Local First Nation elders met recently with a number of descendants of “home children” at the invitation of Duncan United Church for a roundtable discussion in recognition of the similar experiences of youthful trauma that many in both groups have had.
The roundtable came about following a tribute made by Bill Dennis, a member of the congregation at Duncan United Church, to his father last year on church grounds.
Dennis purchased a plaque and placed it in a new garden next to the church in honour of his father, Benjamin William Dennis, one of the approximately 100,000 “home children” that were sent from Britain to Canada between 1869 and 1948 and placed with families in rural areas of the country in the hope of having better lives.
At the time, there was a lot of poverty in Britain and that country had a Poor Law that allowed authorities to take kids from poverty-stricken families, often without consent, and send them to families in countries like Canada, Australia and South Africa.
Dennis’s father ended up with a farming family outside of Toronto as an indentured worker, which means he was contracted to work on the farm without salary for a number of years.
His father lived and worked on the farm until he was 18 and was then released on his own with just the clothes on his back, with no family or friends to rely on.
Dennis hardly knew his father and ended up being passed from one family member to another when he was a child.
Dennis said last year that after the hard lives he and his father lived as youths, he was overwhelmed with emotion when the residential schools hit the headlines with the discovery of unmarked graves.
“Something has to be done to recognize all the children who were put through such trauma, whether they are indigenous or not,” he said at the time.
“Lives were brutal for all these kids. I can certainly see how residential schools impacted the First Nations children who attended them, and their children as well. There was no love for them in those schools and I was alone and had no one to love me either at that age.”
That led to Lori Oschefski, president of Home Children Canada which has been working since 2012 to uncover the stories of these children and share the information with the world, and Home Children Canada researcher Suzanne Mozdzen to come to Duncan and meet with First Nations Elders.
The meeting also commemorated British Home Child Day, which was on Sept. 28.
“Following the dedication of the garden and plaque, local First Nations began to take interest and ask questions about home children, drawing many parallels with them,” Dennis said.
“An excellent dialogue and sharing happened between the groups.”