By Judith van Berkom –
Westboro’s Howard Winston Weatherall discovered that he had a half-brother, Clarence Howard Sayers (Jack), living in Northern England. The discovery was decades in the making and almost didn’t happen.
A dark chapter in Canada’s and England’s history – the sending of over 100,000 so-called orphans from England across all of Canada between 1869 and 1948 – underlies the story of their reunion. These “Home Children” were often exploited as free labour on farms and as domestic help. Over 50 organizations in England arranged for these children to be sent to Canada – Barnardos (a British children’s charity), being the main one, but also the Salvation Army and Quarrier’s, to name a few.
Howard Weatherall was always told he had an older brother who died in childbirth, a story his father repeated every few years, making Howard curious and fueling his passion later in life for genealogy.
Their story begins in 1929. Howard’s father, Frank Howard Weatherall, met Catherine Sayers in Canada where she was serving as a domestic. This brief affair led to pregnancy and disgrace. She was deported back to England, where Howard’s brother, Jack, was born in 1930.
Howard’s father later married his mother, but both boys, living continents apart, grew up without their mothers. Jack’s mother, Catherine, was compensated $100 by a Canadian court and, back in England, lived with her sister. When she went back into service she placed Jack in foster care and later with Barnardos.
Howard’s mother died of a brain tumor when he was five. He has no memories of her and assumes she must have spent a good amount of time in the hospital before her death. She left Howard and his two sisters on a farm with their father.
So how did these two brothers manage to find each other?
Jack, placed in a naval school in 1942, joined the Royal Navy three years later. In 1949 he qualified as a diver and began working for the Ministry of Defence’s Admirality Salvage. In a real-life ‘rags to riches’ story, he started a salvage business with two of his friends and retired to his estate in Thorgunbal, Northern England in the 1980s.
Howard, meanwhile, joined the army in Canada. Stationed in Germany, he often went on vacation to London, U.K. While he was there he stayed at the Union Jack Hotel, a hotel for service people. In a funny twist of fate, Jack and Howard later discovered that they had both stayed at this same hotel during the same week. They could have been sitting at the same table for breakfast, never realizing they were related.
Howard says he always felt connected to England, especially when he became interested in his family’s genealogy.
Jack discovered an old photo album of his mother’s after her death in 1992, with a photo of a Frank Howard Weatherall, a Canadian who had served as a Canadian Army mail driver. When Jack retired, he decided to look into his family’s genealogy. He approached Barnardos Aftercare Service in Canada, who put him in touch with Dave Lorente in Renfrew. David and his wife, Kay, had founded Home Children Canada in 1991, championing the children’s – now adults – right to access records that revealed their personal histories.
As the founder of Home Children Canada and the son of a Home Child, Dave never knew of this side of his father’s past until a few years after his death in 1965. He suggests the biggest drawback to being a Home Child was the very stigma of being one, and the fact families in many communities, including Renfrew, told their children not to play with Home Children.
Jack contacted Dave Lorente, who found an entry under H. Weatherall in Ottawa where Jack’s father was last known to have lived in 1929.
“I wrote to him [Dave Lorente] and within a week he had found me a brother, two sisters, 28 first cousins and about 65 second cousins all over Canada and the United States,” says Jack. “I have spent my whole life wondering who my dad was and where the rest of my family might be.”
When Jack contacted Howard in Ottawa, Howard had been speaking to Dave Lorente who had told him: “I think you might have an older brother.” Everything lined up.
Jack and his wife visited in 1995 and met his extensive Canadian family. Howard travelled to Thorgunbal, England, in 1996 to meet Jack’s family. It was a happy ending for two people who were deeply affected by circumstances beyond their control.
Howard and Jack have kept in touch since that first encounter. Howard has travelled to the U.K. twice to visit since that first meeting and is planning to go again next year. Jack, now 85, recently moved to a smaller house as both he and his wife have been struggling with health issues. Howard says his next trip might be the last one he takes.