Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence





Editor's note:When Irene Cook phoned in late January 1998 to seek assistance in discovering her father's records, I told her about the cross-reference file I was making and about the British All-party Health Select Committee looking into Child Migration. Though I had never met her, I asked her to write a bit about her father and their relationship. I promised to include her work in Home Children Canada's submission to the British Committee. Irene faxed her story a day later and asked her sister Barbara Alden who lives hundreds of miles away in Nova Scotia to do likewise. In retyping the papers for greater ease of reading I have made a few spelling and punctuation corrections and used underlining and italics to emphasize passages I believed might be of significance to Committee members.It is important to note that both papers were written "off the top" and that I received the first (and only) drafts. What we have here is sheer, honest, pent-up emotion and a clear picture of the effect of the stigma imposed on all Home Children and the residual effects on second and perhaps third generations.


by Irene Cook
I would like to add, with great pride, my father's name to the list of children whose childhood was taken away from them by becoming one of 100,000 children brought to Canada. My father is James William Cook and he was brought to Canada at age eight in 1912. My father was the dearly loved foster child of John and Jessie Dixon from the age of three to eight. He spoke almost tearfully at age 92 of how much he was loved and cared for. How completely happy he was with these people he thought of as family! He told me he remembered clearly his foster mother sobbing the day he boarded a ship to Canada, telling him it would be only for a little while and he should come back to England as soon as he was able. He told me the band was playing "God be with you till we meet again" as he walked up the gangplank. My father recalled the terror he felt at viewing the icebergs in the Atlantic Ocean which had, six weeks earlier, sent the "unsinkable" Titanic to the seabottom. He remembered the loneliness and isolation of a train ride from Halifax, I believe, to Port Hope, Ontario.He was sent to a farm in Garden Hill. My Dad told me the first thing the farmer did was take his shoes away from him. He was only allowed to wear them to church on Sunday. He was treated horrifically for ten years by this family. He was never included or involved with the family. He was teased, tormented, and even deafened in his left ear by the beatings he received. He ate alone and stayed apart from the family. He led a life of lonely desolation, never knowing the love and affection of a mother, or the strength and wisdom of a father. He was treated as a hired hand and badly even by those standards. Please bear in mind this was an eight year old child who had been pampered and coddled by his foster parents.May I take this opportunity to tell you how desperately ashamed my father was at being one of these "Home Boys". We were forbidden to tell anyone of how my dad came to Canada and he himself lied once when a local newspaper interviewed him. He stated he was born in Toronto.My dad left that farm on his 18th birthday. With the Grade 3 education he received he walked away from that farm of horrors the instant his obligation was fulfilled. He walked down the road to a neighbour's farm where he would work until he saved enough money to travel to Toronto. My dad made a life there and years later moved to Brampton with my mother. I loved my father, but ours was not a smooth relationship. My Dad could be very insensitive. As a very small child I was given a chick by my uncle. I must have mauled it half to death as I carried it everywhere. It became very sickly from my loving it so much and I remember carrying it to my father and holding it up to him with both hands. I wanted him to make it better. My dad took the chick from me and said "Well that's had it!" and promptly wrung its neck. To my father everything had a purpose and when that purpose expired so did the animal's existence. I blame this on my dad's childhood. He had nothing to emulate but cruelty. He could not relate to pets with love. To get along with my Dad you had to be useful, do things right the first time, account for every cent you spent or wanted to. My father was an incredibly intelligent man. He worked harder than anyone I have ever known. He started an upholstery business and worked until he was 71 years old. He raised four children. My dad was unable to speak of his feelings, never said he loved us. Never showed any physical affection towards me. It was only as an adult when I learned to say "I love you", that I told him and he reciprocated with "Me too!". We had a very rocky relationship but I loved him dearly. I didn't often like him and we butted heads often. It has only been since his death from bone cancer at age 92, two years ago in May that I have made peace with him. I read Mr Bagnell's book entitled "The Little Immigrants" and suddenly I understood him. His insensitivity, his coldness, his inability to show love. They were a small piece, a curtain-crack piece of the atrocities he lived, endured. So I add my father's name with pride to the list of small souls who were damaged irreparably by England's unwise decisions and Canada's cruel new development. They (Home Children) worked hard, built the farms, and indeed the country. They came to us as hired slaves, but (as in) my father's case died heroes who survived.In closing I'd like to say I wish I could know who my father was. I've never seen a picture of him as a child. I don't know who his parents were, their nationality, where he was born. Did he have siblings? These many unanswered questions leave a huge void for myself and my family.Thank you for recognizing the tremendous sacrifices these children made. We as Canadians are fiercely proud of them all.

Irene Cook

St Catharines ON


by Barbara Alden

Queens County, NS

Dear Mr Lorente,After my sister, Irene Cook, spoke to you on the phone, she called me and told me about the impact statements you are gathering. My first reaction was anger, as it comes too late for my beloved father JAMES WILLIAM COOK. Irene pointed out to me that we may speak on his behalf. What a daunting responsibility! BLESS YOU for FINALLY seeking recognition, RESPECT and accountability for these forgotten children. I am only sorry that my father did not live long enough to see it happen, perhaps then he could have put his childhood to rest and felt some pride in who he was, instead of shame.First of all I want to say I'm PROUD of my father! I have always been PROUD of him and all the children like him. To have survived (I know many of them didn't) is testament to their strength and courage, but to have survived and become decent human beings boggles the mind!Where to begin? How do I put over 80 years of pain, hurt and humiliation into words? How do I describe the effects of shame!!!!I grew up in a home full of secrets! I knew from a very young age that my father was SENT from England to Canada at age nine. I also sensed that there was some terrible shame attached to that sending and we were never to discuss it outside the home. Because of my love and respect for my Father a part of me still screams "Don't tell!" If I didn't believe that there will finally be some recognition for the pain and suffering that my father and all men and women like him endured, I would'nt tell. It still somehow feels like a betrayal!Dad had his earliest memories when he was approximately two years old, being taken to a large sheep farm in the village of Renham near Stanstead, Essex, England, by a woman he believed could be his mother. He was lucky; his new foster parents loved him, adored him and pampered him for six years. On the back of a photograph of them he wrote "My Beloved foster parents, John and Jessie Dixon"; he even remembered when Mrs Dixon sent him the picture and she said she had a splitting headache the day it was taken.When Dad was between eight and 10 years old Mr and Mrs Dixon were asked to take his sister, a sister he did not know and had never met. Because they could not afford to take another child my father was torn from the only family he had ever known.Until my father was 65 years old and had to send to England for his birth certificate he believed he was illegitimate and THAT was why he was sent to Canada! Only the bad kids were sent, the illegitimate, the incorrigible, the weak of mind—they had to be tainted in some way to be sent away. He was terrified of having to present this document to some official in order to receive his pension. He told me in those days ILLEGITIMATE was printed in large letters across the birth certificate. My heart still breaks remembering the trauma he suffered waiting for that piece of paper. Over the years he had "invented" a man he thought would be respected in our small community, now all the lies, the secrets, were out! Everyone would know! As it turned out, when my father received his birth certificate he was not illegitimate but he carried that stigma all those years for nothing.I know in 1998 when we are all so very politically correct, illegitimate is never used to describe a child (thank God!) but go back to the early 1900s and try and imagine what that label did to a little boy growing up.My father was told by the authorities that he was being sent to Canada so he and his sister could live together, but upon arriving here they were immediately separated and never met again for over 40 years by which time it was too late. They were never close. I know very little about her and only recall meeting her once or twice as a small child. I do know that the ordeal she suffered scarred her for life and she was in and out of mental hospitals.Dad was sent to a farm in Gardenhill, near Port Hope, Ontario, to a good "Christian" (a word that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to this day) family. From the first day he arrived he was made aware that he was not a part of their family; he was there to work!!! He endured both physical and emotional abuse and was never accepted in the community. He was allowed to go to school when it was convenient, which wasn't often. He did not share his meals with them, or Christmas, or any holidays. His birthdays were not acknowledged; he never had a birthday cake or card. When he was an adult birthdays were very important to him. I can remember him counting his birthday cards, they gave him a sense of value and worth.I believe the most important thing in my father's life was his family. I also believe that my brother and sister would probably not agree. Dad knew about hard work. He was a perfectionist. He never settled for second best in himself or his children. Because he had no family while he was growing up he had no one to emulate. When he became a father he never learned to temper his criticism with gentleness. He never learned to be tactful; when something popped into his head he blurted it out, never stopping to think how it would wound a child or a grown son or daughter. He often appeared harsh, authoritarian, unfeeling. This caused many rifts with his children and broke his heart. My Father loved his children, he just didn't know how to express that love.Dad was amazing, if something broke, no matter what it was, he would find a way to fix it...but he never found a way to hug his children. The first time he hugged me was the day I got married. I never saw a job my father could not do...except kiss his children. There was never an obstacle put in his path that he could not overcome...except his childhood! He had no idea how to comfort a child with a skinned knee or a broken heart, that part of him was...I was going to say "missing", but that's not true. Life had been hard for him and he thought you had to be tough to survive. If you fell down you got up and you tried again and again and again and you didn't cry and you didn't give up. Because he grew up in a brutal environment, he never learned about gentleness.My sister recently asked me why out of his eight children from two marriages I was the only one not adversely affected by him. I was not treated any differently than my brother or my sister. I felt the brunt of his criticism, the sting of his hand on my behind, the disapproval in his voice, but I ALWAYS forgave him or made some excuse for his actions. The question surprised me and left me speechless for a minute and then I told her "it was because I saw his vulnerability, the fragility of who he was."From the time I was old enough to recognize him I adored my father, there was a bond, a closeness between us that grew with every passing year. I knew he loved me. I also knew that under that hard exterior the little boy was still there...afraid, lonely, longing to be loved and accepted. His soul was scarred and he never recovered.Because of the closeness between us I think my Father felt safe enough, every now and then to let his guard down and allow me to see that little boy and why he had become the man he was. That took tremendous courage!!When my father was in his seventies I read "the Little Immigrants". He told me over and over he wished I had never read it, that it was best to leave the past in the past. When I asked him questions he was vague and uncomfortable. He was so ashamed of his past and thought his children would think less of him if they knew the truth. Of course it had the opposite effect. I told him over and over that he should be proud of his past but he never was. I think each question that he answered gave him courage to answer the next one until he had told me about his childhood, or at least all that he could. I think there were many things he never told.Part of me hates England for all the things it stole from my father—his dignity, self-respect, a sense of value for who he was, his childhood, the love of a wonderful foster mother and father (whom he continued to write to until their death). He never intended to remain in Canada, he always planned to return Home to England to Mr and Mrs Dixon. How different his life would have been if he had been allowed to remain with this lovely couple. I'm sure his children would never have doubted his love or craved his affection!! There is also a part of me that grudgingly accepts how much my father loved the country of his birth.As I have grown older I have come to realize that England was the loser, these children were Magnificent, they sent us their Best. The children overcame the most horrific obstacles!My heart bursts with pride for my father and all the children like him. I think Canada owes them a tremendous debt of gratitude and recognition. They played a huge part in moulding this country into what it is and stands for today.I wrote this for my father but also for his sister. Perhaps by taking part she will finally see the little boy and Know our father and, most importantly, Know that he loved her!My father taught me about strength, determination, overcoming obstacles, never giving up and Courage. When he left this life it left a hole in my heart that no one can ever fill. He was, and always will be, my hero!

(Thank you Mr Lorente for my father and me.)


Barbara A (Cook) Alden

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Prepared 10 August 1998