Author Sean Arthur Joyce began looking into his family tree.
What began as a simple search turned into a discovery that shocked him and provided fodder for a new book – Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest – Canada’s Home Children in the West.
Joyce says his father had always wondered why his grandfather, Cyril William Joyce had arrived in Canada at the age of 16, pointing out it wasn’t like him to do something so adventurous.
In 2007, Joyce began delving seriously into the mystery, discovering his grandfather had been sponsored for emigration to Canada in 1926 by the Church of England.
Between 1869 and 1949, more than 100,000 children were rounded up from the streets of Britain to be used as labourers in Canada. Other children were sent to Australia and New Zealand.
“Today there are four million or more descendants of what were derisively known as ‘home children,’” says Joyce. “A small number died in ‘care’ but the reality for most was brutally hard work and being treated basically like an alien, not allowed to play with other kids and not allowed to be educated, which was contrary to the contract the farmers had signed.”
A journalist for 25 years, Joyce had already written two books on the history of the West Kootenay region.
“Many of the families I met are only just discovering that they had home children,” he says, noting that because the children were at the bottom of the social hierarchy, they were treated as third-class citizens. “So there was shame attached, so the first thing they wanted to do was become invisible.”
But the next generation wants to know the story.
“Even though there was a stigma attached then, we don’t care,” he says. “Everywhere I go, I meet descendants of home children… the interest in this is just exploding.”
A special voice in Joyce’s book is his “cover girl,” Irene Gladys, whose picture is on the front of his book and whose daughter Irene Campbell is a Salmon Arm resident and will be at his presentation.
“It made me realize that despite our all-publicized reputation for being ‘goody two shoes,’ like any other country, we have our shadow side,” he says, of this bit of mostly unknown national history. “I don’t condone it, but it is part of human nature.”
Joyce will speak about his book and its families at Okanagan College at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23.