Duncan United Church Minister Keith Simmons (left) and Bill Dennis with a plaque commemorating the “home children” sent from Britain to Canada that is now in place on church property. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Duncan United Church Minister Keith Simmons (left) and Bill Dennis with a plaque commemorating the “home children” sent from Britain to Canada that is now in place on church property. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Robert Barron column: Inter-generational trauma can hit hard

Can’t imagine being in Dennis’s shoes at the same age; totally alone in a cold and harsh world

Every now and again, I’m reminded how lucky I was to grow up in a loving family.

When I was a youth, I always took for granted that I would always have a warm bed to sleep in, plenty of food in the refrigerator to eat and parents and siblings to take care of me.

But that’s not the case for everyone, including the thousands of Indigenous children in Canada who were taken from their families and forced to attend those awful residential schools, with many losing their lives in the process and buried anonymously in unmarked graves that are only now beginning to be found.

We, as a society, are just now coming to grips with what was done to these children and their families and, hopefully, we will move together towards a better tomorrow.

Other youths around the world have also had to deal with difficult childhoods, including many impoverished kids from the British islands who were also taken from their families many decades ago and forced to travel to destinations all around the world and settled with mostly farming families they had never met.

I’m sure this worked out for many of them whose new families treated them well, but a lot were forced to be indentured servants, which is a nice way to say slaves, and were used for farm labour.

I met the son of one of these youths, called “home children”, a couple of weeks ago at Duncan United Church.

Bill Dennis told me that the British authorities used the Poor Law, that allowed them to take kids without consent from poverty-stricken families, to apprehend his father, Benjamin William Dennis, and ship him across the Atlantic Ocean to a farming family outside of Toronto.

Dennis said his father worked without pay at the farm until he was 18, and then left to make his own way in the world that he knew nothing about; with no money, friends, or family to help him.

His father managed to get a decent job as a truck driver and tried to have a normal life, but he never fully recovered from the trauma from his young years and had difficulties with affection and relationships within his own family for the rest of his life.

Dennis said when his mother died when he was just eight months old, his father handed him over to his grandmother to be raised and Dennis never met him again.

He said while his grandmother accepted him, the rest of the family didn’t and, at the age of 17, he was kicked out of the house and found himself pretty much like his father was at about the same age; broke and alone.

I recall that when I was 17, I was attending university and still living in a loving and safe home.

I can’t imagine being in Dennis’s shoes at the same age; finding myself totally alone in a cold and harsh world.

The trauma experienced by his father crossed the generation to his son, and Dennis told me that although he went on to have a career in the military and start a family of his own, he had always had a hard time expressing emotion and love to his children.

It’s not that he didn’t love and cherish them, it was simply that such emotions were forced down a deep well in Dennis’s psyche when he was young, and he is still struggling to express them to this day.

But he is trying to exorcise those demons and paid for a new plaque at Duncan United Church to commemorate the approximately 100,000 “home children” that were sent from Britain to Canada between 1869 and 1948.

Certainly, opening up and talking about the inter-generational trauma that has affected both him and his father is part of the healing process.

My heart goes out to him and all the others who have experienced so much pain in their youth.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Column