Shattered Lives: British Home Children in Prince Albert

SUBMITTED A headline in the July 31, 1916 edition of the Saskatoon Star Pheonix newspaper tell of the tragedy that befell the White Family.

This is the sixth in a series of columns about the 70 British Home Children sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. While all orphanage records were destroyed in the terrible fire of 1947, every attempt has been made to trace the life stories of these dispossessed children through genealogy websites and newspaper databases

“Sadness and Disaster”: The White Family, Part Two

When they travelled from England in the spring of 1903, the alleged destination of Mary White’s six children was St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert. Indeed, the list of British Home Children published in Monica Plante’s 1988 history of the orphanage includes all the White children. I have, however, found no evidence that they ever resided there. (The orphanage burned down in 1947 and all records were lost.) Perhaps they only stayed there for a short time. The children’s names do not appear on the list of St. Patrick’s “inmates” in the 1906 Canada census of the prairie provinces. Instead, that census shows them living in Saskatoon. That year, the first of three tragedies for the White family occurred.
In July 1906, 15-year-old Walter H. Patrick White (1891-1906) was working as a telegraph messenger for the CPR commercial telegraph office in Saskatoon. An avid hunter, Walter left work early one sunny afternoon, picked up his rifle, and headed for the south bank of the South Saskatchewan River. Between 5:00 and 6:00 in the evening he shot a rabbit, and to make sure it was dead, he swung at it with the butt of his gun. The shotgun accidentally fired and a full charge of one barrel ripped through his stomach.
Men employed in the construction of Saskatoon’s first traffic bridge (opened in 1907) discovered Walter near the riverbank. “When it was seen how badly injured he was doctors were sent for and the police notified,” The Phoenix reported.
“The boy was found by Dr. Stewart to be in a terribly injured condition, but still conscious. … It was seen at once that he could not recover. To Sergt. Loggin, who assisted in carrying him to his home, the wounded lad told how the accident occurred. … With wonderful nerve he commenced to crawl to the river, feeling thirsty and it was there he was later picked up. The doctor and the police marvel at the wonderful vitality of the lad. … The boy only lived about three hours and at about three o’clock Sunday afternoon his remains were borne to the old Nutana cemetery. … Walter was a quiet, unobtrusive lad, steady and courteous, and was never seen around the streets except in the performance of his work as a messenger.”
Mary White was inconsolable. Her youngest boy – one of her four sons who were her sole source of support – was dead.
Ten years later, in 1916, Mary lost two more of her six children. Lawrence Richard (1897-1916) died during the First World War at age 19 of wounds received in action in Rouen, France on the first of May. “He had joined the Princess Pats so that he might get to the firing line in record time,” the StarPhoenix reported. “Mrs. White was proud of her soldier boy, and she was hoping against hope that he would be returned to her some day, then the telegram came. He had been killed in action, that was about all it said.” Lawrence is buried at the Dickebusch New Military Cemetery, Ypres, West Flanders, Belgium.
Three months after Lawrence was killed overseas, Mary’s son Richard Lawrence (1893-1916 – and yes, his name is similar to his brother’s) died suddenly of a lung hemorrhage while working as the night clerk at the Baldwin Hotel in Saskatoon. “When Richard died on Saturday, his mother was only recovering from the shock she had received at the news of Lawrence’s death,” the StarPhoenix observed on 31 July. “Now she is broken-hearted. The White family has passed through a period of sadness and disaster, and now of four boys only one remains alive.”
Mary almost lost her only remaining son James, a baggage handler for the Canadian National Railway, when he was injured in a railway accident on 11 February 1923. He was in an express and baggage car in the Regina rail yards when a Canadian Pacific Railway yard engine crashed into the side of his car. He was “pinched between some trunks when his car was hit and he sustained slight injuries.” – Saskatoon Daily Star, 12 Feb 1923
At some point, Mary White returned to the home of her birth and died at age 82 in Dublin, Ireland on 19 January 1946.
I have not yet been able to learn much about Mary White’s two daughters. Kathleen White (abt 1897-1965) married Robert Consterdine on 2 March 1921 and they had two daughters. She died in Laguna Beach, California on January 2, 1965. Mary’s little “Shamrock” Iris died at age 91 in Vancouver, BC on 31 October 1993.