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

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment