Search for memorial plaque leads to discovery of British Home Child in Harriston

MINTO – It all started in an effort to help a committee save a little roadside park outside Harriston.

For nearly 100 years the site, now known as Beehive Park, had been the site of a school (S.S. #1 Beehive). In 1935, at the time of the King’s Jubilee, a plaque was given to the school in memory of three local  residents who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in WWI (George Carter, Lloyd Bramhill, and Leonard Kirk). The first two surnames are still well known in the community, not so for the last.

The school like many rural educational facilities was closed in 1965 and  no one seems to know what happened to the war plaque.

Inquires with former students and teachers, local churches and Legion branches in Harriston Legion and Palmerston have not turned up any information on its whereabouts. Families of the deceased indicate they have record and the Wellington County Museum and Archives do not have it.

Members of the Committee to Save Beehive park believe a  memorial plaque is unlikely to have been thrown away, and are hoping it’s stored somewhere.

A recent acquisition by the museum was shared with the Wellington County Historical Society because  of a Harriston connection. The acquisition was a funeral card for Leonard Kirk, who had served in the 153rd Wellington Battalion C.E.F.

Following up on the war service it was found Kirk  was born in Yorkshire, England. The revelations Kirk was in the service, buried from Harriston in 1917 at age 18, yet born in England raised the possibly he was a British Home Child. But what is the Harriston connection, and Beehive? Visitation was from the home of Miss. K. Ferguson on Webb Street  in Harriston and the funeral at the Presbyterian Church.

The closest Ontario census to that date is 1911 and Don and Mary Ferguson are listed as the only members of the family but Leonard Kirk was entered as a Barnardo, (meaning he was a British Home Child sent from England and indentured as a farm helper to the Fergusons.)

The focus turned to finding out more about Kirk and why and how he got to Harriston. Turns out his father, Robert, and mother Mary, had five (living) children from 1893 to 1901. The father died in 1903 and the mother in 1904. The older daughter married just before the mother died, leaving four younger ones with no means of support. Annie was 14 and no record of her has surfaced yet. Robert 12, Leonard 6 and Helen 3 were made wards of the Dr. Barnardo Homes.

Robert was sent to Canada in 1904 and indentured as a farm laborer in Alberta. Reports indicate he was treated well, but as many young “home boys” did, he enlisted for First World War service in the hopes of returning to England and being reunited with his remaining family. Many of these children never heard from their siblings again so it’s doubtful he knew his younger brother Leonard was sent to Canada in 1907. Both young men died in service. Robert is buried in France.

On Robert’s Attestation Papers (Nov 1914) he had a man from Toronto listed as his next of kin, but by the time of his death in 1916 he had changed his beneficiary to Sam Kirk. Ironically enough, Sam Kirk is on the same passenger list of the S.S. Dominion along with Leonard in 1907. Leonard was 8 and Sam was two years older. However the trail runs dry on Sam and it is unknown where he went after the Toronto Distribution Centre.

Meanwhile on Leonard’s Attestation Papers of December 1915 (enlisted at Harriston) he records his next of kin and beneficiary as Helen Kirk of Cyril Cottage, Barkingside England (one of the girls’ cottages under Dr. Barnardo’s care.) Helen’s trail also runs dry there.

The fact that Leonard Kirk is on the 1911 census with the Fergusons, and his visitation is from a Ferguson residence in 1917, would indicate he probably spent his total Canadian placement with the Fergusons and was treated like a son.

So we’ve found Leonard Kirk … but where’s the plaque?

Contact any member of the Committee to Save Beehive Park if you have information.

Willa Wick