The Forgotten Home Child

Written by Genevieve Graham
Review by Franca Pelaccia

Winnifred Ellis has been hiding her past for all her ninety-seven years of life. Winnie was one of thousands of orphaned or abandoned Home Children who were sent to live in Canada in the hopes of starting a new life away from the streets of England. Winnie and her street family, Mary, Jack, Edward, and Cecil, are shipped off in 1938 from various Dr. Barnardo schools/orphanages for children to begin new lives as indentured laborers. However, the promise of a new beginning, where they can enjoy shelter, food, the love of a family, and earn money for their future, is far from the truth. Jack, Cecil, and Edward are repeatedly beaten by an abusive farmer, Mary is both physically and sexually assaulted, and Winnie is nothing more than a farm helper forced to sleep with sheep. When Winnie’s suitcase, holding the memories of her journey and life as a Home Child, is discovered in present-day Toronto, she finally opens her story and herself to her family.

Although written simplistically, The Forgotten Home Child delivers a hard and cruel punch. It is poignant and heartbreaking, all the more so because it is based on true events. At least a hundred thousand children may have endured abuse and inhumanity at the hands of the very people who promised to protect them. Winnie is ashamed to tell her family that she was a Home Child, but she has nothing to be ashamed of. She comes to realize this as she tells her story. Winnie is also the only character who retains her sanity, hope, and compassion, as every one of her street family descends into some form of madness because of their abuse. As a Canadian, I can say I knew nothing about this episode in Canada’s history. It was quite the eye opener.