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Forgotten by Director Eleanor McGrath

Former Fegan Home for Boys – with Sandra Joyce

FORGOTTEN the documentary By M. Eleanor McGrath, director
In October 2011, I walked south on one of Toronto’s toughest streets, George Street.
Once the home of the wealthy in the 19th century now filled with the homeless and
marginalized of Toronto, I wanted to walk through an area of the city that I knew was
significant architecturally. Only when I came to a Georgian home surrounded by
construction hoarding that I realized an important part of Toronto’s heritage might be
lost. I called the Heritage Department and began an email campaign; it was going well
until October 19th there was a 3-Alarm fire that gutted the once former residence of the
“Fegan Home for the Distribution of Boys”. This story found me.
The journey to uncover the story of the Fegan Home and the Boys that were “distributed”
took me across Canada and to Ireland in search of the history of the over 100,000
children that came to Canada from 1850s to 1939 as British Home Children. This is the
forgotten history of Canada, the lost memories of these children that are only unleashed
after they are gone and discovered by their descendants. The more I began to understand
the motivations for child migration to Canada and to meet the men who came as British
Home Children, the more I knew that this was a story that should not be forgotten.
Following two years of research, interviews, travel and then two years of postproduction,
the documentary, Forgotten captures some of the stories of the last remaining
British Home Children in Canada. The men interviewed are now in their 90s, sadly two
of the interviewed subjects have died since I met them. However, it is the children of
these descendants who are left searching for who their parent was and why they were sent
to Fegan’s, Barnardo’s and other institutions before they were shipped to Canada. These
descendants are in need of answers and many now struggle with the knowledge of the
hardships that these British Home Children endured as farm labour often abused as
slaves. Some of the descendants are seeking an apology from the Canadian government,
which has alluded the British Home Children for years, despite both the British and
Australian Governments providing restitution and an apology. Most agree that Canada
must acknowledge the tremendous contribution made by the British Home Children to
our country.
Forgotten shares personal stories of both the British Home Children and descendants
living across Canada along with commentary by the former Barnardo’s Director of After
Care, Collette Bradford. Ms. Bradford fought to open the records of 350,000 children to
the families in the 1990’s but this was already when the majority of children were dead or
very senior. Quoting from Ms. Bradford, “How dare we keep these records from these
children!” Along with original and never seen before photographs, footage the viewer
will discover a story of child labour still untold and largely forgotten, until now.
As I prepare for the 8th Film Festival to screen “Forgotten”, it has been an incredible
journey with the support of all those who were interviewed, the researchers who shared
their knowledge and the archives for photographs and footage and the special team of my
editor Adam Schoales, and Executive Producer Ivan Verlaan and the talented musicians
and colleagues who helped me every step of the way. As an independent filmmaker who
has no personal connection to the British Home Children, it has been an honour to
document and share this story with all those who have attended the screenings in Los
Angeles, London England, Chicago, Toronto and Hamilton. Recently, in Chicago during
the Question and Answer period, Ali Thompson (Fegan’s descendant) and myself were
asked by the astounded moderator “Why hasn’t Canada done more for these children?”
As Canadians, we have so much to learn about our nation’s history and to insist that the
textbooks are rewritten to teach the generations to come about these incredible children.
My work will continue to promote the memories of the British Home Children and
hopefully with future funding the archived materials of all interviews and original
documents will form a further resource for students. A final note on the journey of
making Forgotten is that 295 George Street is thankfully “mothballed” by the City of
Toronto as it restores and revitalizes Seaton House and its service to the homeless of our
city. The preservation of the “Fegan Home for the Distribution of Boys” will be
undertaken in the future and the history of the building will not be forgotten.
Upcoming Film Screening
The next Film Festival screening of Forgotten will be at the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s
ILOVEFILM series on Saturday, April 23rd at 4:00pm. Tickets can be purchased at:
There will be a Jolly Bus Tour leaving on Saturday morning from Cornwall, Ontario to
attend the screening along with special stops and speakers to greet the group along the
way. Sandra Joyce, Quarrier’s Descendant, author and advocate will meet with the group
at Queen’s Park and then off to 295 George Street with Eleanor McGrath, director. To
join the group and tour please contact Carol at: http://jollytours.ca/portfolio/forgotten/
Eleanor McGrath, is a wife and mother of four children living and working in Toronto
and is a part-time farmer in Apple Hill, Ontario. Eleanor works as a fundraising
consultant with the Jesuits in English Canada and is a volunteer Trustee of the Ireland
Canada University Scholarship Fund. Her passion as an independent filmmaker was
realized when she left a career on Bay Street five years ago and picked up her first
camera….Eleanor has not looked back! Her award winning documentary films are
Kanata: An Irish Story, ALIVE FROM THE DIVIS FLATS and Forgotten. She is
author of A STORY TO BE TOLD and writes scripts, articles and is working on her next
documentary web series for completion in 2017. www.ardri.ca
A Review of Forgotten
Forgotten is a poignant and moving film recounting the story of the British Home
Child movement through personal interviews with those who, without choice, were
participants and with their descendants. The film provides a keen insight into what
these children experienced, acknowledging and recognising their significant
contribution to Canada. It must be seen to appreciate the huge upheaval and
emotional turmoil that these children went through, the impact that it has had on
their lives, and the lives of their families. It is indeed a story that must not be
forgotten. David Waller,