“Could you look up Mary Hogan?” asked my dad’s cousin Aggie. “I think she may have been,” and this added sotto voce, as if, even after so many years, there might yet be something to hide, “a Home Girl.”1
A Home Girl?
At the time, I knew next to nothing about the Home Child movement, the child emigration scheme which saw over 100,000 children sent from Britain to Canada between 1869 and 1930. And yet, I must have already encountered the term somewhere, because the “Home Girl” designation immediately made some sort of sense to me. I imagined an orphan: an orphan from England? (though Hogan is an Irish surname, obviously, and from the description provided by my father and his cousin Aggie, Mary Hogan certainly sounded Irish).2
Well, I had heard of the “Barnado Boys,” of course. Indeed, I had no doubt first encountered the term as a young girl, when I avidly devoured Lucy Maud Montgomery’s series about Canada’s most beloved (though fictional!) orphan girl ever. As a childhood devotee of “Anne with an e,” I had read of Marilla Cuthbert drawing a line in the sand at the thought of a Barnardo Boy, or, in a phrase which captures the casual racism of the time, a “London street Arab.”3
My father and his cousin recalled Mary Hogan from their childhood as a somewhat elderly and somewhat eccentric fixture on the Burke family farm: not quite a blood relation, perhaps, but no mere “hired girl,” either, and “almost family” through affinity and through sheer length of tenure: apparently she had been with the Laheys and the Burkes since forever.
Well, since at least as far back as 1891, at any rate…
- Oral interview with Mary Frances Agnes O’Neill, January 2007. ↩
- As I was later to learn, there was nothing unusual about “English” Home Children of Irish origin. In fact, Ottawa (more specifically, St. George’s Home on Wellington Street in Ottawa, now Holy Rosary Rectory) was one of the main receiving centres for Catholic children sent to Canada from Great Britain under the auspices of various English Catholic “protection societies,” which apparently set themselves up as Roman Catholic alternatives to the Protestant-centred Barnardo scheme. Many, probably most, of these Catholic children were of Irish background. For more on the Catholic Home Child movement, see Frederick J. McEvoy, “‘These Treasured Children of God’: Catholic Child Immigration to Canada” (CCHA, Historical Studies, 65, 1999, 50-70). ↩
- “‘At first Matthew suggested getting a Barnardo boy. But I said “no” flat to that. ‘They may be all right — I’m not saying they’re not, but no London street Arabs for me,’ I said. ‘Give me a native born at least. There’ll be a risk, no matter who we get. But I’ll feel easier in my mind and sleep sounder at nights if we get a born Canadian.’” Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, cap. 1 ↩