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Fifi the Clown

Whenever I go into St. John’s Norway Cemetery in Toronto to see my parent’s niche on the exterior wall of the Chapel, one inscription strikes me: “Canada’s Own Fifi the Clown’ dedicated to John O’Mahoney by his loving family. O’Mahoney was 99 when he died in 2002. I have often wondered who this was. 
During our British Home Child exhibit in Newmarket, we were told that Fifi the Clown was a Home Child by a descendant who had dropped by. Richard (John) O’Mahoney came to Canada in 1920 at the age of 15 on the SS Minnedosa as part of a group of 37 children. They were being sent by the Catholic Emigration Association to St. Georges’ Home in Ottawa. Most children in his group were under the age of 14. Three of them were just six.
According to an October 2016 article in the Toronto Historist, “(Fifi was) Born in Ireland during the first decade of the 20th century, and he was placed in an orphanage at age five. He was sent to Canada…where he performed farm work and was abused at school. He ran away to join a circus in his teens.”
Over the years, Fifi performed at church picnics, country fairs, clubs, the CNE, the Royal Winter Fair, and the Rameses Shrine Circus at Maple Leaf Gardens. During the Second World War, he enlisted in the RCAF and spent three years entertaining airmen across North America.
Every so often, I think about whether the career choice of my BHC dad, Robert Joyce, as a supervisor at Seaton House, Toronto’s largest men’s homeless shelter, was shaped by his youth. According to the same Toronto Historist article, “(Fifi’s) soft spot, likely based on his time in the orphanage, was performing for homeless and ill children, leading to appearances at Sick Kids Hospital.”