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P.E.I. author Sara Underwood launches British Home Children book Sept. 28

Sara Underwood stands in front of 108 Prince St., Charlottetown where Doris Loft, a British Home Child, lived in the 1900s. In the 1921 census, she was described as a daughter of William and Belle Wilmore.
Sara Underwood stands in front of 108 Prince St., Charlottetown where Doris Loft, a British Home Child, lived in the 1900s. In the 1921 census, she was described as a daughter of William and Belle Wilmore. - Sally Cole

Sara Underwood has spent the past three years researching the kids who came to P.E.I. between 1893 and 1930 as British Home Children.

There are approximately 200.

She has searched public records, interviewed descendants and walked past houses where some of these children lived.

Now, she’s written a book on the subject. And, as she prepares to launch it, she’s feeling apprehensive about how the content will be received.

“I’m trepidatious. I know that people aren’t going to necessarily like these stories,” says the P.E.I. writer.

Sara Underwood shows a few of the many binders that hold her research. Her book, “Awful Kind: The Story of the Middlemore Children of Prince Edward Island”, will be launched today at Beaconsfield’s Carriage House in Charlottetown at 5:30 p.m. The public is invited.
Sara Underwood shows a few of the many binders that hold her research. Her book, “Awful Kind: The Story of the Middlemore Children of Prince Edward Island”, will be launched today at Beaconsfield’s Carriage House in Charlottetown at 5:30 p.m. The public is invited.

That’s because, while some of the children were welcomed into Island homes, others were brought here to be domestics or labourers, others were severely abused. Some of the stories are very sad.

“I do, however, believe that they are important stories that need to be told,” says the author of “Awful Kind: The Story of the Middlemore Children of Prince Edward Island” that will be released at Beaconsfield’s Carriage House in Charlottetown today at 5:30 p.m., on what is the first annual British Home Child Day in Canada.

“Awful Kind” tells these children’s stories through the reports of Middlemore agents and Islanders sent back to the home, as well as correspondence from Islanders and children themselves.

Take Ethel Marion Parker, for example.

Ethel Marion Parker, left, and her sister-in-law, Matilda Cummings, appear in a photograph from the early 1900s. Lonely and separated from her family, Parker’s story is one of the most powerful narratives in the book.
Ethel Marion Parker, left, and her sister-in-law, Matilda Cummings, appear in a photograph from the early 1900s. Lonely and separated from her family, Parker’s story is one of the most powerful narratives in the book.

The 10-year-old was one of 13 Middlemore Home children that agent Jessie Hogg brought to Prince Edward Island from Halifax on June 20, 1899.

“The girls were supposed to become domestic servants. But Ethel was sent to a farm to work as a farm labourer. She talks about how, when she left one place the people refused to pay her, saying that room and board were enough,” says Underwood.

Her story is told through a series of letters that she sent back to Middlemore over the years. She describes not only the hardships that she endured, but also day-to-day life in Charlottetown at that time, from the fire that destroyed St. Dunstan’s Basilica to the soldiers parading before they left to fight in the Great War.

“Then there’s that moment when she learns that a grandfather in England left her a small inheritance – the only catch is, she will need to prove that she is indeed the Ethel Marion Parker who was sent to Canada all those years ago, and this proves to be difficult.”

Then there’s Reggie Brittain, who settles on a farm with Duncan Stewart and his sister in Southport. The siblings give him a good life. In his letters he writes about attending school, taking an arts course, attending Prince of Wales College and an engineering school in Montreal. Then, after the death of Duncan he comes back to P.E.I. to manage the farm.

“I was happy to end with him because he’s quite a dashing character,” says Underwood, who is thrilled to give these children a voice.

“It’s important to acknowledge the fact that they were here and that they became part of Island society.”

While the book is finished, it is not the end of the project. Underwood has received international requests about the book.

“A couple of filmmakers are interested. And, once I’ve had some time to catch my breath I’ll probably write a novel about home children because I have all this information that’s in my soul. I’m nowhere near done.”

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Making connections

In her book, author Sara Underwood pays tribute to the late John Willoughby and the late Ron Hedges who spent many years researching the British Home Children and fighting to have their contributions to Canadian society recognized.

More than 100,000 children were sent to Canada from heavily industrialized areas of Britain between 1869 and 1948 in the belief that they would have a better future.

Approximately 200 of these children were sent to Prince Edward Island. The average age was six months, and two thirds of the children were boys.

For more information on this book or the ongoing project, go to Peihomechildren.com.


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