Mona Derubeis (left) was taken by officials when she was 2-years-old

Mona Derubeis (left) was taken by officials when she was 2-years-old

A family reunited, over 50 years of separation

A family's reunion — 50 years in the making and jail time served

Imagine the unimaginable. It is the middle of the night and a young, blended family sleeps peacefully in their beds. In the wee hours, you and your common-law partner are awakened by a knock at the door and suddenly, your world is turned upside down. Your children are seized by authorities and you and your partner are arrested and taken to jail.

It sounds like the plot of a bad movie set in some far away, totalitarian state, but according to Lake Cowichan resident, Eileen Pilkington, that is just what happened to her in the province of Quebec in the 1950s.

Pilkington was a young mother, married to a Canadian airman, who left her. Alone with her infant daughter Mona, she moved in with her mother and worked in a restaurant to support herself and her child. At work, she met a man whose wife had left him alone with their three children.

“Basically, we moved in together. It was an accommodation of convenience,” said Pilkington.

Pilkington then stayed home to care for the four children, while her partner went out to work to support them. According to Pilkington, a knock came on the door in the middle of the night and two policemen arrested the couple. The children were also taken into custody by the latter-day, Quebec equivalent of our Ministry of Children and Family Development. Pilkington and her partner were before a judge within hours and charged with “living immorally and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile.” In her words, their crime was simply living together as an unmarried couple with their respective children under the same roof.

Quebec is the only province in Canada to have a civil code, nicknamed by some a “social constitution.” The code dealt with issues like family law, child custody and parental authority. Quebec’s civil code underwent a massive overhaul in the late 50’s and early 60’s as social attitudes changed.

“I was pregnant when I was taken to jail and when the baby came, I was taken to hospital. I gave birth and the baby was immediately taken away. I wasn’t even allowed to hold her,” said Pilkington. “All I saw was a black head of hair when they carried her from the room. One of the nurses whispered in my ear that she was healthy and a girl.”

On her return to incarceration, she was interviewed by the institution’s matron, who after reviewing Pilkington’s paperwork advised her to seek further legal help. After getting a lawyer to review the charges, they were dismissed and Pilkington and her partner were released shortly after, but were unable to regain custody of their children.

“We tried everything, lawyers, searching records, but it’s like they had the paperwork and records buried,” said Pilkington.

Pilkington and her partner married shortly after and had another child together in 1960, a daughter, Brenda. Pilkington’s second husband (and father of Brenda and the other baby she gave birth to while in custody) died of cancer in 1978.

In 1983, Pilkington moved to B.C. to care for her aging mother and in 1984 married Sam Pilkington, the love of her life. After Sam retired from his job at Royal Columbian Hospital, the couple decided to spend their retirement years in the country and moved to Lake Cowichan in 1990. Sam passed away several years ago.

Brenda, the youngest daughter and her husband Claude Cadieux were mainstays in Sam and Eileen’s life, but always she held hope that she would someday find her two other daughters. When she remarried, she again registered with Childfind Canada under her married name, giving all the details that she had about her two missing daughters.

Meanwhile, her daughters, Mona and Aileen were on the other side of the country, doing the same.

“I always had a hole in my gut, that unknown spot. Why? How?” said Aileen Dawson, the now grown daughter who was taken at birth. “I couldn’t imagine a mother giving up a baby.”

For elder daughter, Mona Derubeis (nee Hart), the feelings were the same. At age 18, the legal age in Quebec when she could start seeking answers without her adoptive parent’s consent, she began to search. While Dawson’s adoptive parents were loving and supportive of her search for her roots, Derubeis had to go it alone.

“Aileen was the first to find us,” said Pilkington. “It was incredible!”

Aileen had suffered a cancer scare in 2004 and needed medical information about her birth parents. Pilkington was tracked down and non-personal information was exchanged between mother and daughter. Eventually the two were able to make contact, first by letters, telephone, Skype, then in person, when Dawson flew from Quebec to see her mother and meet her younger sister, Brenda for the first time.

“It took me three days to read through the first letter. I’d read a line and cry and cry, then read another line,” said Dawson. “The first phone call I had to get my husband to dial the number I was shaking so hard. I was terrified and exhilarated at the same time.”

Finally, two years ago, eldest daughter Mona was able too, at long last track down her mother.  A private investigator she had hired had been on the case for five years when the breakthrough came. Younger sister Brenda answered the phone the day the magic call came.

“My Mum was cooking supper and I told her, you really need to sit down,” laughs Brenda. “I’m talking to Mona.”

Last week, the two elder daughters flew out from Quebec for a reunion at their mother’s Lake Cowichan home. After over 50 years, the family is finally reunited.

“You hear horror stories of biological children being reunited with their parents, but there’s no such thing as that here,” said middle daughter Aileen. “Everybody, all of us wanted so badly to be together. I feel like the richest person on this earth. I finally have a complete family.”


Just Posted

Karl McPherson, left, and Mary Morrice are the new head coach and general manager, respectively, at the Duncan Dynamics Gymnastics Club. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Manager charts a new course for Duncan Dynamics

More recreational programs to join competitive teams

Cute but fierce! Timber moonlights as an attack kitty. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Sarah Simpson Column: Beware of Mr. Bite, the midnight attacker

Last week, in the middle of the night, I was awoken by… Continue reading

The province has come through with funding for Duncan Manor’s renewal project. (File photo)
Funding comes through for Duncan Manor’s renewal project

Money will come from the province’s Community Housing Fund

The former St. Joseph’s School site will remain an art studio at least into early next year. It will take some time before being converted to an addictions recovery community. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Addiction recovery facility will be all about building community together

Society on a clear path with members’ experiences to provide valuable help

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system also takes Indigenous children from their families, communities and nations

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Condolences pour in for Kathy Richardson, Naramata’s 3rd homicide victim in recent weeks

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More than 75% of B.C. adults have 1st dose of COVID vaccine

The federal government has confirmed a boost in the Moderna vaccine will be coming later this month

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

The rainbow flag flies beside the Canadian flag outside the University of the Fraser Valley’s Chilliwack campus on June 26, 2020. Monday, June 14, 2021 is Flag Day, and also June is Pride Month. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 13 to 19

Flag Day, Garbage Man Day, International Panic Day all coming up this week

Terry Mazzei next to a truck after it was struck by lightning, with him inside, on Wednesday afternoon, June 9. He walked away from the incident without injury and the truck sustained only mild damage; a blown front tire and newly broken gas gauge. (Wendy Mazzei photo)
Vancouver Island man walks away unscathed after lightning strike

VIDEO: ‘We like to think that his dad was watching over him’

Most Read