Children Of An Uncertain Tomorrow

Hope Swan was 12 years old when she was sent to Canada, and her name haunts me still, as I know little more about her. I first found her in this database from Collections Canada when I was researching Home Children for the Heritage Book I was working on, back in 2013.

Hope came over on a ship called the Dominion, the year was 1907. She was one of hundreds and hundreds of children that came over from Britain, a product of the poverty and disease that the Industrial Revolution was generating, of some families so desperate they had to give up some of their children to these agencies because they could not feed them, care for them, they were destitute. Other children had lost their parents to disease or just the great wear and tear the new industries put on to the underfed frail bodies. Some of them were products of the many sailors that came into port, and off to these orphanages they would go – some to local families, and many more were sent to both Canada and Australia, to be servants or hired hands, few went to be children loved and cared for.

I don’t know anything more about Hope, but her name, her age, and the year she was sent on that ship to Canada, that she sailed from Liverpool and her port of arrival was Quebec, her destination was the Barnardo Home in Toronto. She departed April 25, 1907, and arrived May 7th. The only reason I even know anything about her is that she was listed as being with a family within the township the Heritage Book was researching.

With a bit of digging I found a possible birth record in England, with one Hope Swan born in Bromley, Kent, England in 1894, which seems a likely candidate as I know there was a Barnardo Home in that area.

Later in the 1901 census Hope would have been 7, I find a father JOHN 38, mother ELLEN 37, with siblings Faith 12, John 11, Gore was 9, and Jocelyn who was 4. The striking detail of this document that stands out about this family is that only two of them were born in the same place – Faith & John, who were born in Kensington, London, England – all the rest were scattered, with the father from Plymouth, Devonshire, the mother from Dovercourt Essex, with Gore in Catford London, Hope in Bromley, Kent, and Jocelyn in Lee, London. They had migrated across England for work, and they were merely one family of hundreds and thousands who did not benefit from the wealth the new industries brought to Britain.

The next time I find her she is 17, living in Middlesex East, Ontario, Canada in the 1911 Census as a domestic servant to a couple with the last name of Manning.

I know nothing else, but for a Jennie A. (Hope) Swan buried in a cemetery an hour or so east of here, but no date or anything more to tell me if this is my Hope.

Her name stands out, and there were far fewer girls than boys I found that came over as this area of Southern Ontario has always been agricultural and many families needed farm hands, and not domestics.

That great journey across that big dark ocean all on her own, to a place so far away, with no idea how she would fare, and she was only 12. When I was 12 I was still so young and innocent, playing in the backyard with friends, snow forts in the winter, skating on the river, you know, being a kid.

Perhaps I haven’t written about this till now, probably because of this anger inside that swirls whenever I see another video on CNN or MSNBC or PBS or any of the news agencies, the newspaper articles I’ve read, from the WaPo to our local London Free Press, but with kids in cages, Hope came to my mind, again.

I myself grew up loved in a safe country, in a safe province, in a quaint little Ontario Village that stretches out along the Thames River. Both my parents were there, with a Grandma next door, and old family friends on either side of us, it was, well, it was rather idyllic, really.

I have no first-hand experience, no idea what it would be like to be separated from my parents, my family. I have no idea what it feels like to walk hundreds of miles on foot from everything I’ve ever known because everything I’ve ever known is swamped in violence and danger, having to seek asylum somewhere far away from everything I have ever known.

Yet what is transpiring right now on the U.S. southern border, or maybe more correctly what is not transpiring, well it all rams home the very racist and dangerous administration that now runs the White House.

So when I saw another talking head on Fox News exclaim that if asylum seekers want to seek asylum in America that they should do so in the safety of their own country, I think something snapped. Now, perhaps to the average Fox News viewer, this seems reasonable, and maybe they just take in whatever those talking heads say as gospel.

However, for the rest of us, that logic is so flawed that I can not find the words to express how wrong-headed and ignorant that statement is. Of course, not shocking, but I yelled some nasty words at the screen, and turned this thing off, grabbed Irish and her leash and off we went for a walk, to let off some steam.

And well, here I am.

This statement is akin to basically saying I don’t really care what is going on in your home country, just stay put, and we’ll call ya if we can help: don’t hold your breath.

“If you want to apply for asylum, that’s fine. But you should do so in the safety of your home country.”

Laura Ingraham on Fox News

Racist Americans have been talking about his border wall for decades and decades, and to finally be caging children and their desperate parents must fill that hatred inside their soiled hearts with happiness.

All I can think of is being a child and imagining, from that lily-white Canadian upbringing I enjoyed, thinking back to those brief times from my youth when I got separated briefly from my parents and the fear that I felt. Now imagining it is probably permanent and that you may never again see them. Ever. Maybe because when they finally returned to their home country they were killed, or jailed, or just died of something on the way back.

But, since the U.S. powers that be didn’t even bother to record anything about your parents, and didn’t bother to make any attempt to actually ensure you could be returned to them, you may just end up more or less abandoned inside a cage somewhere with little to no hope of reuniting with them for the sheer fact that the government just didn’t really give a hog’s breath in Hades about your plight.

Yeah, because if you could have sought asylum from the safety of your home country… YOU WOULDN’T BE SEEKING ASYLUM!

Now, you and I both know that Ingraham really doesn’t care about these poor kids or their parents, and neither does this administration or the minions who follow that crooked 45th. Ingraham and Nielson both go home to a nice cozy house, her family is safe and probably she’s rarely known a smidgen of the fear and desperation these fellow humans feel. Doesn’t care because they have a different skin tone than her and come from what her dear leader would probably refer to as a sh*! hole country.

Even though rational and non-racist individuals know full well there is no emergency at the border, this narrative was defended for all to see with DHS Secretary Nielsen’s testimony before the new Congress, and it sickened me.

Basically, seeking asylum in America has become dangerous and there is a large swath of Americans that are just fine with that.

In Hopes time, more than 100 years ago, first being given up to an orphanage, and then being sent off to Canada to become a servant at 12 years old was thought by most to be the best option for these children left destitute from the staggering changes brought on by the industrial revolution. In all revolutions, there are those who lose and those who win. Much like today, as the global market that revolution set off continues to chug away across the globe, and the world divides itself more clearly into the haves and have-nots, and children are stuffed into cages after being taken forcibly from their parents, what future will these children have on foreign soil?

Someday I will find out what happened to Hope, as in a way she is a kind of metaphor, a tangible piece of the past. Many of these children, those Home Children of yesteryear, they were successful in their new countries, but not all fared as well. Many were abused by their employers, as they had no family to make sure they were taken care of.

At the turn of the century, destitute children were thought to be better off sent to foreign lands where they would have at least some hope. What future will these children of today who were forcibly taken from their parents and stuffed into cages have?

Time will tell as the colour of the skin of these children is thought to make their needs less, of no more significance than that of a stray dog.


featured photo by Pixabay on

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