Monday, 28 July 2014

The British Home Children Exhibit

We woke up early this morning, piled into two cars, and headed down the highway to Toronto.  Our destination was Black Creek Pioneer Village.  We arrived just in the nick of time.  We grabbed our umbrellas, rushed into the Visitor's Centre and presented our tickets.  Jacqueline immediately noticed a giant banner hanging from the ceiling with the image of a scared girl, a Union Jack in the background.  "Look Mom, it's Daisy" she announced, meaning my great-grandma, Daisy Blay, the poster child for the British Home Child Exhibit.

Photo courtesy Laurie Candela.

But first we had to get to the World War I Memorial Service for the British Home Children who served, including my great-great uncle William Blay. We rushed over to the Events Pavilion, the rain sprinkling us. Under the rooftop, we stood at attention as the cadets, soldiers and policemen filed into the Pavilion, led by four bagpipers.  Two soldiers carried flags, the Maple Leaf and the Union Jack.

With everyone in position on the stage, we sat down.  We listened to speeches by an MP responsible for the passage of the bill making September 28 British Home child Day in Ontario.  A British Home Child treated us to a heartfelt speech, delivered without notes.  At 91 years old, he told us how he arrived in Canada in 1938.  He talked about shovelling manure (not the word he used), and about serving in the Second World War.  He thanked Canada for the opportunity it gave him.  I thought that was touching.

World War I 100th

Logo courtesy Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Don Cherry took the stage.  You may ask:  What does the co-host of Coach's Corner have to do with the British Home Children?  His grandfather, Richard Palamountain, was a British Home Child who fought in the First World War.  Known for not pulling any punches, Mr. Cherry pointed out how the British Home Children, who were essentially slaves, had long been overlooked -- something that likely wouldn't have happened if they were a nationality other than British.

Photo of William Blay courtesy Jill Stroud.

We sang "Those in Peril on the Sea", a hymn that the British Home Children sang on many of the trans-Atlantic voyages.  We sang O Canada and God Save the Queen.  We listened to the last post, followed by a two minute silence for the World War I Canadian veterans.

After the Memorial Service, we chatted with the other guests, while my daughter Jacqueline played in a giant puddle with her purple rain boots.  My author friend Rose McCormick Brandon's husband managed to shake Don Cherry's hand as he headed "down the fire escape".

Don Cherry photo courtesy

We headed back to the Visitor's Center, searching for some food to eat.  After a long search, we found some sandwiches and sat down to munch on them.  Then we wandered around the pioneer village from building to building:  a print shop that used to be a Temperance Hall, a doctor's residence that looked like the Bell Homestead in Brantford, a brick school from Markham, and a Presbyterian Church.  Jacqueline was delighted to see a couple of chestnut-coloured workhorses.  We also spotted clusters of children dressed in pioneer garb, racing from building to building, looking for clues as part of their day camp.

At 2:00 pm, we returned to the Visitor's Centre for the grand opening of the British Home Child Exhibit.  We heard the story of a gentleman whose father was a British Home Child.  He thanked Dr. Barnardo, the evangelical who started a program to shelter these impoverished children, for "rescuing" his father.  I was touched by his sincerity.  His father must have been one of the "lucky" ones.

Photo courtesy Laurie Candela.

After the opening, they brought out a cake which said "Grand Opening:  July 28, 2014".  And whose image do you think was on it?  My great- grandma, Daisy Blay.  My mom and my sister snapped a photo, then a lady proceeded to slice it up.

Aunty Marlene & Mom photo courtesy Laurie Candela.

We headed across the hallway to the piece de resistance, the exhibit.  Large wooden trunks, with names neatly engraved on them, sat on display.  Daisy's story, along with the stories of two other home children, was written on the wall and on story cards.  Military uniforms and medals were proudly displayed in a glass case along with photos of soldiers.  It was like stepping back in time, a century ago.  Until I saw two children, sitting in two wrought iron desks, the small one on her i-pad, the big one on his i-phone.

Daisy Blay courtesy Marlene Mason, courtesy Laurie Candela.

At 3:30 pm, we said our goodbyes and headed back to our vehicles.  The memorial service was a fitting tribute to the 10,000 British Home children who served in World War I.  The exhibit was a fitting tribute to the 100,000 British Home Children who helped build our country.  Thank you, Black Creek Pioneer Village and The British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association for your hard work in setting up the exhibit!

Thank you, Daisy!  Thank you, William! I'm proud to be a descendant of such hearty stock! Thank you, Mom, for the family history scrapbook with the haunting photo of Daisy which started me on this journey. Thank you , Aunty Marlene, for your countless hours of research on the Blay family.  Thank you, Rose, for sharing Daisy's story in your book Promises of Home!   And last but not least, thank you, to my husband and children for their support of my endless passion for telling Daisy's story.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Kathryn Stockett Refused to Give Up on The Help

It was the day after September 11.  Kathryn Stockett was living in New York without a phone, without mail. She didn't know what to do with herself.  So she started writing a book.  The book, based in Jackson, Mississippi where she had grown up, was about black maids and the white women they worked for.  

After a year and a half of writing, Ms. Stockett strated submitting her manuscript to agents.  Her first rejection said:  "Story did not sustain my interest."  After 15 more rejections, Kathryn's friend said:  "Maybe the next book will do better."  But the debut author was determined to sell this book, explaining that she wasn't about to move on because of "a few stupid letters".  

Rejection number 40 said:  "There is no market for this kind of tiring writing."  The comment made Kathryn cry.  She spent the entire weekend in her pajamas.  But she didn't give up.  She just dug in deeper.  Her friends started to wonder how many times she could repaint her apartment, when in reality she was working on her manuscript.  

After rejection number 45, Kathryn became neurotic:  she lived, ate and breathed her story.  In fact, one hour before her scheduled appointment to deliver her baby, she was at home rewriting the last chapter of her book.  She gave birth to a healthy baby girl, but did not give up on her literary quest.  Kathryn would leave the baby with her husband saying she was going on a girls' getaway when in fact she was around the corner at the Comfort Inn pounding away on her keyboard.  

In 2009, after five years of writing, after three and a half years of rejections, query number 61 said yes! Three weeks later, Kathryn's agent sold her manuscript to Amy Einhorn Books.  The Help landed on the New York Times bestseller list (for 100 weeks).  It has sold 500 million copies in 35 countries and three languages. The Help was made into a blockbuster movie as well.  All because Kathryn Stockett refused to give up.


Thursday, 24 July 2014

Anne of Green Gables Could Have Sat in a Hat Box

In the early 1900's, Lucy Maud Montgomery was working as an editor for the Halifax Morning Chronicle when she read a newspaper article about a local couple who applied to adopt a boy, but instead was sent a girl.  The wheels started turning in Miss Montgomery's head.

In 1905, she wrote a novel about an elderly sister and brother from P.E.I. who apply to adopt a boy, but instead are sent a red-headed, freckle-faced girl with a wild imagination.  Most people would assume that her story was immediately snapped up by a publisher.  But this was not the case.  After five rejections, Miss Montgomery put her manuscript in a hat box and tucked it away.  In the meantime, she got on with her life.

Three years passed.  Finally, the author resubmitted her story.  This time it was accepted by L. C. Page of Boston, Massachusetts.  Anne of Green Gables was an immediate success in bookstores, selling more than 19000 copies in the first five months.  It was translated into 20 different languages.  Miss Montgomery penned seven sequels, all of which enjoyed a certain amount of success.  Today it has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

How Gone With the Wind Almost Didn't Get Published

Margarte Mitchell courtesy

It had been ten years since Margaret Mitchell first started writing her Civil War era novel.  The 1000-plus page manuscript was collecting dust under her sofa, replacing a broken leg.  Then fate intervened.

Margaret Mitchell was raised by a lawyer historian father and a mother in Atlanta, Georgia.  Her father would tell her endless stories about the Civil War and encourage her to further her education.  Margaret graduated from college and pursued a career in journalism at the Atlanta Journal.

Atlanta, Georgia circa 1907 courtesy

In 1926, after sustaining injuries in an automobile accident, Margaret decided to take a prolonged vacation to recuperate.  Her husband got tired of bringing home stacks of books from the Atlanta Library for her to read and suggested that she write her own book.  She took him up on it.

Margaret spent several years writing the novel about Southern belle Pansy O'Hara and her Civil War soldier Rhett Butler. Drawing on her father's stories and sifting through countless old newspapers and magazines, Margaret drafted a historically accurate story about Atlanta during the Civil War years.

Margaret kept the manuscript a secret, never intending on having it published.  However, one day she revealed to a friend that she was working on a novel, to which the woman replied:  "You, write a book?!" The remark was the impetus for Margaret to market her manuscript.

In 1936, a publisher from MacMillan was travelling the South looking for new material.  When he arrived in Atlanta, Margaret gave him her precious manuscript.  He read it on the train to New Orleans and was so impressed he immediately sent it to New York City.  Within two months, Margaret had a book contract.


Margaret toyed with different titles for her novel including:  Tomorrow is Another Day, Bugles Sang True, Not in Our Stars, and Tote the Weary Lode.  She settled on a line from a favourite poem by Ernest Dowson:

"I have forgotten too much, Cynara/Gone with the wind/
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng/
Dancing to put thy pale/lost lilies out of mind.

MacMillan suggested that she change the heroine's name from Pansy to Scarlett and she agreed.

Gone W|ith the Wind went on to sell one million copies in the first six months.  The following year, Ms. Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  The Civil War era novel went on to be translated into 40 different languages.  It has never been out of print.


Margaret Mitchell reading her famous novel courtesy

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Flying Scotsman

The first Flying Scotsman, a green apple painted train, left London for Edinburgh back in 1862.  It set a record for the first steam locomotive to reach 100 miles per hour in 1934.  After a century of service, the Flying Scotsman made its last run in 1963.  

The Flying Scotsman was the dream of Nigel Gresley.  The first locomotive took ten and a half hours to travel the 392 miles from the English to the Scottish capital.  Only first and second class passengers were sold tickets; third class had to find another mode of transportation.  

Nigel Gresley and passengers on board the Flying Scotsman circa 1928 courtesy

IN 1923, a new locomotive was built with such a large tender that it could carry nine tons of coal.  Without the need to stop for refueling the Flying Scotsman made the trip within eight hours.  By now, third class passengers were also sold tickets.  

The train featured a cocktail bar, a Louis XVI themed restaurant and even a cinema coach for a short time. In the hair salon, female passengers could get a new coif while male passengers could get shaved with a straight razor.  

In 1924 and 1925, the Flying Scotsman served as the "flagship" for the railroad company at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley.  Four years later, the train starred in its own movie bearing the same name.  

In 1963, the Flying Scotsman made its last run from King's Cross Station to Waverley Station.  It was about to be sold for scrap, but was saved from the scrapyard by a local businessman.  Next year plans are in order to restore it once again.