Hazelbrae Barnardo Home

Photo of the Hazelbrae Barnardo Home in Peterborough, Ontario, 1895. Taken by John M. R. Fairburn. Trent Valley Archives F375-D-011. Used with permission of Trent Valley Archives.

The Hazelbrae Barnardo Home was an immaculate early nineteenth-century brick mansion located on the top of Smithtown Hill, south of Barnardo Avenue in Peterborough, Ontario. With its laneway stretching out to George Street and the convenience of the nearby rail tracks, children could be dropped off at the end of the laneway leading up to their new home. Reaching three stories and surrounded by five acres of land, it was an impressive sight for the thousands of children who immigrated to Peterborough, Ontario.

The Home was founded by Thomas Barnardo, a famous Irish philanthropist whose mission was to save impoverished children from the streets of the British Isles. Barnardo opened up many homes and “ragged schools” in Britain before the Peterborough Mayor, George A. Cox donated the Hazelbrae Home. After significant renovations, the Home was able to house hundreds of children. On July 25, 1883, a group of seventy two girls emigrated from Britain to the Hazelbrae Home. The Home initially housed both boys and girls but eventually turned into an all-girls home. The remaining boys were sent to a home in Toronto in 1889. In 1912, the Home was renamed the Margaret Cox Home for Girls in honour of Mayor Cox’s wife.

For most of Hazelbrae’s existence, it was the primary receiving and distributing home for girls in the Barnardo Home system. The Home saw a steady decline of child immigration during the years leading up to and after the war before closing its doors for good in 1922. The Hazelbrae Home was torn down in 1939. There is a memorial site honouring the 9,000 children who lived there in front of the former Queen Alexandra School, located at 180 Barnardo Avenue Peterborough, Ontario.

Barnardo strived to remove destitute children from the British Isles and relocate them to Canada so the Canadian population would grow as a colony. Barnardo’s nationalistic and religious views also encouraged him to shape more respectable members of society for the Empire. Furthermore, sending children to Canada relieved Britain from their burden as its homes and orphanages were becoming overcrowded.

This proved to be beneficial during World War One. Sending able hands to the colonies enabled the vast agricultural lands to be utilized, allowing the Empire to increase its production for the war effort. Likewise, by receiving children before the war, Canada was able to provide more able-bodied men to enlist and fight in World War One. Not only did Barnardo create an organization that gave many children another chance at life, but it also helped the war effort. Many children felt honored and compelled to fight in the war.

Immigrating to Canada was an intricate process. Children were required to undergo a series of medical tests that some would describe as humiliating and degrading. Proof of good health was necessary for approval to ensure that children could endure the travel and physical labour they would soon experience. Once children passed their medical examinations, they received a personal Barnardo trunk and a weather-appropriate outfit for their journey. Their trunks held a Bible, a Sankey Hymn Book, Pilgrim’s Progress, and The Traveler’s Guide.

Although there were many successful cases of children immigrating into Canada, there were also instances of abusive treatment and neglect. During this time, children were commonly considered as a tool to be used rather than a person to be nurtured. Children who were treated poorly in their new homes often attempted to run away and in some desperate situations, committed suicide. Unfortunately, due to harsh weather conditions, visits from Barnardo representatives was uncommon. Consequently, children would go years, and in some cases would never see a Barnardo worker assess their living situations.

Barnardo’s goal was to provide the Hazelbrae children with a better life and to teach them skills that would help them succeed in their adult lives. He expected that these children would be “taught to be respectable, industrious, righteous, and followers of God.”

Once the children arrived at a Canadian port, they were sent to Hazelbrae and further distributed to homes in surrounding areas. While children stayed at Hazelbrae, they continued their education by attending Queen Alexandra School. They were also responsible for completing industrious tasks for the Hazelbrae staff. When a child was sent to a home, it was expected that their education would be continued. However, sometimes children did not receive education due to the work they were designated to complete on the farms. Education created a sense of devotion to the British Empire and inspired many children at Hazelbrae. Both girls and boys showed a desire to be a part of World War One.

Photo of Barnardo boy Frank Keeble in uniform. ca. 1916-1918. Private Collection. Used with permission from Ivy Sucee.

The Hazelbrae Home was significantly affected by World War One. Ten thousand children from homes enlisted and 1,000 of those children died during the War. Of the children who enlisted, approximately 6,211 were Barnardo boys of which 514 died in combat.

There were many reasons for children from the Hazelbrae Home to feel compelled to fight in World War One. Some children felt enlisting for the War could be an escape from abusive homes and their traumatized pasts. Others who were taken away from their homes due to economic disadvantages viewed enlisting as an opportunity to reconnect with their relatives.
A sense of nationalistic duty compelled many to enlist. Enlisting fulfilled a desire to give back, especially for men who had pleasant childhood experiences at Hazelbrae or with their new homes in Canada.

Frank Keeble was a Barnardo boy who had a successful experience in Canada and decided to fight in the World War One. Keeble came to Canada at the age of eight. He was placed in the Hazelbrae Home and distributed to Cavan, just outside of Peterborough, to live and work on a farm with the Hootan family. Keeble was treated as a member of the family.

On March 29, 1916, Keeble enlisted in Ottawa and was assigned to the Peterborough Brigade. Keeble arrived in Shorncliffe, England on June 21, 1915 where he was transferred from the cavalry reserve to the Royal Canadian Dragoons. On November 2, 1917, he was shipped off to France as a part of the 93rd Battalion of Peterborough. According to Keeble’s military records, he was stationed in the town of Bourdon, France, less than 100 kilometers from Vimy Ridge from Dec 30, 1918 - March 5, 1919.

During his career, Keeble was sent to the hospital twice, once for influenza and once for a combination of leads and pneumonia. A gas attack during the war ultimately led to his early death at the age of 28. He left behind a wife and two children. Keeble represents the thousands of Home children who made a great sacrifice for the Empire by enlisting.

William Waterson was another former Barnardo boy who enlisted in World War One. He was born in Norfolk, England on March 5, 1897, and came to Canada on the ship Empress of Britain in 1913 at the age of 16. On October 20, 1915, Waterson enlisted with the 93rd Battalion in Peterborough.

During his two years of living in Canada, Waterson, like Keeble, was a farm labourer. This information is indicated in his attestation papers. On July 25, Waterson arrived in England and was transferred to the 39th Battalion which was stationed at the training camp in west Sandling. On January 4, 1917, Waterson completed his training and was transferred to the 6th reserve Battalion stationed in Shorncliffe, England where Keeble had arrived two years earlier. Waterson was then transferred to the 2nd Battalion and was stationed in France. Although Waterson's records only indicate that he was stationed in the field, the 2nd Battalion had fought in some of the heaviest fights that Canadian soldiers would face –  Vimy Ridge, Arleux, Hill 70, Passchendaele, and Amiens.

Waterson died on August 18, 1918, from wounds sustained in battle. Although his records do not indicate a location, the 2nd Battalion took part in the battle of Amiens which ended on the 13th of August, five days before Waterson's death and three months from the end of the war. Waterson was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his service.

There were many cases of immigrant children enlisting in the War. These children proved to be a pivotal force. The Hazelbrae children were raised with qualities and equipped with skills that would enable them to put their lives on the line and fight for Canada during World War One.

Photo of Barnardo Home matchboxes. Undated. Private Collection. Used with permission from Ivy Sucee.

Research by Megan O'Neill and Max Morettin.


Barnardo Homes matchbooks, [photograph], Undated, Private Collection.

Corbett, Gail. Nation Builders: Barnardo Children in Canada. 1997. Toronto:
Dundurn Press, 2002. Google Play edition.

Frank Keeble, [photograph], Ca. 1916-1918, Private Collection.

Government of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, Canadian Expeditionary
Force (CEF),“Frank Keeble”, RG150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 5023 - 1, Item Number 484086, Digitized ServiceFile B5023-S001.https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=484086

 Library and Archives Canada, Canadian Expeditionary Force, William Waterson, RG 150, Accession
1992-93/166, Box 10122 - 11, Item Number 302471.https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=302471

Library and Archives Canada, Home Children, Passenger list, William Waterson, RG 76 C1a, item number 85122, Ficro Film Reel T-4795. https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/home-children-1869-1930/immigration-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=85122

Government of Canada. Library and Archives Canada. https://www.bac-

Hazelbrae Barnardo Home Memorial, [photograph], 2018. 180 Barnardo Avenue Peterborough,
Ontario. Taken by Megan O’Neill.

Hill, Valerie. “Going Strong at 100.” The Record, Tuesday, July 14, 1998: B5.

Hunter, Celia. “British Home Children is Subject of Historical Society Talk in April” The
Millbrook Times, April 10, 2014: Page 9.

Jones, Elwood. “A new life at Hazelbrae.” The Peterborough Examiner, May 12, 2014.

Sanders, Carol. “The Barnardo Boys.” Winnipeg Free Press, Saturday, April 28, 2012: Page A12.

The Barnardo Children: Frightened strangers in a very strange land” Peterborough This Week,
Saturday, February 10, 1996: Page 1.

Trent University Archives, Boyd Family Fonds, accession 88-011, box 29, folder 4.

Trent University Archives. Lakefield Heritage Research. “Home children.” Toronto Star,
Saturday, August 16, 2014: IN5.

Trent Valley Archives, Fairbairn Photo Collection, accession F375-D-011.