The Brightest of Dreams (Canadian Crossings)

Written by Susan Anne Mason
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1919 Derbyshire, England, Quinten Aspinall, a returnee from WWI, stands valet-like before the Earl of Brentwood. Quinten is requesting a leave of absence, wishing to travel to Canada to bring back his three siblings, fulfilling a promise to his widowed, terminally ill mother. They’d been sent to Canada without her consent. Brentwood relents, on the condition that Quinten will also bring back his young protégée, an orphaned niece, Julia, who’d recently fled with a Canadian soldier. Quinten accepts when the earl offers him money and a farm.

In Canada, Quinten receives no cooperation from the officials of Barnardo’s Homes, who were responsible for the transportation and placement of the children. Nevertheless, with the help of kind individuals, he locates their whereabouts on Ontario farms and finds Julia in Toronto. He is shocked to see their living and working conditions. However, Quinten’s dreams begin to fade when Julia and his siblings, except Harry, refuse to travel back to England. Fortunately, other events assist him.

This novel brings to light an account of three British Home Children in Canada. Surprisingly even to some Canadians, nearly 100,000 children were brought from the UK to Canada between 1860 and 1948. Most were believed to be orphans and sent to work as indentured laborers on farms. However, the most shocking aspect about this episode is the harsh, subhuman treatment received by these children. Twelve-year-old Harry, for example, is boarded in a barn’s back room, made to sleep on straw, and given a bucket for a toilet. He is also poorly clothed, underfed, and beaten for the slightest wrongdoing. This treatment seems reminiscent of how slaves were treated on plantations. It appears that the children did not speak up nor report their abuse, for they were “either too traumatized or too ashamed to relive it.” A well-written, informative, and eye-opening read. Highly recommended.