Book Launch for Marjorie Her War Years: A British Home Child in Canada

Book Launch for Marjorie Her War Years: A British Home Child in Canada

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I was invited to attend the British Home Child Reunion on July 22, 2018, in Kitchener, Ontario to launch my new book, Marjorie Her War Years: A British Home Child in Canada. The event was organized by Lori Oschefski of the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association. It was held at the Waterloo Region Museum.

 

Reunion: the act or process of being brought together again as a unified whole.

 

In the true sense of the word reunion, this was not a reunion for me but a first-time meeting with a group of British home child descendants and others interested in learning about the British child migration scheme.

 

“Britain alone of the European Colonial powers seems to have made an industry of the export of its children.” [i]

 

As well as my book launch, there were a number of events that afternoon: speakers sharing their home child stories, musicians, a movie on home children, and the grand finale — a play put on by high school students. A stellar day in so many ways.

My presentation for my book launch was set for 12:30. I read a couple of passages from my new book, Marjorie Her War Years: A British Home Child in Canada. I started with a poem I wrote for my grandmother, Winifred, as I now have learned that it was to her eternal distress that she lost her children to Canada.

 

Winifred’s Children

She wrapped her heart

Around their imaginary little bodies

If she held them too tight

Their essence would disappear

If she fought too hard

To hold them in her mind

She would squeeze the life out of them

And they would vanish like the mist

Her memories of them were illusive

Best seen out of the corner of her mind

Like a mirage

They could not be touched

Like the end of the rainbow

They could not be reached

She never stopped needing

To reach them again

To touch them again

To hold them again.

 

Next I gave a PowerPoint slideshow, which briefly outlined the 350-year history of British Child Migration between 1619 and 1974. The Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School near Cowichan Station on Vancouver Island, BC, where my mother Marjorie was shipped in September 1937, differs from most of Canada’s experience with child migration. Instead of being sent to individual farms, the Fairbridge children were sent to an institution with upwards of 200 or more children to learn farming and domestic work.

 

Child migration to Canada (1830s to 1948) was just one part of the larger picture of British child migration worldwide. The majority of the 120,000 British child migrants, referred to as “Home Children,” were sent to eastern Canada: Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes.

In 1928, child migration to Canada was banned for children under the age of fourteen, yet it did not stop. In 1935, with the support of the then Prince of Wales and of the Premier of British Columbia, the Fairbridge Society skirted the federal government ban and opened the Fairbridge Farm School near Cowichan Station on Vancouver Island, B.C.

  • 329 British children were sent to the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School between 1935 and 1948.
  • Over 95% of the children were not orphans.
  • Some of the children were just 4 years old.

The Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School closed down in the early 1950s and the remaining minor children were placed in foster care.

For the last event of the day the Niagara Falls Stamford Collegiate drama students performed their BHC award winning play Breaking the Silence. The play was based on the work of the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association and on books about British child migration including my first book, Marjorie: Too Afraid to Cry (Skidmore; Dundurn 2012/2013), Bleating of the Lambs, (Lori Oschefski, 2015), and Stepping Stones (John and Jan Milnes, 2016).

Three of the characters in the play included my mother Marjorie; her brother, Kenny; and their mother, Winifred. The students portrayed the angst of the children as they were removed from their family and all that was familiar beautifully. It was incredible for me to recognize phrases taken from my book. It choked me up more than once!

 

[i] Geoff Blackburn, The Children’s Friend Society, 1993.