Shattered Lives: British Home Children in Prince Albert
by Joan Champ

Reverend Father John Sinnett, about 1921. Photograph of a picture hanging in St.Ignatius Church

This is the tenth 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.

Father Sinnett and the Irish Colony Connection

Several of the British Home Children who were housed in St. Patrick’s Orphanage in Prince Albert were “sent out for service” to Sinnett, Saskatchewan – an Irish Colony just north of Lanigan established by Father John Sinnett in 1906.

In 1902, Father Sinnett was appointed Rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Prince Albert. Two years later, Sinnett became an Immigration Agent for the Canadian government. It was his dream to establish a community of English-speaking Catholic settlers, preferably of Irish descent, modelled on other communities of ethnic settlers.

In April of 1905, as Saskatchewan was on the verge of becoming a province, 11 men from Prince Albert travelled with the priest to the Land Registry Office in Humboldt where they located sections of land that could be developed in Township 34. Twenty-one Irish homesteads were founded in the names of Brady, Brick, Carroll, Cassidy, Coughlin, Devine, Dodd, Doyle, Dunn, Dunne, Hall, Hearn, Laverty, McDonald, McGrath, McGuire, Nolan, Sinnett and Slattery. Most of these men were bachelors. By 1906, the hamlet of Sinnett was established.

Margaret Fleming (1895-1976)

At age 14, Margaret (Maggie) Helen Fleming was sent from St. Patrick’s orphanage in Prince Albert to the Irish Colony in 1914 to keep house for Father Sinnett.

Margaret was born aboard ship on 4 November 1895 while crossing the Irish Sea from Ireland to England. Her father Thomas Fleming was hoping to find work in London, but jobs were scarce. In 1901, her mother Margaret (Cummins) Fleming (1872-1901) died shortly after giving birth to her daughter Julia (see below).

Births and deaths radically altered the fortunes of the poor during the Victorian era. Unable to cope, Thomas handed his daughters over to the Catholic Emigration Association. Two years later, Margaret, age 8, and Julia, age 6, embarked from Liverpool enroute to the Prince Albert orphanage. There they remained until 1914 when Margaret went into domestic service for Father Sinnett at the Irish Colony. Apparently, she promptly wrote to her friend Lizzie Stonnard (see below) urging her to join her. The two girls were lifelong friends.

Maggie stayed at the priest’s house for two years before marrying Edward (Ed) Aloysius Carroll (1873-1950) in 1916. Ed was 20 years her senior and one of the most prosperous farmers in the Irish Colony. Father Sinnett presided over their wedding at St. Ignatius Church. The couple had 12 children over the course of 18 years, three of whom died at birth or in infancy. Margaret died in 1976 and is buried at St Ignatius Cemetery at Sinnett.

Elizabeth (Lizzie) Rebecca Stonnard (1892-1982)

“Children Cruelly Neglected – Mary Stonnard, aged 44, a married woman with no fixed home, was charged before the South Western Police Court with wilfully exposing her two children, William, aged seven, and Elizabeth, aged four, whereby their health was endangered. Police constable stated that he found the prisoner and the two children asleep at the rear of a public house [a pub] in Isabella Place, Putney. A man slunk away at his approach. The children very dirty and verminous, their heads being covered with sores, and they were taken away to the workhouse. … Three baths were necessary before they were got tolerably clean and their hair was cropped. [The magistrate] thought it was a shocking case of neglect and sentenced the prisoner to two months’ imprisonment with hard labour. – 9 August 1897, London Daily News

Elizabeth’s mother Mary Ann (Lloyd) Stonnard died in 1898, not long after she was released from prison. The 1901 British census shows Lizzie, age 9, living with her father Henry (abt 1856-1908) and her 12-year-old brother William in Barnes, a district in south London, England. By May 1903, Elizabeth, age 11, was aboard the ship Tunisian enroute to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert.

In 1914, 20-year-old Elizabeth and another girl from the orphanage, Eleanor Goulding (see below) were sent to keep house for Father Sinnett at the Irish Colony. Elizabeth married one of the farmers in the colony, Allan McEachern, 13 years her senior, at Sinnett. They had eight children. The couple moved to Saskatoon in 1965 where Allen died three years later. Elizabeth passed away on 13 November 1982 at Saskatoon and is buried at Sinnett.

Eleanor (Ella) Catherine Goulding (1900-1969)

About a year after she was born, Eleanor Goulding’s mother Ada Catherine (Carpenter) Goulding (1864-1941) was admitted to Horton Asylum, a psychiatric hospital in London, England. Ada remained institutionalized for 40 years until she died in 1941 at age 77.

Eleanor’s father, John Fitzmaurice Francis Goulding (1864- ) struggled to look after his daughter and son Francis Alexander (1898-1939). He placed 3-year-old Eleanor in St. Ethelburga’s Orphanage at Deal, Dover, Kent in 1903. In 1905, John entered the workhouse at Tower Hamlets, the biggest workhouse in Stepney, London. By the fall of 1907, his children, sponsored by the Southwark Catholic Rescue Society, were shipped to Canada where they spent their school years at the Prince Albert orphanage.

Along with Elizabeth Stonnard, Eleanor was sent to work as a domestic for Father Sinnett at the Irish Colony in 1914. She was 14 years old. Four years later Eleanor married Thomas Coughlin (1873-1932), one of the original settlers of the colony, at St. Ignatius Church at Sinnett. He was 27 years older than his bride. They had seven children, one who died in infancy. After her husband’s death in 1932, Eleanor moved her children to Humboldt. She died in Chilliwack, BC in 1969 at age 68.

Eleanor’s older brother Francis moved to the United States in 1923. At some point he may have reunited with his father in California. Francis died there in 1939 at age 41.

Julia Fleming (1898-1945) and James Lawrence (Lilley) Green (1896-1972)

Margaret Fleming’s younger sister Julia arrived at the Prince Albert orphanage in May 1903, five months before her fellow inmate and future husband James Lilley Green arrived. Both she and James, who had been born in a London workhouse, ended up as workers for Father Sinnett at the Irish Colony.

Julia must have struggled at the Colony. The 1921 Canada census reveals that, at age 22, Julia was an inmate in the House of Defectives, a small mental hospital located in the old government buildings on Dewdney Avenue in Regina, SK. “There were … a number of irresponsible girls who were unable to take care of themselves properly when permitted to run at large but otherwise they were useful and did considerable work at the institution,” the Saskatchewan Minister of Health wrote to the Minister of Public Works in 1921. About 40 inmates from Regina were transferred to the new mental hospital in Weyburn. Remaining in the Regina home were “six imbeciles, about a dozen irresponsible girls who are receiving treatment for various ailments, and five or six children about three years of age, belonging to the inmates.” [As quoted in Elizabeth Matheson, 2010.] Did Julia have a baby?

“A pretty wedding took place at the Holy Rosary Cathedral, Regina, when Miss Julia Fleming became the bride of James Green of Lanigan, Sask. Father Gallagher performed the ceremony. The bride was prettily gowned in ivory canton crepe with which she wore a tulle veil held in place by orange blossoms. The wedding breakfast was served at the home of Mrs. H. Calderwood. … Mr. and Mrs. Green left [that] afternoon for Lanigan.” – Regina Leader-Post, 14 August 1922

The Greens had four children, all born in Saskatchewan. Julia died at age 46 in Vancouver on 21 May 1945 and is interred at Ocean View Burial Park, Burnaby. James died at age 76 on 24 June 1972 in New Westminster, BC. His death certificate states his occupation was janitor. It also states that the names of his parents were “unknown”. He is buried at Valley View Memorial Gardens, Surrey, BC.