Jerry Sharpe of Powassan holds the suitcase that held all of his father George's belongings when he came over as a British home child. Behind Sharpe is the quilt commemorating the year of the home child.
POWASSAN – There’s a piece of Jerry Sharpe’s past that he’s
still looking for, even though it comes from more than 90 years ago and it lies
across the Atlantic in Croyden, England.
That’s where his father’s story starts.
George Sharpe was born in 1912 to Frederick and Hilda Gladys
Sharpe of Croyden.
But before the age of 10, and after a trip over the ocean,
he would call Ed and Carrie Smith mom and dad.
George was a British home child.
His story paints what a different place the world was at the
turn of the last century and how the industrial revolution had done little to
help the most vulnerable of British society, which thought nothing of disposing
its unwanted children into the then work-intensive farmsteads of the colonies.
Frederick Sharpe, Jerry’s grandfather, was an enlisted
soldier in the First World War when hard times truly set upon his then young
family. While away fighting, Hilda contracted tuberculosis and could no longer
work herself to support her three children and was forced to move into a
workhouse – a British invention where the state kept its poor, forcing
them into labour to earn their keep – in 1917. Her children, including the
middle child George, who was not quite five, were sent to an orphanage and she
would die of the disease a year later.
Authorities are believed to have been unable to reach
Frederick at the war front and the children were sent Canada before he would
ever have a chance to lay eyes on them again.
“That’s all he ever had was that little suitcase,” said
Jerry, referring to small leather-bound box he holds onto as the only artifact
of his father’s tough start. Measuring no more than a foot deep, a few inches
thick and 18 inches wide, it looks tiny in Jerry’s adult hands and probably not
that much bigger in George’s tight grip as he headed for the new world.
“My dad was one of the lucky ones. He was put with good
people who treated him like their own and took good care of him,” said Jerry,
referring to the Smith family who farmed near Bath, Ontario.
He easily recalls visiting when he was a boy with the Smiths
who he lovingly referred to as Grandma and Grandpa.
But it is about here that the story of George grows cold for
Jerry, who makes his home in Powassan.
“He didn’t talk a lot about it,” said Jerry of his dad and
life before arriving in Canada. He doesn’t know when his dad arrived, or how it
came to be that his brother Les was placed with a family just two concessions
The only real story he has related to England is how a man
who used to board with the Smith’s helped make contact with Frederick in
England to let him know that his three children has landed in good homes and
were well taken care of.
The last time any of his children would see Frederick would
be when he left for the battlefields of Europe.
And the more that he studies that suitcase, the more Jerry
wonders about his past on the other side of the ocean.
The suitcase was part of the home child display at the Clark
House on Saturday as part of the Year of the Home Child recognition.