Hazelbrae Barnardo Home

Photo of the Hazelbrae Barnardo Home in Peterborough, Ontario, 1895. Taken by John M. R. Fairburn. Trent Valley Archives F375-D-011. Used with permission of Trent Valley Archives.

   The Hazelbrae Barnardo Home, formerly located on the top of Smithtown Hill south of Barnardo Avenue in Peterborough Ontario was an immaculate early nineteenth-century brick mansion. With its laneway stretching out to George Street and the convenience of the nearby rail tracks, children could be dropped off at the end of the laneway that leads up to their new home. Reaching up to three stories and surrounded by five acres of land it was an impressive sight for the thousands of children who immigrated to Peterborough Ontario.
   The home was founded by Thomas Barnardo, a famous Irish Philanthropist who made it his life’s mission to save impoverished children from the streets of the British Isles. Barnardo opened up many homes and “ragged schools” in Britain before the Peterborough Mayor, George A. Cox donated the Hazelbrae home to Dr. Barnardo. With significant renovations, the home was made capable of housing hundreds of children, and on 25 July 1883, the first group of seventy-two Barnardo girls emigrated from Britain to make their journey to Hazelbrae. The home was initially both boys and girls but eventually turned into an all-girls home, and the remaining boys were sent to the Toronto home in 1889. In 1912, the school was renamed the “Margaret Cox Home for Girls” in honor of Peterborough Mayor Cox’s wife. During the majority of Hazelbrae’s years in operation, 1889 to 1922, it was the primary receiving and distributing home for girls in the Barnardo Home system. The home saw a steady decline of child immigration with the years leading up to and after the war before closing its doors for good in 1922. The Hazelbrae home was torn down in 1939, but there is a memorial site honoring 9,000 children who went through its doors in front of the former Queen Alexandra School, located at 180 Barnardo Avenue Peterborough Ontario.
   Barnardo aimed at removing destitute children from the British Isles and placing them in Canada so the population in Canada would grow as a colony. Barnardo’s nationalistic and religious views also encouraged his work to create better, more respectable members of society for the empire. Furthermore, sending children to Canada relieved Britain from their burden as its homes and orphanages were becoming overcrowded. This proved to be beneficial during the First World War, for sending able hands to the colonies enabled the vast agricultural lands to be utilized therefore allowing the Empire to increase its production for the war effort. Likewise, by receiving children before the war, Canada was able to provide more able-bodied men to enlist and fight in the Great War. Not only did Barnardo create an organization that helped many children receive a better life, but it also helped the war effort. Through this encouragement, many felt honored and compelled to fight in the war.

Immigrating to Canada was an intricate process as children were required to undergo a series of medical tests that some would describe as a humiliating and degrading. Good health was a necessary part of approval to ensure children could endure the exertion of travel and physical labor they would soon experience. Once children passed their medical examinations, they received a personal Barnardo trunk and a weather-appropriate outfit for their journey. Their chests held a Bible, a Sankey Hymn Book, Pilgrim’s Progress, and The Traveler’s Guide. Although there were many successful cases of children immigrating into Canada, there were also instances of abusive treatment and neglect. The child was more commonly considered a tool to be used rather than a person to be nurtured. Children who were treated poorly in their new homes often attempted to run away and in some desperate situations committed suicide. Unfortunately, due to harsh weather conditions, visitation of children from Barnardo representatives was exceedingly difficult, especially within the winter months. Consequently, children would go years and in some cases never see a Barnardo worker assessing their living situations.

Barnardo’s religious and humanitarian goals were to provide the Hazelbrae children with a better life and hoped that they would acquire many skill sets that would help them be successful in their adult lives. He expected these future children to be “taught to be respectable, industrious, righteous, and followers of God.” Once the children arrived at a Canadian port, they were sent to Hazelbrae and further distributed into homes of the surrounding areas. While children stayed at Hazelbrae, they continued their education by attending Queen Alexandra school and by doing industrious tasks for the staff at Hazelbrae. When a child was sent to a home, it was expected that their education would be continued by other means, but sometimes these educational means were not met due to the necessary work to be completed on the farms. Their education created a sense of devotion to the British Empire and inspired many children at Hazelbrae, both girls and boys to show a desire to be a part of the Great War.

Photo of Barnardo boy Frank Keeble in uniform. ca. 1916-1918. Private Collection. Used with permission from Ivy Sucee.

   The Hazelbrae home was significantly affected by World War One as it laneway that 10,000 British Home children enlisted and that 1,000 of those British home children died during the War. Of these British home children who enlisted, approximately 6,211 were Barnardo boys of which 514 died in combat. There was a variety of reasons for children from the Hazelbrae home to feel compelled to fight in World War One. In cases of ill-success when immigrating into homes, many felt enlisting for the War could be a form of escape from abusive homes and their traumatized pasts. Similarly, many children who were taken away from their homes due to economic disadvantages viewed enlisting as an opportunity to reconnect with their relatives.
Furthermore, a sense of nationalistic duty compelled many to enlist. Enlisting proved to fulfill a desire to give back especially for men who had pleasant childhood experiences at Hazelbrae or with their new homes in Canada.
   Frank Keeble was one such Barnardo boy who had a successful home experience here in Canada and decided to fight in the First World War. Frank came to Canada at the age of eight to the Hazelbrae home and was distributed to Cavan just outside of Peterborough to live and work on a farm with the Hootan family. Frank was treated well as a member of the family and was well respected as such. On March 29th, 1916, Frank enlisted in Ottawa and was assigned to the Peterborough Brigade. Keeble arrived in Shorncliffe England on the 21st of June 1915 where he was transferred from the cavalry reserve to the Royal Canadian Dragoons or RCD. On November 2, 1917, Keeble was shipped off to France as a part of the 93rd Battalion of Peterborough. According to Frank’s military records he was stationed in the town of Bourdon France, less than 100 kilometers from Vimy Ridge from Dec 30th, 1918 - March 5th, 1919. During his career, he was sent to the hospital twice, the first time because he had influenza and the second because he had a combination of leads and pneumonia. A gas attack during the war ultimately led to his early death at the age of 28, leaving behind a wife and two children. Frank represents the thousands of home children who made the great sacrifice for the empire by enlisting and shows the nationalistic endeavor of young men to fight for their country.

William Waterson was another former Barnardo boy who enlisted in the Great War. William was born in Norfolk England on March 5th, 1897 and came to Canada on the ship Empress of Britain in 1913 at the age of 16. On October 20th, 1915, Waterson enlisted with the 93rd Battalion in Peterborough. During the two years of living in Canada, Waterson, like Frank Keeble, was a farm labourer which is indicated in his attestation papers. On July 25th Waterson arrived in England and was transferred to the 39th battalion which was stationed at the training camp in west Sandling, not far from Kent. On January 4th, 1917, Waterson completed training and was transferred to the 6th reserve battalion stationed in Shorncliffe England where Frank Keeble had arrived two years earlier. Waterson was then transferred to the 2nd battalion and was stationed in France. Although Waterson's records only indicate that he was stationed in the field the 2nd battalion had fought in some of the heaviest fighting that Canadian soldiers would face; Vimy Ridge, Arleux, hill 70, Passchendaele, and Amiens. William Waterson died on August 18, 1918, from wounds sustained in battle. Although his records do not indicate a location, the 2nd battalion took part in the battle of Amiens which ended on the 13th of August, five days before Waterson's death and three months from the end of the war. William Waterson was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his service.

There were many cases of immigrant children enlisting in the War and proved to be a pivotal force of help. Thanks to the Hazelbrae Home children were thus provided with desirable qualities and equipped with the skills that would enable them to put their lives on the line and fight for Canada during the War.

Photo of Barnardo Home matchboxes. Undated. Private Collection. Used with permission from Ivy Sucee.

Research by Megan O'Neill and Max Morettin 
Barnardo Homes matchbooks, [photograph], Undated, Private Collection.

Corbett, Gail. Nation Builders: Barnardo Children in Canada. 1997. Toronto:
Dundurn Press, 2002. Google Play edition.

Frank Keeble, [photograph], Ca. 1916-1918, Private Collection.

Government of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, Canadian Expeditionary
Force (CEF),“Frank Keeble”, RG150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 5023 - 1, Item Number 484086, Digitized ServiceFile B5023-S001.https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=484086

 Library and Archives Canada, Canadian Expeditionary Force, William Waterson, RG 150, Accession
1992-93/166, Box 10122 - 11, Item Number 302471.https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=302471

Library and Archives Canada, Home Children, Passenger list, William Waterson, RG 76 C1a, item number 85122, Ficro Film Reel T-4795. https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/home-children-1869-1930/immigration-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=85122

Government of Canada. Library and Archives Canada. https://www.bac-

Hazelbrae Barnardo Home Memorial, [photograph], 2018. 180 Barnardo Avenue Peterborough,
Ontario. Taken by Megan O’Neill.

Hill, Valerie. “Going Strong at 100.” The Record, Tuesday, July 14, 1998: B5.

Hunter, Celia. “British Home Children is Subject of Historical Society Talk in April” The
Millbrook Times, April 10, 2014: Page 9.

Jones, Elwood. “A new life at Hazelbrae.” The Peterborough Examiner, May 12, 2014.

Sanders, Carol. “The Barnardo Boys.” Winnipeg Free Press, Saturday, April 28, 2012: Page A12.

The Barnardo Children: Frightened strangers in a very strange land” Peterborough This Week,
Saturday, February 10, 1996: Page 1.

Trent University Archives, Boyd Family Fonds, accession 88-011, box 29, folder 4.

Trent University Archives. Lakefield Heritage Research. “Home children.” Toronto Star,
Saturday, August 16, 2014: IN5.

Trent Valley Archives, Fairbairn Photo Collection, accession F375-D-011.