Winter Harvest

Having read some truly tragic cases of brutal maltreatment of British Home Children in Canada, some resulting in death, I felt compelled to write this poem. Winter Harvest will be included in a forthcoming book of poetry on the BHCs and the issues of how ancestors affect our lives, entitled Ancestral Fire.


George Everett Green, who was 17 when he was brutally murdered by the farmer he was serving in Owen Sound, Ontario. Courtesy British Home Children Canada

Winter Harvest

What hatred grows so hard

its voice can only speak

through a hail of stones?

What crop were we sowing

when we scattered infant spirits

in fields of stone and frost?


Who heard the cry

of Arthur Clarkson,

trembling in bed with frozen,

oozing feet—horsewhipped

for being too weak to face

the darkness of morning?


Who used a pitchfork

on Arnold Walsh, half-

starved the boy on gruel?

Who split his skull

and crammed his body

into a coffin filthy with cowshit?


Whose fists hit George Green

in the face, dragged him

from his sickbed

to sleep with the pigs?

Who rolled the boy’s body

into an unmarked grave?


And whose arms opened

to take in these stranger children

with eyes like haunted moons?

In how many mother’s bosoms

did our caress of frost finally melt?

Who teaches us how to love


if not a child with nothing to lose?

I can hear their spirits moving

over the land they tilled

and sowed, spectral feet smoothing

the ancestral path

I was born to inherit.

©2012 / 2014 Sean Arthur Joyce


Arthur Clarkson was kept in an unheated loft, his feet freezing in his bed at night. He was sent to work in his bare feet during wintertime. When his feet swelled with frostbite they became infected with running sores and he was too ill to work. Farmer David Flaherty dragged Clarkson out of bed at 4:30 am and horsewhipped the boy. Flaherty was charged at Tillbury (near Chatham, Ontario) with assault causing bodily harm. It’s not known whether Flaherty served any sentence.

READ Arthur’s story here:–lily-wood.html

Arnold Walsh was sent in July 1905 to work for James Kelly of Masson, Quebec. Kelly had a substantial property and despite his wealth, Arnold was forced to live and sleep in the barn. He froze to death by February 1906 and was buried in a box too small for his crumpled body. The autopsy showed he had been prodded with a pitchfork, was under-nourished, poorly clothed, bruised, had severely frostbitten hands and feet, and a fractured skull. He lay on a bed of manure in his coffin. James Kelly was found guilty of manslaughter on January 19, 1907 and sentenced to seven years in the penitentiary at St. Vincent de Paul. His remains were buried in an unmarked grave at Notre Dame Des Neiges Cemetery, Masson, Papineau County, Quebec.

READ Arnold’s story here:

George Everett Green was sent by Barnardo’s to work for Helen Findlay in Owen Sound, where he endured beatings, verbal abuse, malnutrition and a home that was kept in a filthy condition. He was made to sleep on a pair of planks covered in straw with a ten-inch hole in the centre, which was supposed to be his toilet. The coroner’s examination of Green’s body was shocking, with “innumerable bruises from the face to the feet. The skin was of a dirty, yellow-brownish colour, and several spots could be seen on the upper part of the chest. The colour of the skin showed insufficient nourishment. Fair-sized ulcers were on the feet, which were swollen, the toes being mortified,” to quote only part of his observations. (As reported in the Daily Mail and Empire November 21, 1895) According to Lori Oschefsky, “in 40 years of medical practice, including working the slums of Glasgow, Dr. Cameron had never encountered such squalid conditions.”

READ George’s story here:

With thanks for the above information to Lori Oschefsky, British Home Children in Canada.


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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1 Response to Winter Harvest

  1. 30mmavenger says:

    Beautiful Sean!! Their stories need to be read, learned, and mourned. And if their stories are understood better as poems for some readers, this is perfect!

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