If I think about something that characterizes my books, it is that the person who has died is always someone who has not particularly ‘deserved’ it. That is, they are not people who are unpleasant and have accumulated an intriguing passle of enemies along the way, as in, say, a classic Christie novel. In some ways I think this reflects the real world. Often the suspicious deaths one reads about are of people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, or are being robbed, or are the victim of someone else’s carelessness, or inability to get out of a mess without hurting someone.
What matters to me are the stories of the people in my books, and how they intersect and flow around each other, and how everyone arrives at the moment when someone has died at the hands of someone else.
In an Old Cold Grave I take up a theme that has fascinated me since I learned of it, and that is the matter of the Home Children. In the story, Inspector Darling has to ask what the Home Children are, because living in British Columbia he would not have had a wide experience of a program that by 1946 had been going on for over half a century in the eastern part of the country and the prairies.
The program involved removing children from the streets and appalling slums they lived in, often with no regard to whether they had living parents, and shipping them off to the colonies to work on farms. Initially children as young as 13 were considered appropriately placed on Canadian farms, but as the years went on there was even less care about the age, and much younger children found their way here to do back breaking work. Siblings were often separated, especially if a younger child was involved, as they were not considered useful. While some of the children were met with kindness, and sometimes even adopted, many were treated abysmally, and many suffered abuse. Children ran away and are lost to history, many died and were injured. Certainly the oversight and protection for the children was nearly non-existent.
Nearly 100,000 children were brought to Canada, and there are hundreds and thousands of Canadians today who are their descendants. I worked with children my whole working life, both in social work and education, and I am keenly aware of the effects of abuse and deprivation on the ongoing lives of people who have endured it, and on the subsequent generations. But I have also been in wonder at the resilience of so many children who survive and even thrive out of the harshest conditions.
There is a wonderful book that was put together in 1979 called The Home Children, Edited by Phyllis Harrison. In this book Harrison collected first person accounts from survivors of the program and their descendants. While there are books that cover the statistics and the detailed political and social history that led to the forcible emigration of these children, the Harrison book is full of the personal stories of these children as they experienced their lives. It is both heart-breaking and uplifting. You can get more information at http://canadianbritishhomechildren.weebly.com