there until their
mother’s death, after which their paternal grandmother signed the Canada Clause
giving the Home permission to send the children to Canada.
Grace became one of more than one hundred thousand children to immigrate to Canada
between 1869 and 1939. She landed in Quebec on May 13, 1912.
child immigrants became indentured servants contracted to work as farm hands
and mother’s helpers. Lily was sent to Toronto and Grace to a southern Ontario
farm. At the end of her thirty-day trial period Grace was returned to
MacPherson’s Canadian Home in Stratford because she “not wholly satisfactory.” This
isn’t surprising since she had never been on a farm. Her next placement also
ended after thirty days.
Grace’s third placement took her to Manitoulin Island. This home
welcomed her at first but later reneged on their contractual responsibility to
send Grace to school for at least three months each year. One day, a local
minister, Rev. Munroe, arrived at the farm and found Grace in alarming
condition.He immediately removed her
and took her to live with a family that attended his church, the Gilpins. She
stayed at this safe and kind home until her marriage at age seventeen.
One year after her marriage to James Galbraith, a farmer
with Scottish roots, Grace received the sad news that Lily had died of
tuberculosis. She wrote, “It was lonesome for me when Lily died. I missed
her sisterly letters.”
Meanwhile, Grace’s brother, Edward, who had the good
fortune to live with a couple who considered him a son and included him in
their will, had returned to England where he visited relatives and contacted
MacPherson’s for information about his sisters. On his return to Canada, he
began a search for Grace. By the time he found her they had been separated for
Grace wrote, “I always have a longing to see some of my
folks.” She also made the sad statement, “I can never remember seeing my mother.”
How happy she must have been to reunite with her brother. Edward spent a lot of
time on Manitoulin with Grace and then moved from Southern Ontario to Sudbury
to be closer to her.
By 1928 when Grace wrote that she had no regrets about coming to
Canada, she was married, had re-united with Edward and had four daughters. (A
son arrived later.) Her difficult childhood days over, Grace’s writings reveal
a full and happy life. “I have a good and loving husband and a
good home. We have a 100 acre farm, a large barn and a fairly good house. Jim
is a very good to help me. He is very fond of children. We have our place paid
for now and I must add that we have a 1918 model car but we intend dealing on a
new one next spring.”
The Home Children were unprepared for the harshness and
isolation of Canadian farm life. One boy expressed it this way: “When I landed
on that farm, I looked up and said, ‘Oh God, where am I?’” Whereas most
immigrants form communities in their adopted homelands, these children were
scattered in ones and twos throughout Canada’s towns and farms. Like Grace,
most had more than one placement making it difficult to put down roots.
As we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, it’s
estimated that the descendants of Canada’s child immigrants, the Home Children,
make up ten percent of the population. This period in our history serves to
remind us how much immigration practices have changed. Today, no serious
consideration would be given to a program that sends children overseas to live
with and work for strangers. What a debt our country owes these young ones who
endured heartbreak and loneliness to become some of Canada’s hardiest and most
Grace might have become bitter. Instead, she, like most
child immigrants, chose to find hope in her new land. Grace’s positive attitude
is reflected in her statement - “I can never regret coming to Canada.”
Grace spent her last twelve years at The Lodge in Gore
Bay on Manitoulin Island where she passed away at age ninety-nine in 2003.
*This article was published in The Manitoulin Expositor 2017
* * *
Rose McCormick Brandon wrote Promises of Home - Stories of Canada's British Home Children and dedicated it to her grandmother, Grace Griffin Galbraith. She's also the author of One Good Word Makes all the Difference and numerous magazine articles. She writes two blogs, Promises of Home and Listening to my Hair Grow. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org