Tracking the Children’s Ghosts in Peterborough Pt. 1

“Isn’t it amazing, you know, over the last thousands of years, families all got together around the fire or around the table and told stories, and yet… the thousands of people who came to this country as children… you never hear a story coming from them, you know…  It must have been a terrible life not to be able to tell.”

—Andrew N. Morrison, Thy Children Own Their Birth

1. Peeling Back the Moss of History

Advertisement for Barnardo’s circa 1931.

When institutions fail, individuals step in and get the job done. A prime example is Ivy Sucee, a pensioner living in Peterborough, Ontario. On August 22 Ivy very graciously took Anne Champagne and I on a tour of significant Barnardo’s sites in Peterborough. Dr. Barnardo’s Homes was the British childcare organization that emigrated 30,000 poor children to Canada. Peterborough was home to Hazelbrae, the largest Barnardo’s distributing centre in Canada for girls. 8,914 girls and boys were brought to this home and then sent to various farms and homes as indentured servants.

Barnardo girls at the Margaret Cox Home in Peterborough (formerly Hazelbrae Home). Courtesy Peterborough Museum & Archives 2000-012-000740-2

The Home operated from 1884, when it was donated to Dr. Barnardo by Peterborough millionaire George A. Cox, until its closure in 1923. For the first two years of its operation, both boys and girls were distributed through Hazelbrae until it was made exclusively a girls’ ‘home.’ Boys were then distributed through Barnardo’s home in Toronto, run initially by Alfred Owen and from 1919 by John and Rose Hobday. Hazelbrae was known from 1912 as the Margaret Cox Home. However, there is only one small picture exhibit devoted to Hazelbrae in the Peterborough Museum and Archives. This to me seems a major oversight given the major role in history played by this Home not only in Peterborough but for all of Canada.

Ivy is a delightful personality—a ‘little old lady’ about five-foot-two with thinning hair who is equal parts compassionate soul and determined spitfire. She can talk non-stop on the subject of Barnardo’s and never exhaust the subject. Ivy’s father Frederick Roberts was placed in the care of the organization as an infant two years old after his young mother had died. His grandmother was going blind and was unable to care for him. Frederick was emigrated to Canada by Barnardo’s at the tender age of 10, arriving on the SS Dominionin September, 1898. When Anne and I visited Ivy, she told us her father had died never having obtained his papers from Barnardo’s.

Frederick Roberts (right), father of Ivy Sucee, about 1906 with his foster brothers Bramwell and Gwynne Watson. Courtesy Ivy Sucee collection

She took up his cause in 1995 when she began corresponding with Colette Bradford, head of Barnardo’s After-Care. The organization up to that time had a poor record of disclosing vital documents even to the adult ‘home children’ themselves. Bradford was the beginning of a changing of the guard. She credits Bradford and the Freedom of Information Act with finally cracking open the vaults. Ivy helps families from all over Canada obtain their records from its After-care division. Recently Barnardo’s After-Care began charging families about $200 for access to family records, a policy controversial with some. Ivy is more sanguine about it.

“This still does not pay for it; when you have been there and seen what they go through to find these records—it took three years of going through records to find my father’s picture…. They couldn’t find it because it was misfiled, but they kept looking and looking all the time. And one day they came across it! Well, guess what I did? I sat down and had a good cry.”

The author with Ivy Sucee at the George St. United Church in Peterborough where many Barnardo children attended services. Photo by Anne Champagne

Ivy estimates that she has now helped, directly or indirectly, 1,000 families to obtain their records from Barnardo’s After-Care. It’s not unusual for her to send out two or three forms a week. Her face lit up with delight when she learned I was from British Columbia—she can now say she has helped Canadian families from coast to coast. But Barnardo’s remains cautious. Only the most direct relative may apply for the records of a ‘homechild’ ancestor. While for privacy reasons this is understandable, it makes the job of historians rather more difficult.

The Hazelbrae Home in Peterborough in its heyday. Courtesy Peterborough Museum & Archives 2000-012-000853

Seeing that there seemed to be little interest on the part of the City of Peterborough in this aspect of its past, Ivy set out to peel back the moss that had grown over the children’s path. Her first project was to have a heritage marker placed near the site of the former train station where the children disembarked to walk up to Conger’s Hill where the Hazelbrae Home stood. (The house was torn down by 1939.) She was initially denied that opportunity because she represented only herself, not an organization. So in 1998 she formed the Hazelbrae Memorial Group and within two years had a plaque erected on the grounds of Peter Robinson College. She was granted a George A. Cox Award from the Peterborough Historical Society for her efforts at a ceremony held April 15, 2000 at Trent University’s Champlain College. 1

“It’s a real privilege,” she said that night in her typical humble fashion. “So many people in Peterborough do so many wonderful things. I didn’t feel I fit into that category.” 2

The new headstone at the Little Lake Cemetery in Peterborough honouring Barnardo children buried there. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Part of the award recognized her further efforts to have a burial marker raised in the city’s Little Lake Cemetery, where a total of 44 girls and two Hazelbrae teachers had been buried. The first marker, erected in 1999 by Barnardo’s to replace a badly decayed original, commemorated 31 girls and two boys who had been buried there. 3 Hazelbrae teacher Jane Loveday is buried next to the monument. By May of 2000, the Hazelbrae Memorial Group had a second headstone installed, honouring teacher Adelaide Pearse (1867–1918) and 13 girls ranging in age from 11 to 25. Most averaged about 19 years of age when they died. The children died of various diseases or accidents, the youngest laid to rest being 9-year-old Ellen Robinson (1887–1896). Many more died while still in their teens or early 20s.

But Ivy wasn’t finished yet. She wanted a way of acknowledging every child who came through Hazelbrae on their way to new lives in Canada. She hit upon the idea of a monument that would list all 8,000-plus names, stamped into polished black granite, designed by Ivy and the Hazelbrae Memorial Group. It took them ten years to raise the approximately $100,000 required to complete the monument, with no government funding of any kind. Ivy raised much of that money through a busy schedule of public speaking engagements and sending out letters of appeal. Meanwhile John Sayers, a researcher with the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO), tracked down the names from the Library and Archives Canada immigration database. (There are four more names to be included at a later date.) After some negotiations with the City of Peterborough, the current site outside the Queen Alexandra School on Barnardo Avenue was chosen. Local artist George Elliott drew the image of the Hazelbrae Home. Gary Foster of Campbell Monuments from Belleville, Ontario built the monument.

“I had a vision of that monument being there and the City showed us every piece of land but that one,” says Ivy. “The government of Ontario declared September 28 Ontario British Home Child Day and we were determined to have it on that day.”

The unveiling was thus held September 28, 2011 with City of Peterborough councilors Dean Pappas and Jack Doris, Liberal MP Jeff Leal, Alex Dewitt, assistant to Liberal MPP Jim Brownell and George Street United Church Minister Allan Reeve present. Brownell was responsible for  private Members Bill 185, proclaiming September 28 Ontario British Home Child Day.

Putting names to the brute forces of history helps us personalize it. It helps us realize that these were human beings with complex emotions, caught up in the wheels of something far larger than themselves. Touching that stone, it made me feel compassion for these boys and girls that had once been dubbed ‘nobody’s children.’ It made me hopeful that this physical marker of their vanished presence will aid the process of healing for many families of child immigrants.

The Hazelbrae Home memorial to the over 8,000 children brought to Canada through Peterborough by Barnardo’s. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Ivy’s work on behalf of Canadian families has not gone unrecognized. She is the recipient of the Rotary Club’s Paul Harris Fellowship and is an honourary ‘Barnardo girl,’ as a certificate on her wall from Barnardo’s testifies. On June 5, 2012 Ivy was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the City of Peterborough. The City is to be commended for making up for its neglect of its ‘home children’ history by honouring this feisty, caring woman. The icing on the cake came this year when Ivy was awarded in July 2012 the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. But for her, all the attention is a bit flustering. Ivy is the real thing—not in it for the awards and accolades, but because she cares.

“There were a lot of tears, and I wasn’t the only one. I don’t feel I do anything that’s all that great. To think, somebody as lowly as a Barnardo child would be considered good enough to receive something like that.” 4

The author at the Hazelbrae Barnardo Home Memorial, 180 Barnardo Ave, Peterborough. Photo Anne Champagne

With special thanks to Ivy Sucee, Peterborough Archives archivist Mary Charles and volunteer Sandra Reid for research assistance.

~§~

SOURCES

1. Deborah Gardner, Peterborough Examiner, Sunday, April 16, 2000.

2. Deborah Gardner, Peterborough Examiner, Sunday, April 16, 2000.

3. Joseph Kim, Peterborough Examiner, Wednesday, May 17, 2000.

4. Sean Arthur Joyce, interview with Ivy Sucee, August 22, 2012, Peterborough, Ontario.

The Barnardo’s Tour of Children’s Ghosts in Peterborough

1. The George Street United Church, 534 George Street North, Peterborough 

Interior of the George Street United Church where many Barnardo’s children attended services. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Aside from the Grace Church which once stood within a block of Hazelbrae, this was probably the main church attended by the Barnardo girls during their stay at the Home. The first church on the site was a timber structure dating to 1836, built by the Wesleyan Methodist Congregation (about where the present Kaye Funeral Home stands). Across the street from the present church a 40’X60’ timber-framed stucco church was built. Remains of its timbers can be seen at the Peterborough Museum. Plans for the current Victorian Gothic structure got underway in the 1870s. Its dedication took place Christmas Day, 1875. It contains magnificent stained glass, a soaring gallery, beautiful woodwork and of course a towering spire. Barnardo children often gave recitals in the Sunday School Hall. The church was attended by Ivy Sucee’s father Frederick Roberts and she married her husband there.

2. Little Lake Cemetery, Peterborough

Located on a rounded peninsula jutting into Little Lake, this is Peterborough’s most historic cemetery, dating to 1850. Famous Canadians buried there include the poet Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850-1887); Joseph Keele (1861-1923), an explorer, surveyor and mapmaker who worked with the Geological Survey of Canada; and other prominent Peterborough citizens over the last century and a half. (http://www.findagrave.com/php/famous.php?page=cem&FScemeteryid=1783130)

The second headstone erected by the Hazelbrae Memorial Group for the Barnardo’s children buried in Little Lake Cemetery. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Although a headstone had been raised to commemorate 33 Hazelbrae boys and girls, it had deteriorated badly prior to the installation by Barnardo’s of a replacement in 1999. A second headstone was raised by the Hazelbrae Memorial Group in 2000, commemorating 13 more Barnardo boys and girls and one of their teachers. Ivy says she feels some of them “died of a broken heart,” or never fully recovered from the traumatic ocean journey from England. Given the ages of the boys and girls here, ranging from 9 to their early 20s, it’s not hard to believe.

3. Art Gallery of Peterborough, 250 Crescent Street, Peterborough

Dr. Barnardo now occupies a place of distinction in Peterborough’s Walk of Fame. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Crescent Street dead-ends in the western end of Little Lake Cemetery so just follow it along the shoreline and you’ll soon see the Art Gallery of Peterborough on your right hand side. The grounds by Little Lake are a frequent site of open-air concerts—a lovely setting. The Peterborough Walk of Fame had been the victim of a glaring omission, according to Ivy Sucee: there was no plaque for Dr. Barnardo. True to form, Ivy lobbied the City and had him included on the Walk. He is described there simply as ‘Samaritan.’ His organization was responsible for bringing 30,000 British children to Canada.

4. Sadleir House, 751 George St. N., Peterborough

Sadleir House’s distinctive Victorian turret on George Street North makes an easy landmark to watch for on the way to the heritage marker. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Walking just a short distance north on George Street from the magnificent Victorian edifice Sadleir House you’ll see (on the same side of the street) the heritage marker erected for Barnardo’s Hazelbrae Home, thanks largely again to the efforts of Ivy Sucee and her Hazelbrae Memorial Group. The sign is approved by Ontario Heritage and is located at the foot of Conger’s Hill where Hazelbrae was located, near a railway station (long since demolished).

The heritage marker that got it all started: just down the block from Sadleir House. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

According to Trent Valley historian Elwood Jones, “Their train stopped as it crossed the laneway from George Street to the front of Hazelbrae on the hill overlooking the Midland railway line that is now part of the Rotary trail. The children …had only a short walk to their new Canadian home.” Given the lushness of the Trent Valley surroundings and the relative lack of development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one can imagine how idyllic the setting must have looked to these children as they disembarked.

5. The Crowning Glory: The Hazelbrae Barnardo Home Memorial, Queen Alexandra Community Centre, 180 Barnardo Ave., Peterborough

Queen Alexandra School on Barnardo Ave where the Hazelbrae Barnardo Home Memorial is located. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Formerly the Queen Alexandra School built in 1889 and added to in 1907 to reach its current exterior form, this was where many of the Barnardo’s children attended school, just a block away from Hazelbrae Home. Currently the school building is used as a seniors recreational club and community programming centre. (http://www.peterborough.ca/Living/Recreation/Queen_Alexandra_Community_Centre.htm)

The Memorial (facing Barnardo Avenue). Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

The memorial erected here by the Hazelbrae Memorial Group took 10 years of fundraising to complete and cost about $100,000. Local artist George Elliott drew the image of the Hazelbrae Home. Gary Foster of Campbell Monuments from Belleville, Ontario built the monument. It lists the names of the 8,914 girls and boys (all girls after about 1886) who were brought to Canada and placed as indentured workers on farms and as domestic servants throughout the region. A fitting tribute to a much-maligned, sometimes abused and often-ignored group of children who grew up to become what author Gail Corbett has called Canada’s “nation builders.”

To arrange tours with Ivy Sucee or for Barnardo’s research assistance, contact her at 705-742-7523. Her work is supported by donations so please be generous. 

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About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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17 Responses to Tracking the Children’s Ghosts in Peterborough Pt. 1

  1. A fine piece of research and writing Sean. It is so gratifying seeing the efforts to record the stories of your”nation builders” and reflect all that can be lost of what the old British Communist Party referred to as “our history”
    Andrew

  2. Gail Collins says:

    wonderful! wonderful!! piece Sean
    Ivy will be thrilled!

  3. Gail LaRocque says:

    Found the above article very interested. My Grandmother was a Barnardo child and I’ve just started to investigate her background. She came over from London by ship with destination Peterborough, ON. Her name was Selina Roberts and her sister was Elizabeth Roberts, who came over the year before. Perhaps their names are on the monument? So good these children are now being recognized. Thank you………..Gail

    • Gail, if you contact Ivy Sucee she will happily tell you if your ancestors’ names are on the Peterborough memorial, she should have the complete list. She’s also willing to give you the grand tour, an experience made memorable as much by being with Ivy as by seeing these important sites in the Home Children history.

  4. Tom townsend says:

    Wonderful research. My grand mother arrived at Hazelbrae in 1904. I look forward to seeing her name on the memorial this summer. My reached revealed that both of my grandmothers were at the After Care home in Barkingside G.B. at the same time. One came through Hazelbrae and the other through Toronto. Amazing.

  5. Janice Davis says:

    My grandmother Margaret Jane Kerr 11, and here sister Mary Annie Kerr 9, arrived in Hazelbrae in 1901. They were separated and lived in different houses. I wonder if their names are honored on the monument. We have not been able to find Mary Annie’s (married James Cunningham) family. My grandfather, William Preston Davis, was also a home child. Thank you for writing this excellent post.

  6. Janice: I would contact Ivy Sucee and she should be able to get you a list of everyone on the memorial. Good luck!

  7. Lori Hogg says:

    My Boyfriend’s Grandmother came through Barnardo house in 1921. She is 100 years of age and lives in Toronto.

  8. Lori: you should make sure her story is recorded if it hasn’t been already. And you might want to contact Lori Oschefsky of the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association.

  9. ALICE MAYO says:

    My mother, Margaret Green, was one of the Home Children. She came to Canada in 1906 when she was 6 years old. She came on the ship S.S. TUNISIAN. My aunt, Elsie Green was also one of the Home Children. She came to Canada in 1904 when she was 11 years old. She came on the ship S.S. PRETORIAN. I have been searching for 50 years to find out information about how they lived in Canada as children. I would like to know if their names are on the memorial monument. I am 82 years old and live in Texas. I have a cousin in Ontario, she is also 82. We would like to know if our mother’s names are on the monument.Thank you for any information you can give me. Alice Mayo
    1129 Joshua Tree Drive
    Plano, TX 75023
    alicemm3@aol.com

  10. Marilyn says:

    Item: Elsie GREEN

    Given Name(s):Elsie

    Surname:GREEN

    Age:11

    Gender:F

    Ship:PRETORIAN

    Port of Departure:Liverpool

    Date of Departure:1904-05-05

    Port of Arrival:Quebec

    Date of Arrival:1904-05-18

    Year of Arrival:1904

    Party: Rev. Robert Wallace

    Destination:Belleville, Ontario

    Comments:Group of children to the Marchmont Home, Miss Smethurst in charge

    Type of Records:Passenger Lists

    Microfilm Reel Number:T-482

    Children travelling together:Q04DS

    Source:Library and Archives Canada

    Reference:RG 76 C1a

    Item Number:55252

  11. kenneth wood says:

    Hi,my name is Ken.Wood. My Dad was a Bernardo child, he never spoke too much of it..,although through the years I was told that he had a rough life on the Crowe farm in Douro Ont. He came to Canada in 1910 on the..S.S. TUNISIAN His brother Hubert Wood was with him …..and Hubert made his escape from the farm somehow….I”d like to know that story…and ended up in Lyons Falls New York .My Dad stayed in Peterborough all his life….Do you have their names anywhere ?…Thanks Ken……..my e-mail is— teal310@bell.net

  12. My Dad and his brother came over in 1910 on the S.S. TUNISIAN…ARE their names on the stone…I heard growing up that they had a rough life on the CROWE farm in Douro Ontario…their names…..Dad =ERNEST EDGAR WOOD and his brother HUBERT WOOD Any info would be appreciated. Thank You Ken.

  13. Phyl Wright says:

    Wonderful article. Thank you Sean and Ivy.
    We visited the site and it is worth seeing.

  14. Darlene McCart says:

    Looking for Reginald Arthur Woodward who came to Canada as a Barnardo child in 1915. Lived in Lindsay Ontario area and worked on a farm. Currently, waiting for more information from the Barnardo Society in which I had to send money to obtain details of my dads adoption.

  15. gail prentice says:

    i am trying to find out if my father was a barnardo child. how do i do this.
    gail

  16. Gail Prentice: I would contact Barnardo’s directly. They are making their records available (for a fee). The other place to go is the National Archives in Ottawa, where you can find online a list of immigration documents for British Home Children. Usually the sponsor organization is listed, though not always. Two good places to start anyway.

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