Sean Arthur Joyce gave a talk on Canada’s home children at the Rossland Museum on Thursday, Oct. 29.
Joyce, from New Denver, is the author of Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West, and his talk was part of the museum’s fall speaker series.
There were more than 100,000 home children rounded up from the streets of Britain to be used in Canada as labourers between 1869 and 1948, and it’s estimated that one in eight Canadians is the descendant of a home child. Joyce himself is part of that statistic.
Joyce’s grandfather, Cyril William Joyce, came to Canada when he was 16, without parents and with three other boys, who ranged in age from 12 to 15 or 16.
“He was sent to Edmonton where he was then shipped out to various farms in northern Alberta to work,” explained Joyce.
Joyce’s grandfather didn’t talk about how he came to Canada and disposed of letters and photos that might have revealed something about his past.
Writing the book gave Joyce a chance to learn more about how his grandfather came to Canada and how that shaped him.
“I learned that he absolutely hated the farm, hated the work, was very unhappy, and couldn’t wait to get out basically,” said Joyce. “Until he got the chance to come to Trail and work for Cominco…. Cyril worked at Trail in one of the sort of control rooms that they had.”
Cyril wasn’t the only home child who ended up working for Cominco. Joyce also talked about the Roberts brothers, one of whom, Walter, ended up working at the smelter.
Life in Canada wasn’t easy for Walter who was abused by the first farmer he worked for, but eventually he started a family in Rossland. He’s now buried in Mountain View Cemetery with his sister.
Joyce published Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest last year, eight years after he started doing research.
“I started researching in 2007. I mean I work as a reporter so I wasn’t able to do it full-time until about 2011,” he said. “We visited archives in Victoria, Nelson, Ottawa—lots of places—Vernon. So we visited archives all over the country basically to try and track down information.”
Joyce said he’s surprised they don’t teach about home children in schools.
“Why is there this big empty space in our history when so many of us have direct ties to it?”