UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO ARCHIVES AND RECORDS MANAGEMENT SERVICES
Migration through the eyes of a child
A young British evacuee experiences Toronto
What would you write in a letter to send home after travelling 5600km to avoid war? Patience Clark, a girl from Oxford, England, wrote a letter to her father in 1940 revealing her observations of Toronto after being evacuated from England. This letter reflects a child’s priorities and impressions of her new surroundings. Patience’s circumstances were unique, but her remarks connect with other British evacuees’ observations and my own experiences moving away.
Pages 1 to 4 of the Letter from Patience Clark to her father in 1940. Courtesy of Charles Norris Cochrane Fonds, University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services.
Why did Patience travel to Toronto?
In 1940, British officials believed that Germany was planning to bomb and invade Britain. This threat triggered a second evacuation of British cities. For children whose parents taught at British universities, the University of Toronto Committee for British Overseas Children (wives of University of Toronto faculty) facilitated their evacuation and placement with foster families in Canada. Patience’s father taught at Oxford University, and from 1940 to 1943, Patience and her brother Martin lived with Dr. Charles Cochrane, a professor and Dean of Residence at the University of Toronto, and his family. Patience referred to her foster parents as “Aunt Gladys” and “Uncle Charles”, and wanted them to meet her biological parents.
Pages 5 to 7 of the Letter from Patience Clark to her father in 1940. Courtesy of Charles Norris Cochrane Fonds, University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services.
What were Patience’s initial experiences and impressions of Toronto?:
For leisure, Patience attended the circus and participated in sports at school such as basketball, which she describes as, “rather like netball, only lots easier.” She was also on a lacrosse team which she says is “very bad”. Patience also noticed some major differences between Canadian and British cultures. She notes, “It is very hard not to talk Canadian when everyone round you does, and several times I have found myself doing it without knowing. They pronounce ‘or’ – ‘ar’ eg. Talk – tark…”. She exclaims, “The worst things to catch are the slang expressions and different ways of saying things”. She then explains that if she starts talking ‘Canadian’, that will stop once she returns home. Furthermore, Patience expresses a strong desire for meals from home, “The things we miss a lot here, are things like nice food […] Canadians have quite a different idea of nice food from us, and we miss homely things like buttered egg, etc.”
How do Patience’s thoughts relate to others?
Patience’s privileged family status allowed her to be evacuated to Canada (to another upper-class family) through the Committee for British Overseas Children’s network, while many other children who were evacuated went to the British countryside to live with strangers of a different social class, religion, and culture. While I think Patience’s circumstances influenced her experiences with leisure, and reactions to food and speech which she wrote about, I believe there is a universality in children’s priorities and observations. Many other evacuees also played sports to fit in, and commented on the strange food and new ways of speaking they were experiencing. When I left home to attend university, I also longed for my family’s cooking, had to adapt to the new ‘academic’ language, and played volleyball because it was familiar. Sports are still used today in Toronto to help immigrant children adjust. Examining Patience’s letter provides some insight into a child’s priorities and to commonalities in children’s migration experience.
Kathleen Vahey is a Master of Museum Studies student at the University of Toronto. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Ancient Mediterranean Studies, with minors in History and Women and Gender Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University. She is interested in collections management, how museums engage with diverse audiences, and strategies when exhibiting sensitive subject matter. Although from a small town, she loves to travel to and explore new parts of the world.
 Clark, 1940.
 Brown, 2000.
 Women’s War Service Committee Fonds finding aid, n.d.; Cochrane Norris Cochrane Fonds finding aid, n.d.; S. Dutton, personal communication, November 14, 2016 (archivist at Bishop Strachan School, school that Patience attended while in Toronto).
 Clark, 1940.
 Clark, 1940.
 Clark, 1940; Netball America, 2016. http://www.netballamerica.com/about-netball/what-is-netball/
 Clark, 1940.
 Clark, 1940.
 Clark, 1940; Eaton, 1823, pp. 55. https://books.google.ca/books?id=zAGDwTxFf2QC&printsec=frontcover&dq=The+Cook+and+Housekeeper%27s+Dictionary&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi01YHH_-fQAhUE1WMKHXT4B4UQ6AEIKDAA#v=snippet&q=%20Beat%20four%20or%20five%20eggs%2C%20yolk%20and%20white%20together&f=false
 Brown, 2000; Jackson 2008.
 Brown, 2000; Williamson & Sharp, 2011.
Patience’s circumstances were unique, but her remarks connect with other British evacuees’ observations and my own experiences moving away.