Ghost-Tracking

Sean Arthur Joyce 

—for the boys and girls who passed through the Hazelbrae*

distributing home in Peterborough, Ontario and similar institutions

 

A boatload of Barnardo girls arriving in St. John’s awaiting transport to distributing home. Library and Archives Canada PA-041785

 

Your footsteps are not in the leaves

skidding across a sidewalk,

 

your voice not in the sigh

lifted from the canal,

 

and your body certainly

not in this granite cut,

 

stamped and buffed

by remote hands.

 

You giggled at steam huffing

from a locomotive squeal,

 

eyed the long walk up Conger’s Hill

with something like dread,

 

something unknown

about to be born. You wiped,

 

scrubbed and polished

daredevil curves of banister;

 

fed two hundred pigs at dawn,

pumped water, made tea,

 

stoked the fires that broke

the morning darkness.

 

You hid beneath the soft fortress

of an iron cot, screening out

 

the furnace of a stare

burning away sleep.

 

Some, it’s true, were kind.

Men and women both, who wept

 

when made to choose you—

cattle from a stockyard—

 

your good breeding showing through

faces stoic, eggshell clean.

 

Some measured your biceps

and calculated foot-power.

 

Others would have taken you all—

breeches and Oxfords,

 

pinafores and aprons—

happily emptied gleaming oaken halls,

 

leaving only silverware

and the half-gone spirits of matrons.

 

But here in this corner—lamplit

wonderland—a boy curled catlike

 

in a lap, absorbing stories.

By this hearth, a girl shook out

 

her curls as she would a towel,

trying to recall the magic stitch

 

that made her fingers tingle

with the faint ghosts of home.

 

©2012 Sean Arthur Joyce 

 

* Hazelbrae was opened by Barnardo’s Homes in June 1884; the first group of children arrived July 22, 1884 and included some boys. After 1888 it became exclusively a girls’ distributing home for Barnardo’s, bringing some 8,000 of them into the Ottawa Valley to work by the time the Home closed in 1923.

 

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 (some boys among them) had only a short walk to their new Canadian home.”

 

with thanks to Ivy Sucee & Peterborough Museum & Archives for research assistance

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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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2 Responses to Ghost-Tracking

  1. Beverley says:

    What a beautiful poem….so moving. My grandmother was a BHC who came to Hazelbrae in 1913 at the age of 13. I’ve enjoyed reading your other posts about your visit to Peterborough. I’ve learnt a few new details. Thanks for such wonderful writing!

  2. Thanks for your compliment Beverley. I am the grandson of a BHC who came to Canada in 1926 with the Church of England. Thankfully at last their stories are getting out there after long years of suppression.

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