Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children - Horrific Sexual and Physical Abuse
The Colored Home
Tuesday November 29, 2011 http://www.cbc.ca/maritimemagazine/2011/11/29/the-colored-home/Opened in 1921, for many years the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children was the only orphanage in the province that would accept black children.
In fact children from across the region were sent there.
While the Home is a symbol of refuge and community spirit for many people, it's also the target of controversy.
Several dozen people have come forward to say they were abused and neglected by former staff and residents.
The claims have been slowly making their way through the court system for almost a decade.
Our story this week comes from freelance reporter, Bethany Horne. Link here to hear interview: http://www.cbc.ca/maritimemagazine/2011/11/29/the-colored-home/
November 30, 2011
The full story of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children has never been written. It is hard to know how to understand it. The home's existence is an accomplishment for Black Nova Scotians, and as an institution, the NSHCC has played a role in the lives of many people scattered across the Maritimes.
But there is something missing. Before getting this job for OpenFile, I was researching a CBC documentary about the Home. People I spoke to, who lived there as children, are still waiting for acknowledgement from anyone—the Home, the Province, the courts—that bad things happened at the Home in the past. Their lawyer is still pushing for a full investigation into alleged sexual and physical abuses. The Home itself is still struggling to leave behind a negative past and move forward with a new program, Akoma, which is unique in Canada.
And former residents are writing to their politicians to ask: what is Nova Scotia's lingering responsibility for the Dartmouth orphanage and the people who were abandoned there?
From 1921 well into the 1960s, the Home was the only place to send black children who were orphans or couldn't be cared for by their families. And it still exists.
For the documentary, I spoke with a man in Toronto, Garnet Smith, who lived at the Home in the 1940s. He remembers eating clover and garbage to stay full, and never learning how to read. And Kenneth Scott, whose mom grew up there. When she went back as an adult, she was told by a museum curator that she was making up her memories of a bad childhood. And Tony Smith, a Halifax musician and social worker, who took me to the gravesite of someone [a friend] he lost, [dead from a beating at the home] and told me his worst memory from childhood.
Thanks to all kinds of help and support from the Halifax CBC and specifically Maritime Magazine's producer Christina Hartnett, you can listen to the full audio doc, The Colored Home, on their website. [link in previous article posted directly above]
From the CBC blog:
While the Home is a symbol of refuge and community spirit for many people, it's also the target of controversy. Several dozen people have come forward to say they were abused and neglected by former staff and residents. The claims have been slowly making their way through the court system for almost a decade.The documentary also introduces some recent changes to the Home, its new executive director, and looks at the the different legacies it has left Nova Scotia. But as Nova Scotians, the most important thing to remember is: the story isn't finished.
From the doc:
"All these allegations, very strong and very powerful allegations of systemic sexual abuse of the most horrific variety is well documented in the court record and no police department, no police agency, no government agency, nobody in the Department of Community Services, no welfare protection people—did anything, or are doing anything to investigate the case. And you have to ask yourself why."
by Jacob Boon
November 30, 2011
At the dawn of the Twentieth Century, there wasn’t much hope for orphaned black children in Nova Scotia. Denied by other groups homes due to the colour of their skin, most would end up in poor houses or living on the streets.
While Nova Scotia has always faced its fair share of racial problems, the province is also home to strong black communities, and leaders who set out to right the wrongs they saw in orphaned children.
Lawyer James Johnston—the first black Nova Scotian with a law degree—first proposed an institute for black children to the African United Baptist Association in 1908. By 1915, the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children (NSHCC) was incorporated, and fundraising began to pay for the building of the home on a farm in Westphal.
On June 6, 1921, the NSHCC officially opened with a parade of dignitaries and spectators. According to their own website, it was “the largest gathering of Blacks since the arrival of the Loyalists.”
Underfunded and Ignored
Sadly, from its very inception, the NSHCC was to be a story of an institution often underfunded and ignored by the government. The home’s first manager, James Ross Kinney, became a guiding force in seeking donations in the orphanage’s early years. He was a “lone hand in the raising of funds,” according to then-NSHCC-president Henry G. Bauld.
Kinney would travel far and wide, meeting friends and contacts and soliciting for any help in keeping the NSHCC afloat—activities that did not always meet the approval of other trustees. Provincial director of child welfare Earnest Blois expressed his disapproval of Kinney’s donation-seeking in Upper Canada via a 1936 letter to Henry Bauld.
“I feel that we would be not only placing the Home but the whole Province in a very unenviable position by making an appeal,” the letter reads. “In my judgment, this is no time to give Upper Canadians a chance to say we are beggars.”
Bauld wrote back, saying “no work of any consequence in this City or Province has ever failed to grasp every opportunity to seek funds widely beyond the Province.”
"Men of Wealth die," Bauld continues, "Community Chests are formed, large and generous contributions are given to EVERYTHING, but The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children is never remembered to the extent that others are."
A more inspiring tale would perhaps here feature the institution, fighting to remain open, scraping by with what little they had. Humbly thankful, they would work bit by bit towards a brighter future. In reality, like any institution so radically malnourished, there were real consequences to the struggles the home faced.
The first official report of the poor living conditions at the orphanage comes from a 1948 visit by Lillian Romkey, a social worker for the province. She notes the home was suspiciously clean upon her visit, so much so that “one wonders if the children just sit on the benches in the play room without moving.”
The children’s dinner for that visit consisted of a fish stew, mostly bones, potatoes and milk, while Romkey notes the staff had “vegetable soup, fried halibut, carrots, sliced tamatoes, pickles, potatoes, fresh apple pie.”
"The small quantities of food kept in this refrigerator would only be sufficient for the staff, not for the 64 children," she writes.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of her report though, is Romkey’s observations about the home’s matron, Elizabeth Fowler.
"Mrs. Fowler seems to have no conception of the children's last names or to know very much about them," Romkey writes. "She says she cannot stand children talking.”
Fowler, in charge of the well-being and care of over 60 young children, apparently also spoke “despairingly” of those placed in the home, calling them all “poor trash.”
Misuse of Funds?
provincial director of Child Welfare, Dr. Fred MacKinnon.
MacKinnon would become a lifelong advocate for the poor in Nova Scotia. A public servant and political figure for more than 50 years, he would be influential in passing the Social Assistance Act of 1958, which essentially decriminalized poverty.
In the late ‘40s, however, MacKinnon was still starting out when a letter from Colchester County Children’s Aid’s Margaret Payne landed on his desk.
Payne had concerns about the family allowances her organization owed the NSHCC. At the time, children taken to the home received allowances from the counties they were wards of to be spent on clothing or toys. Colchester had amassed close to $600 for their children at the NSHCC, but were uncomfortable sending the money.
"We have corresponded with the Colored Home on several occasions asking for suggestions or vouchers for things the children need but have had no satisfactory reply," Payne writes. "The officials of the Colored Home have insisted we turn the money over to them."
Walter Wood, of Annapolis County Children's Aid, also wrote to MacKinnon with a similar story.
"Some time ago, Mr. Bauld demanded the Family Allowances paid over to them, but we refused to do this,” Wood writes.
"There is a large question in our minds as to what the money we hold in trust for these children has to do with the financing of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children."
“I feel that it is time that a thorough investigation was made as to what is going on there.”
That was the demand of A. P. Hunt of the Yarmouth County Children’s Aid Society after a young girl was brought to him from the NSHCC with stripes on her back and bruises on her legs.
In a series of 1950s Community Services Department documents obtained by the Chronicle Herald in the late 90s, Hunt and others write to MacKinnon with these and other charges.
Claims of children being dressed in rags are mentioned; even of one girl being sent out with a night dress made from an old flour bag. Former wards of the NSHCC mention being beaten with switches, and broomsticks. One girl was allegedly beaten by a staff member until “she cried for mercy.”
MacKinnon forwarded the allegations to
James Ross Kinney Jr., now superintendent at the home after his father’s death, and proposed an investigation. Kinney denied any workers could have beat the children, but promised to look into the matter.
In the Herald’s 1998 article, Louise Surette writes that “In a final letter, Mr. Kinney wrote that the matter had been dealt with and strongly insisted ‘corporal punishment was not used at the home.’”
The RCMP were never contacted. Nor was a formal investigation ever carried out.
Another scandal to rock the NSHCC came in 1966, when then deputy minister of Public Welfare MacKinnon became aware that the home’s superintendent was placing children into foster homes he himself owned.
The NSHCC would make cheques payable to the foster parents for accepting a child, which would be hand delivered to the family by superintendent Kinney, “only to have the cheques endorsed and turned over to him for the rent due.”
MacKinnon didn’t mince words in his reaction to this news. He writes, “This is a very serious matter and I am disturbed by it!”
Then director of Children’s Aid Alfred Kenney responded to MacKinnon, letting him know that “the arrangement between Mr. Kinney and myself was made with both boards fully informed, and at least from our viewpoint, it was probably the best solution we could find at the time. At no time have I doubted Mr. Kinney’s integrity and sincerity.”
That same year, 1966, the coordinator of foster home services Rosemary Rippon visited the NSHCC to prepare a report on its operations. Rippon inspected the 75 children in the home’s care, the highest the orphanage had ever cared for, and concluded they were a different mix than the neglected children the home used to look after.
"Formerly the Institution catered mostly to the orphaned or neglected," she writes, "but the type of child being cared for now includes many more children who could be described as disturbed."
Her assessment concluded that the location was overcrowded, and only “superficial” medicals were offered to children during intake. At least one child had been admitted with an unnamed but highly infectious disease.
Out of the 16 employees, Rippon found “no staff members trained in Child Care, and none has had any nursing experience.”
"There is some dissatisfaction among the staff regarding the wages paid," she continues, "which are low and do not meet even the minimum wage scale."
The children, at least, seemed content. Rippon writes that those she saw appeared “happy and healthy looking youngsters.”
The truth of what life was like in the home at the time is more difficult to determine.
The staff were under-trained, but with the extremely low wages offered by the province, there was little incentive to working at the NSHCC.
And while the children may have appeared “happy and healthy,” future statements from those children would paint a different picture—one of beatings, psychological torture, and rape that has led former residents to band together in a lengthy court battle against the NSHCC and the province.
The truth of what life was like in the home at the time is more difficult to determine. In part three of The Colored Home series, we look at a lost opportunity in the 1970s for the province to look at some of the damage and neglect alleged later by survivors.
December 1, 2011
The provincial government quashed a chance to examine the allegations of abuse and neglect in the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children in the early '70s, during what is alleged to be one of the highest periods of abuse.
In 1971, it was agreed that the Home would hire an individual to evaluate its operations and advise on its future. The province agreed to pay $1,500 to assist in the study. According to NSHCC documents, no single consultant could be hired, so in 1973 the firm of Rafuse, Dwyer and Marentette was obtained. That firm submitted a proposal for a more extensive study, looking into staff training, children's wellness, finances and operations, which would cost $4,000. A copy of the proposal is included below.
We can only speculate today what such a report at that time would have uncovered. But we don't have to guess as to how the province reacted to the firm's proposal.
“This is crazy,” J. A. MacKenzie, director of Research and Planning for Nova Scotia wrote of the proposed evaluation. “To fund this study is simply paying for a stick to beat ourselves.”
“Furthermore, if the Board of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children decide to proceed on their own, we should make it quite clear that Departmental files will not be made available to the study group. Otherwise, we are simply asking for another 'scourging at the public pillar'.”
Read MacKenzie's letter here:
NS Minister and staff balks at funding the study
The provincial director of Child Welfare, Dr. Fred MacKinnon, voiced his own hesitations in a letter to then Minister of Public Welfare, William Gillis.
“If we do not permit ourselves to get involved,” he writes, “we will then be in a position to defend ourselves if the Home goes ahead with the study and undertakes the usual muck-raking and mud-slinging which is characteristic of this kind of effort where Government is concerned.”
Minister Gillis was himself first informed of the consultant's request for extra funding by an inter-office memo from executive assistant Ricky MacDonald, a copy of which is also below. Notice the handwritten response at the bottom, addressed to Ricky but with no named author. In barely legible writing the author states he or she has “no objection to a survey of the Home if that were all it might be.”
“The whole affair is much more likely to be another witch hunt at the Department's expense,” the author continues. “It is open season for witch hunting.”
Minister Gillis finally responded to NSHCC president Reg Croft's continual requests to honour the commitment of $1,500 by stating the consultant firm was selected without the province's prior approval. Even though that detail was not part of the original agreement, the province still withheld all funds, and the proposed study was abandoned.
And with that, maybe the last and best chance to uncover what was happening at the home went up in smoke. A victim of a government willing to turn a blind eye so as not to hurt their careers.
It would be another 25 years before former residents stepped forward, offering a different picture of their time in the provincially funded orphanage—a picture of alleged beatings, psychological torture and rape, that led those residents to band together for a lengthy court battle against the NSHCC and the province.
December 1, 2011
No one would believe her, “because she was a tomboy and ugly as well.”
Those were the words Tracey Lynn Dorrington says she was told to keep her from complaining when caregivers at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children raped her, according to her statement of claim filed with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
Dorrington is just one of many voices who have come forward in recent years to seek legal action, against both the NSHCC and the province, for what they claim was a systemic climate of physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
The decade-long legal war continues to this day, but it started in the late 1990s.
Tony Smith is well known in Halifax as a musician, and one of the founding members of Tony Smith & the Mellotones. In 1998, he also became the first former resident to speak out publicly about his time at the NSHCC.
As a boy, Smith says, he watched his best friend, Anthony Langford, severely beaten by other residents at the home. Taken to the hospital, Langford died a few days later. According to Langford's mother, who also spoke to the Herald in 1998, no investigation into the death was done, even though "she tried for years to find out what happened [to her son] but staff wouldn't tell her."
Thirty years went by before Smith was able to speak out about the events he witnessed as a boy, and he did so via a letter to the Justice Department requesting an official examination of Langford's death and other abuses at the NSHCC. At this point, RCMP looked into it and said the boy died during an unrelated surgery. They decided not to investigate. Smith says the surgery story doesn't make any sense. You can hear him tell the story in his own words here.
Journalist Bethany Horne has spoken to the RCMP numerous times during research for her documentary, The Colored Home, looking to follow up on what Cpl. Devri Warnell told the Chronicle Herald in 1998:
"We have received a phone call in regards to the Home for Colored Children ... At this point, an investigator hasn't been assigned nor has exactly where an investigation will take place from been determined. It is very premature at this point to say what will take place and it is hard to say when this will begin. It is tricky because the matter is years old, so whether it is this week or next week, we can't really say."
Her confirmation request has gone unanswered, as have recent attempts to get RCMP comment on the issue.
Soon after Smith came forward, other voices joined him in speaking about their time at the home, and seeking justice.
Sixty former residents spoke out with tales of abuse during their time at the NSHCC. Out of that number, 15 individual lawsuits were filed against the home and the province. Three of those suits belonged to the Dorrington sisters.
Tracey Lynn, and her sisters Krista Lee and Lizette Denise, were all placed in the NSHCC at different times. Tracey first entered the home in 1972, a year before the government of Nova Scotia would deny funding to an evaluation of the home's operations and staff.
In her statement of claim, Dorrington claims to have been assaulted multiple times from the age of 15 until she left the home at 18. She says she was groped, “slammed” against walls, and beaten if she didn't comply with forced sexual encounters.
NSHCC executive director Veronica Marsman declined to comment on the cases for this article.
Other former residents have filed equally terrifying stories. They tell of young girls woken up at night to find strange hands fondling them. They describe staff members arranging fights between children for their amusement. Allowances were withheld until sexual favours were given, they say. Some even remember seeing a small boy beaten and left on the floor in a puddle of his blood.
Messages left for Catherine Lunn and Terry Potter, the province's legal counsel at the Department of Justice, seeking comment on these allegations and the ongoing court cases went unanswered. None of the allegations of what happened at the NSHCC has been proven in court, nor have any criminal charges ever been filed. For lawyer Ray Wagner, who is representing the former residents, that's part of the problem.
"I don't understand why there has been no investigation, a real investigation into what took place at the home," he says.
"A lot of children ran away from the home, and [the RCMP] returned them. They didn't ask them why they ran away. There's a whole host of opportunities where they could have done something."
Without any official investigations, all the former residents have are their own statements of claim. But the large gap between when the alleged abuse occurred and when the victims came forward to file legal action has led to some of the NSHCC lawsuits being dismissed.
Under Nova Scotia discoverability law, victims of sexual abuse, even children, have only six years to proceed with legal action from the time they recognize what was done to them was harmful. That's why a judge ruled Tony Smith's suit was statute barred and dismissed his case. Wagner appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, but was denied.
"We've been bogged down 10 years, 11 years," says Wagner. "And all it's got us is a trip to the Supreme Court of Canada, a couple of trips to the Court of Appeal, and persistent litigation."
A decade later, only the Dorrington sisters have individual lawsuits before the courts. Though with such a complicated case, with more than 100 witnesses to be called, a trial date likely won't be set until 2015.
The long, frustrating wait is just one of the reasons Ray Wagner moved forward earlier this year with a class action lawsuit on behalf of all potential former residents of the NSHCC who suffered abuse.
"We've chosen to move this case for the larger group of people who really can't come forward, because of the circumstances of their abuse,” says Wagner.
Potentially, more than 200 former residents could be part of the class action.
Before it gets to trial, though, Wagner will be looking for the courts to recognize the collected cases as a class action suit, and will meet with a judge next week for a case management meeting.
It's a war of attrition. But after 40 years of living with their memories, and a decade of legal battles, it's a war everyone seems willing to fight.
December 2, 2011
This class action motion comes after more than ten years of legal wrangling, and sets the stage for many more years of it to come. The legal limbo has satisfied no one. Alleged victims are frustrated that a judge hasn’t heard their cases and police haven’t investigated their claims. Conversely, the Home is tired of fielding questions about their past, and eager to move on with their new programs. But there’s no trial date on the horizon.
Less than a month ago, the province declined a proposed settlement, submitted by lawyer Ray Wagner, on behalf of his clients. A response by Department of Justice counsel Catherine Lunn states “The Province remains in its position that it is not willing to negotiate any compensation for settlement in respect to these claims, based on a position of no liability.”
Wagner finds that line of defence, “baffling,” as he feels the province is directly responsible for any potential abuse that occurred in the Dartmouth orphanage.
"Had the Home had the resources to hire competent, properly trained individuals, with proper oversight, this never would have happened,” he says.
“There may have been an isolated incident from time to time, but that would have been dealt with. Instead, it became systemic. Where it got to a degree where workers were abusing children, children were abusing other children, friends of workers or families of workers were coming in and abusing children..."
Messages left for counsels Catherine Lunn and Terry Potter at the department of justice were not returned, but NSHCC representative John Kulik did share his thoughts on the struggles that arise from long-ago accusations.
When you try to litigate the past, every claim is more than 25 years old," says Kulik. "It's very difficult to defend."
A partner at McInnis Cooper, Kulik and fellow firm member Jane O'Neill have been representing the NSHCC during their legal battles. While he did not want to comment specifically regarding ongoing litigation, he did say that tracking down witnesses and workers from the period of alleged abuse is one of the more challenging aspects to the case.
"The people at the Home at the time are all long retired, and many are dead," says Kulik.
Entropy is an inevitable frustration felt by both sides.
“We're losing people all the time,” says Wagner. “We've lost a bunch of class members due to death. Unfortunately in civil law these cases often die or expire because of that.”
To try and speed up the litigation process, and hopefully reach a settlement, Wagner has been instructing claimants and other members of the public to write their MLAs demanding to know why there has been no investigation into the NSHCC, and why a settlement has not been reached.
"I don't think the political people have made choices in this, and I think now they have an opportunity to make a choice," says Wagner. "We'll see how they respond."
The executive director for the NSHCC, Veronica Marsman, declined to comment on litigation and other matters for this series. However, this summer she spoke with reporter Bethany Horne and addressed the legal challenges facing the Home.
"We're aware it's there," she said of the lawsuits. "We just don't stick our head in the sand and say it's gone. But our focus and our energies have to be spent on establishing a five star facility for the current residents.” She is referring to the Akoma Family Centre.
Marsman, herself a former resident, also spoke with Horne about the history of the NSHCC and what it's done for her own life.
"There are residents out there who've come back over the years and said, 'Thank you. If it wasn't for the Home, I don't know where I'd be,'” said Marsman.
“I can even speak in terms of myself, personally. I was a former resident at the old Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children ... and I thank God daily for the existence of the Nova Scotia Home because I don't know where I would be if it were not for the Home."
And for all the accusations, the Home does have strong supporters. Though the NSHCC receives $1.4 million in provincial funding annually, a large chunk of their finances are paid for by charitable donations from former residents and community members.
Those donations can come from one-time events (like the $90 a plate gala reception the NSHCC held at the Dartmouth Ramada back in June) but the most visible fund-raising effort the Home puts on is their annual “Broadcast for Funds.”
The telethon began in 1931, on Nova Scotia’s first radio station, CHNS. The broadcasts featured a choir consisting of the children in the home “singing for supper” as one former resident calls it. The class action Statement of Claim alleges residents’ participation in the choir was compulsory, and part of the NSHCC positive image public relations campaign.
Today, the telethon is televised. It airs every holiday season on Eastlink. The 2010 broadcast featured performances by Marko Simmonds, and the Nova Scotia Mass Choir, and received $35,000 in donations.
"That's really our signature kind of fund-raising piece," says NSHCC board member Sylvia Parris.
Parris, an education officer and consultant with the Department of Education, was unable to comment on pending legal matters, but did say the current court cases in front of the Home haven't yet had a noticeable effect on donations.
"I would say, no to that," she says. "In so far as where we are, as far as targets for fundraising, we wouldn't really be even having a good look at that until after our telethon."
The next “Broadcast for Funds,” the 80th in the NSHCC's history, will air Dec. 11. Money raised will go to the Home, but Parris says it won't be used to pay any of the NSHCC's more than $43,000 a year legal costs.
"That's an operations thing," says Parris. "We would have an allocation from (the Department of Community Services) for legal costs related to operations. That would be a standard amount, but I couldn't make a comment as to what was allocated towards (the lawsuits)."
Forty thousand a year, even over a decade, may end up being a small amount compared to what the NSHCC and the province could conceivably be looking at in terms of a settlement amount. Ray Wagner offers no exact figure for damages sought, but has stated in the past that some claims could by worth up to $1 million.
If that's the case, a potential NSHCC settlement could rank with other class action cases in this province that saw hefty payments made to victims of institutional abuse. The province spent over $50 million on the notorious settlement for the Shelburne School for Boys. And the federal government reached a $4 billion agreement for First Nations victims of the Residential Schools. The legacy of abuse by the Diocese of Antigonish was also finally acknowledged, with a historic $13 million settlement for victims in 2009 (which, today it was reported, has already distributed $8.5 million to victims by selling off church assets and taking on loans).
The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children may end up as part of that list; another institutional body that victimized and abused children. But that won't be the totality of its history. As Veronica Marsman pointed out to Bethany Horne, there are voices speaking out about the Home on both sides.
“There's negative, I'm sure as well as positive,” she said. “There's a lot of folks out there who speak very positively of the Home. It's part of our history, so you can't just erase history.”
Even though they're on opposite sides of these court cases, Marsman's views are shared in many ways by Ray Wagner.
"The Home made a real effort to try to provide for themselves and for their community,” he says. “There's a lot of very great people that worked in that home, and had a great vision.”
For Wagner, the NSHCC is not just a symbol for the strength of Nova Scotia's black culture, but also in how the province has failed that culture time and again.
"The Black community has suffered hugely in this province and continues to do so," he says. "Systemic racism exists in this province and is well-known, to a point of which the courts have actually taken judicial notice of it."
Wagner believes the province, the community, and the Home, will only be reconciled once an acknowledgement of past crimes comes to light.
Until then, the former residents will keep on fighting.
"We've had people say on their dying wishes, 'Don't give up. Keep going,'" says Wagner.
"All they want is recognition of the fact that what was done to them was wrong."
The discussion doesn't have to end here. Ray Wagner's court documents regarding the Colored Home are all available on his website.
The Children Nobody Cared About
They were the government’s children.
And the Halifax-area woman who heard their stories of horrific sexual and physical abuse is coming forward to help former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children who are leading a class action against the home and the province.
"These were the children who nobody else would speak for," Jane Earle, former executive director of the home, told The Chronicle Herald on Tuesday.
"They were all alone," victims of "predators," said Earle, who wants to lend her voice to at least 63 former residents who she believes were abused up until the late 1990s.
"This one guy in particular certainly did it all," said Earle, who said she personally knows of about seven people — then young female and male teenagers — who were sexually abused by former staff and a volunteer at the home in Dartmouth.
The former child-care worker, who served in the executive post for 10 months in 1980, said she’s filing an affidavit Friday as part of a mammoth lawsuit led by Wagners law firm.
The proposed class action, which will go to court for certification this fall, has been launched by Aubrey Pelley and Deanna Smith, said Mike Dull, who represents the claimants.
Earle said she was sickened to learn of the abuse after leaving her post, first from one of the foster children she and her husband, former MP Gordon Earle, looked after, and then from another young woman whose story came to her through a worker at the home.
Earle said she met with the second woman for three hours, had no doubts she had been abused, and promised she would go to the board on the woman’s behalf. All the woman wanted was to speak with board members because she didn’t want to tarnish the home’s reputation, Earle said.
"It was pretty horrific sexual abuse. It turned my stomach."
Earle and her husband met with the board about that case in 1996.
"The board refused to meet with her."
Wagners law firm filed 63 individual lawsuits in 2003-04. Earle hoped the cases would prompt investigations but nothing happened, she said.
By the late 2000s, when no acknowledgement of the abuse had come from the government, she decided to act.
"Frankly, I couldn’t wait any longer. Nothing was happening. The province knew all that and let it continue . . . because they were black.
"These were the government’s children. They were legally the government’s children, and the government not only let them down but now they will not settle."
Earle said she was approached years ago by a lawyer for either the province or the home and someone from another government agency, and she told them the abuse was real. No one took any action, she said.
The children are now adults who "struggle" in every way, said Earle, who speaks often with several victims.
"They feel shame, the whole nine yards, and it never stops."
She said the home’s per diem — money paid for the care of each child — was "appalling," the workers had little or no skills, and physical abuse was a fact of life.
Earle has a long history with child welfare in Canada, including serving as director of Manitoba’s Foster Family Association, where she was responsible for about 2,400 foster homes. When she became executive director at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, she said she ordered the physical abuse halted.
"When I went there, I said, ‘No more physical,’ " said Earle, who said she had no idea of sexual abuses at the home.
The per diem for "white children" placed in similar homes was at times almost triple that for a black child.
"It was $3.50 a day per (black) child . . . up until 1976."
By the time Earle left her post, it had risen to about $27 per day, but the payment for children in at least one other provincial home was $55.
The government knew but did nothing, she said.
"These were children that nobody cared about."
Tony Smith says he'll never forget what happened to him at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children.
Some said they ate the pigs’ food because they were so hungry.
Others said they were forced to perform sexual acts upon each other for the gratification of some staff members.
One after the other, their sad stories are told in multiple affidavits filed Friday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court as the alleged childhood victims, now adults, seek justice for decades of abuse.
“If residents wanted a drive from (a staffer) to certain locations, it was understood that you would have to perform sexual favours on him,” states an affidavit sworn by Deanna Smith, one of the two lead claimants in a proposed class action lawsuit against the home and the province.
Wagners, a Halifax law firm, will go to court this fall seeking certification.
“There were many occasions when I had to perform sexual favours on (the staffer) in exchange for drives,” Smith’s affidavit says. “In my case, every evening, he entered my bedroom, he would sit on my bed. He would then proceed to lean over and slide his hand down the sheets.
“He would ask if I wanted to ‘touch his.’ I would say no, or else stay silent. This never stopped him.”
None of the allegations in the affidavits have been proven in court, and none of the people named as abusers could be reached for comment for this story.
The same man forced residents to perform in “sex shows,” Smith alleges in the court papers.
“At the instruction of (the same staffer) and other staff, and while they watched, young residents would engage in fondling, oral sex and sexual intercourse with each other. I was forced to have sex with numerous young boys while (he) and other staff looked on. I was forced to have sex with young girls.”
Smith further alleges that a mentally handicapped young resident she calls “David” was regularly instructed to sexually assault other residents.
“Staff members would routinely administer the birth control pills to the girls,” Tracey Dorrington-Skinner wrote in her affidavit.
Dorrington-Skinner, who lived at the home in 1972, said the same staffer named in Smith’s affidavit forced her up against a wall and sexually assaulted her.
“He forced me to perform oral sex on him and he raped me,” Dorrington-Skinner’s affidavit states.
Another woman alleges that as a young girl at the home, another staffer sexually assaulted her more than 50 times.
Others said they were beaten and forced to sleep in urine-soaked sheets, while still others said they were hosed down with water outside on freezing cold days.
Garnet Smith said a staffer the children called “Mrs. Jefferson” sexually assaulted him in the 1940s. She would demand that the boy residents provide her with sexual favours “before they were allowed to pass and go into the dormitory.”
Smith added: “Because I was so hungry, I would eat the pigs’ food.”
Star-Ann Smith, who was 13 when she lived at the home in about 1975, said girls started drawing straws to see whose turn it would be to perform sexual acts on the staffer who gave them drives. She said even when she didn’t get the short straw, she still had to service him at times.
Smith also tells of a room away from the others where the badly beaten would stay.
“All the residents knew that there was a room on the third floor of the home where the severely beaten were taken until they healed,” she said in her affidavit.
She recalls another male staff member, whom she didn’t name, sexually assaulting her eight-year-old brother “down the hall.”
“I have never discussed this with my brother,” she wrote.
All eight former residents whose affidavits were filed Friday said they never saw a caseworker at the home and police never laid charges, even though they were called once after a beating.
Likely at least 63 former residents will ask the court next fall to certify their class action.
Several former staffers, both men and women, are accused of physical and sexual abuse in the various affidavits.
Claimant Tony Smith, whose story of beatings at the home while he lived there for three years starting in 1965 unleashed a torrent of similar tales of abuse, said Friday he’ll never forget what happened there.
“I vowed ..... that someday I was going to tell my story,” Smith said Friday. He first talked about his experiences at the home in the late 1990s.
The founder of the popular band Tony Smith and the Mellotones said he was traumatized when other kids beat fellow resident Tony Langford, who later died in hospital.
“I told staff what happened. They told me I better stop lying,” Smith said.
“The atmosphere was ‘the strong survive.’ The staff used to get us to fight one another for their amusement.”
Smith said the RCMP told him he’d have to find more alleged victims to come forward if a proper investigation was to be launched.
Jane Earle, executive director at the home for 10 months in 1980, also filed her affidavit Friday, stating racism was behind the provincial government’s failure to act on the allegations of abuse.
“I was advised by Gus Wedderburn, the chair of the board of the NSHCC, that at a meeting with the education committee ..... the deputy minister of child welfare, Dr. F.R. MacKinnon, told him that the only reason for the low per diem rates at the NSHCC was prejudice,” Earle stated in the court papers.
Earle said she was “appalled” at the lack of investigation into the “horrendous” allegations and felt she had to step forward.
In a letter to the home this year advising its board members that she was helping the class action, Earle lamented the troubling lack of funding and the inaction.
“I expected the legal system would deal with the allegations of abuse,” she said. “Unfortunately, over a decade later, that has not been the case. I am absolutely appalled at the amount of time that has passed since the first complainant went to the police and I approached the board of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.
“We believe the lack of action by the Department of Community Services in conducting an investigation into the allegations of abuse against children who were ultimately their responsibility is unconscionable.”
Smith said Friday he is grateful for Earle’s contribution to the effort.
“I truly appreciate Ms. Earle coming forward,” he said.
Mike Dull, the Halifax lawyer who launched the lawsuit with fellow lawyer Ray Wagner on behalf of the claimants, said in his affidavit filed Friday that he had no knowledge of any action taken against the alleged abuse.
“In my review of the documents provided by the Nova Scotia Archives, I can see no record or mention of any followup taken by the NSHCC or province to investigate the ‘several other complaints about the children being abused and ill-treated at the Nova Scotia Colored Home.’ ”
N.S. ducked probe of home despite outcry of abuse
This when allegations of physical abuse and other ill treatment were surfacing at the financially troubled Dartmouth home, where at times more than 70 orphaned or neglected children stayed.
"I would have no objections to a survey of the Home if that were all it might be," says a handwritten note on an interdepartmental memo to Bill Gillis, minister of public welfare, dated March 8, 1973.
"However, that is not what it will likely be. The whole affair is much more likely to be another witch hunt at the department’s expense. It is open season for witch hunting," the note states.
The author of the note isn’t clear. The typewritten portion above was written by an executive assistant named Rickey MacDonald and was also sent to F.R. MacKinnon, then deputy minister of child welfare.
The subject line — Grant to the Home for Colored Children — is responding to a request from the late John Savage, then a director on the home’s board, for an extra $1,500 to pay for a consulting firm to evaluate the facility on a number of fronts, including staff competency.
The handwritten portion has the heading "RickyM."
The Public Welfare Department, the typewritten portion said, had provided an initial $1,500 for the effort.
These and a slew of other documents, accessed through the Freedom of Information Act by Wagners Law Firm in Halifax, will be used as part of a proposed class action that former home residents hope will be certified this fall.
Led by former residents Aubrey Pelley and Deanna Smith, the suit is expected to recount alleged physical and sexual abuse by some staff and a volunteer against some residents.
The documents show bureaucrats were dead against any such study of the facility, fearing it would lead to "muckraking and mudslinging," said one memo.
They also consistently refused to provide the home with more money, despite several reports of its being underfunded.
"I recommend that the department not share in any way in the costs of the study being proposed by the consultants," states a March 19, 1973, memo from D.H. Johnson, administrator of Family and Child Welfare.
A private and confidential letter from another government administrator, J.A. MacKenzie, director of research and planning, tells MacKinnon that what’s proposed is "crazy."
"For example, phase one (of the evaluation) states as its purpose ‘to clarify existing known problems and to identify unknown and/or unforeseen problems being presently experienced by the Home,’ " MacKenzie wrote.
"Are the consultants saying, if the staff is not aware of any problems, they will create some for them. This is crazy. . . . In short, to fund this study is simply paying for a stick to beat ourselves."
If the home’s board pursued a study on their own, MacKenzie said, "we should make it quite clear that departmental files will not be made available to the study group. Otherwise, we are simply asking for another "scourging at the public pillar."
Problems at the home appear to go back as far as 1921, the documents show, when a matron named Sadie Steen notified the province that a child who might have tuberculosis was a resident.
"I have in my care now, one Harry Carter, whose condition is not good; he was examined by Dr. Simpson, and he says that he has small glands which he thinks surely are tubercular. While they are small, the germ is there and can be carried from one to the other by the air alone," she said in a handwritten letter.
Steen was later informed by a bureaucrat that the province was a "better judge of what was required than anyone else."
A provincial official did say, however, that the boy would be cared for medically.
In the late 1940s, another aid worker told the provincial director of child welfare that staff at the home ate roast chicken, while the children basically had broth. Just over 10 years later, a young child told her foster parents, a minister and his wife, that she’d been beaten. While the worker allegedly responsible was ultimately fired, the home’s board president was not happy about the termination.
"Dr. Cummings (president) was quite disturbed that Mrs. (name redacted) had been fired," another note states.
The aid worker had also noted the girl’s clothes were threadbare. "She was sent out from the Home looking like a tramp. . . . She practically had no underwear." It was also noted there were likely several other complaints of children being abused.
In 1954, the Yarmouth County Children’s Aid Society recommended a full investigation into the allegations.
"As I have received several other complaints about the children being abused and ill-treated at the Nova Scotia Colored Home, I feel it is time that a thorough investigation was made as to just what is going on there," A.P. Hunt wrote to the provincial director of child welfare.
In yet another memo in 1959, a home director was told that while his request for more funding was "very sympathetically" considered by the provincial minister in charge, no money was coming.
"This does not for a moment mean they (requests) are not important, and certainly in the case of the Nova Scotia Colored Home, the inability of the Government to meet your request last year was no indication (of) its lack of interest in the world of the Colored Home," MacKinnon wrote.
This week, Jane Earle, an executive director at the home for 10 months in 1980, told this newspaper she is helping with the class action attempt.
Earle said she strongly believes there was rampant abuse of the residents, and can’t understand why there’s never been a police investigation or any other probe into the allegations.
In an interview Tuesday with The Chronicle Herald, Earle said she believes the home would never have been so badly neglected by the province if the children weren’t black. Per diems for each child were up to three times more for white children or residents of some other homes, she said.
Halifax lawyers Mike Dull and Ray Wagner will go to court this fall to try to have the class action certified.
Why didn’t these children matter?
Was it because they were black?
Horrifying affidavits filed in court Friday allege a long history of abuse at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. Nearly a decade after lawsuits filed in court have failed to yield results, 63 former residents joined together to apply for a class action against the home and the provincial government.
Wagners, a Halifax law firm, will represent the group in court this fall in an effort to have the action certified.
Jane Earle, a former social worker who was executive director at the home for 10 months in 1980, has little doubt about why complaints and concerns raised about the treatment of the children at the hands of some staff members were not dealt with by various government officials.
She said she hoped previous lawsuits would spark some government effort to address past injustices at the home, but she was disappointed. She has also filed an affidavit in support of the class action.
"Frankly, I couldn’t wait any longer," Earle told Chronicle Herald reporter Eva Hoare. "Nothing was happening. The province knew all that and let it continue . . . because they were black."
Tony Smith is well known in the Halifax area as the talented former head vocalist and founder of Tony Smith and the Mellotones. He went public in 1998 with allegations of abuse over three years when he lived in the home during the 1960s. He made complaints to the RCMP that failed to produce any charges and then followed up with an individual lawsuit.
He said he had previously asked the Justice and Community Services departments to look into his complaints, without success.
In 1999, he made a public appeal for others who were abused to come forward. Smith said at the time the RCMP had told him they needed more information to warrant further investigation.
The allegations that have been brought forward, filed in court last week, are sickening. The stories of sexual assault, beatings, poor conditions, lack of adequate food and medical care are deeply disturbing. They span decades.
Yet the government did nothing to follow up or investigate. Indeed, as Earle said, the government treated the children at the Westphal home differently even as late as the 1970s.
The per diem the province paid to homes where white children were placed was as much as triple the amount provided to the Home for Colored Children, said Earle.
When she left in 1980, it had risen to $27 per children from a meagre $3.50 in 1976, she said. But the higher 1980 rate was still less than half the $55 per child that was paid to at least one other provincial home at the time, she said.
Lack of awareness, education, cultural differences and social evolution are among the excuses often given for past racism.
But even these pathetically insufficient explanations do not begin to shed light on why proper investigations were not carried out when complaints were made.
It appears that at the very least, the people responsible for ensuring the welfare and safety of these former residents of the home let them down.
Now the matter is headed to the courts for determination.
Whatever the outcome, the complainants will finally be provided with an opportunity that should have occurred a long time ago: a chance to be heard.
Harriet Madeline Johnson: One of 'Georgie's girls'The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children was supposed to be a safe and caring place for orphaned and needy children. Some allege it was a place of rape, abuse and neglect.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The stories in our investigative series contain graphic details of alleged sexual and physical abuse as well as language that may offend some readers.
Harriet Johnson says she was barely nine years old the first time Georgie Williams raped her.
About five years later [14 yrs old], she would be selling herself for him on the streets of Halifax, she says.
Like many others, Johnson, 43, claims she was abused by Williams after she was taken to live at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children outside Dartmouth. But her charge —that Williams led her into a life of prostitution when she escaped the orphanage, a life as one of “Georgie’s girls” working out of a flat in Mulgrave Park — adds a twist to the story of the home.
“Georgie Williams started referring to me as his number one bitch,” she states in a sworn court affidavit.
“Didn’t really feel good being called number one bitch,” she explained in an interview. “But at the time what I was doing felt a hell of a lot better than being at the home.”
Johnson’s allegations against Williams, a former home employee, are contained in a 16-page affidavit filed this summer in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. They include an account of the alleged rape by Williams, after Johnson arrived at the home in 1977 or 1978.
“We were in a white car with a white leather interior,” Johnson states in the affidavit. “He drove us around the entirety of Graham Creighton Junior High School.”
Williams, the affidavit states, pinned Johnson down on the back seat and raped her from behind.
“I screamed and screamed. I begged and yelled at the top of my lungs for him to stop.”
In an interview with The Chronicle Herald in Montreal this summer, Johnson recounted her alleged abuse at the hands of Williams and other home staffers, and how, she claims, she ended up as a teenage prostitute with a street name and a stroll.
“His name is Georgie Williams,” Johnson said in a voice tinged with anger, naming her alleged rapist and pimp.
A striking woman with amber eyes, Johnson met with a reporter and a photographer in her fiance’s apartment. At one point, she brought out old photographs: a picture of her grandfather. One of her as a young teen. A student ID.
From the ages of 14 to 16, Johnson alleges, she prostituted herself for Williams, who found her, she says, in Halifax after she ran away from the orphanage.
“I am not proud of this. But Georgie Williams, he knew I ran away to Halifax. Georgie had given me an ultimatum. Either he could take me back to the home, or I could work prostitution for him,” she said.
Johnson, one of dozens of former residents suing the home and the province in a class action suit or individually, made the same charge in court documents (directly below).
Harriet Johnson Affidavit
“I told Georgie Williams that I did not want to return to the Home,” she states in her affidavit.
“He told me that I did not have to return if I did not want to. He said that I had a choice: return to the abusive environment of the Home or make money on my own. He told me that if I had sex with people, I would not have to return. ... He said that no one would have to know. I was too young to know at that time that he was soliciting me into prostitution.”
None of her allegations have been proven in court [yet].
The home, which opened in 1921, is run by a private board, but funded largely by the province. In the early years, most of the children were black, but that changed in the 1960s when needy white children were accepted.
This newspaper has made numerous attempts to speak to Williams, who has not worked at the home since 1983. He has not replied to phone calls or a letter delivered to his split-level home in East Preston.
Police records do not show any convictions for Williams on prostitution-related charges.
As a prostitute, Johnson said she took “Candice” as her street name in an attempt to emulate actress Candice Bergen, star of the TV show Murphy Brown.
Johnson said her life couldn’t have been more different from that of Bergen’s, turning tricks in an area in front of Scotia Square on Barrington Street, across from a strip club. Veteran police sources attest to the existence of the stroll and the strip club, long since shut down.
“It was by Scotia Square mall. That was my corner as he would put it, my corner,” Johnson said of her stroll. “So that’s where he had me and it was frightening.”
“I was supposed to be residing at the Home but instead was virtually imprisoned by Georgie Williams. - Harriet Johnson
At Mulgrave Park, a public housing project in the north end, Johnson said she lived in a flat with other of “Georgie’s girls.”
Two former prostitutes, who say they worked the same streets that Johnson names, recognized her from a photograph. One recalled one of Johnson’s street names.
Another girl on the stroll went by the name of Rose or Rosie, another source said. This newspaper has not been able to locate her.
Dicky Carvery seemed to run the place, Johnson said, referring to Carvery in her affidavit as living at the apartment. Several men seemed to frequent the unit.
Court records show “Dicky” was a nickname for Clarence Dwitt Carvery, who is now dead. A man with that name had convictions in 1992 for aggravated assault and pointing a firearm, documents show. In 1995, he was convicted of assault.
He died in May 2003 at the age 57, according to his obituary.
“Dicky Carvery would call Georgie every night to report how much money we brought in,” Johnson’s affidavit states. Williams would visit two or three times a week and take all the earnings.
Aside from Johnson, there were three other girls from the orphanage who worked as prostitutes, she said. “We were all in our teens but different ages.”
Robert Borden, a former home resident, who claims he was physically and sexually abused at the orphanage, said he remembers seeing Williams and Carvery together often.
“Him and Dicky were good friends,” he said in an interview.
And he remembers Williams making visits to Mulgrave Park.
“We were driving; me, Georgie, (and another home resident), and he had to stop at Mulgrave Park.”
Twenty minutes later, Williams came out of an apartment at the complex, said Borden, who believes he was about 17 or 18 at the time.
“Georgie always had rolls of money on him,” said Borden, who said Williams told him the cash was not his.
In an interview conducted at the Halifax offices of Wagners Law, the firm leading the proposed class action lawsuit against the home and the provincial government, Borden said Johnson once told him, in the home’s smoking room: “He (Williams) says I can make lots of money.”
“I told her, I said ‘I hope you’re not going to think about working on the streets.’ ”
Borden said one resident, who was under Williams’s “control,” ended up working the streets.
“He would tell the girls, ‘I need this, I need that,’ ” Borden said.
If they did what he wanted, there might be a privilege doled out, such as staying up late or receiving an extra dessert, said Borden, who is one of the claimants in the class action suit, which is scheduled for a certification hearing on June 10, 2013.
After two years of prostitution, Johnson said she left the trade for good. And she left alone.
“None of the girls left. They thought the life ... was a very good life. ... As far as I know, I’m the only one who really broke away.”
Johnson admitted that she once had empathy for her alleged pimp.
A few years ago, Johnson said she even sent Williams an email, after lawsuits claiming abuse started surfacing, naming Williams as a key abuser. She showed this newspaper a 2009 email in which she said she wished she could “hug” him.
“Georgie has a smooth way,” said Johnson. “He could talk a snake out of his skin.”
She said it has taken her years to come to terms with the shame she felt about what she did, and that’s why she, like others, supported and took phone calls from Williams for years.
Johnson said she has just begun realizing that what happened at the home and on the streets was not “normal.”
“"No matter where you went, (pimps) were always there. It was almost like the boys and girls club for prostitution." - Former resident of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children
Jane Earle, a former executive director at the home in 1980, has filed her own affidavit in support of the class action lawsuit.
Earle didn’t start hearing allegations of sexual abuse until after she left the home, she said. But during her months as director, Earle became uneasy about some things she saw.
“I recall at an initial staff meeting ... one staff member named Georgie Williams asked me, ‘If it is alright for a male to go into a female’s room,’ ” she wrote in her affidavit.
“I advised that yes, it was OK, provided that the male knocks first and is given permission to enter.
“This answer provided him with obvious satisfaction. Upon being given permission, he smirked in a manner that made my skin crawl,” Earle wrote.
Six former residents interviewed by this newspaper remember other home staff members besides Williams telling girls they could have a different life on the outside.
One remembers a staffer telling a girl: “Do you know how much a pretty face like yours could do? Do you really want to live here? Like you can have so much more. Do you really want to live here? ”
Even when the girls weren’t directly targeted, they were surrounded by pimps no matter where they went in the facility’s neighbourhood, said the residents, who asked that their names not be used. Some pimps even came onto the property.
“They’d play basketball; they’d come for picnics if they wanted to,” said a former resident. “Anywhere that they would go, they’d have to pass us. No matter where you went, they were always there. It was almost like the boys and girls club for prostitution.”
Down the road, it was the same story at a gas station.
“They were always there. It’s always the same group. It just seemed like it was part of your day, just like breakfast was.”
In an interview, Earle said of the pimps: “They knew who the vulnerable kids were on the Dartmouth side of the harbour.”
A source also told this newspaper that a pimp worked at the home for about three weeks in the early 1980s before a senior staffer terminated him.
All of the former residents interviewed believe some workers at the home knew what was going on: that girls were being recruited out of the home or at the nearby station or basketball court.
Johnson says that although she was a ward of the province, child-care workers did not check up on her as they should have.
“I was supposed to be residing at the Home but instead was virtually imprisoned by Georgie Williams,” her affidavit states.
A Community Services welfare report on Johnson, provided to this newspaper, states that workers did have some idea as to Johnson’s activities. They suspected she was involved in the trade during the approximate time frame she says she was selling sex for money.
“Harriet... (it) was felt she was prostituting and shoplifting,” states the report, dated Nov. 17, 1988, filed by the Children’s Aid Society of Pictou. While dated 1988, the report was reporting on many years in Johnson’s life, starting in 1977.
It also states that during that approximate time, she had been in and out of foster homes and had stayed at one of her aunt’s places.
Johnson’s case is one of 38 being investigated by police after complaints of sexual and physical abuse at the home were made. In an interview, RCMP Supt. Brian Brennan would not confirm that prostitution-related charges are among the complaints.
Johnson said she’s gained strength from her fiance, her 16-year-old son, and her lawyer. And she’s seeking retribution.
“He (Williams) took something from me that I’m never going to get back. He took a child’s innocence.”
Her first shot at reclaiming her innocence came when she broke away from prostitution. A circus showed up in Halifax, setting up close to Johnson’s stroll. She made friends with some of the workers and decided to leave the business.
“I saw my chance and I took it.”
Johnson’s life remained unstable for many years, she said, lurching from times of happiness to periods of uncertainty. The merry-go-around recently came to an abrupt halt when her teenage son, sickened by calls from Williams asking for her help – demanded she do something.
“My name is Harriet Madeline Johnson,” she said in a defiant voice.
“I am at a point in my life where I’m happy. I have a sense of freedom, (I’m) a little bit lighter because I don’t have to carry this heavy burden I carried inside me any longer. I love myself now, I love myself ... I can breathe and it feels really good. For the first time in my life, it feels damn good to be able to breathe.”
Theresa Allison: Raped and pregnant, she alleges, Home locked her away
Those in charge looked the other way, former residents say
WHEN TONY SMITH thinks about his 3 1/2 years at the “Colored Home,” one person lingers in his mind.
It isn’t the woman who undressed in one of the common rooms and made him go through the motions of intercourse with her, he alleges, when he was no more than eight.
It isn’t one of the many staff members who, according to court documents filed by Smith, forced him to fight other little boys in one of the common rooms for the adults’ entertainment.
The person he can’t forget is the social worker with a red Volkswagen Beetle who visited him at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children soon after he arrived, at age five, in a cop car.
She stopped coming, but for the rest of his childhood, he wondered one thing.
“Why aren’t these people coming to see me?”
The story of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, which cared for wards of the province with government funding, is also the story of the higher-ups: those who brought children to the orphanage, who denied the home funding and who, residents allege, ignored signs of abuse.
It is also a story, many say, of systemic racism.
On July 8, 1921, in the year the province’s only black orphanage opened, a nurse wrote to one of her superiors with news that one little boy appeared to be sick with tuberculosis.
“I have in my care now, one (Harry Carter) whose condition is not good,” matron Sadie Steen wrote in her letter. “The germ is there and can be carried from one to the other by the air alone.”
The Superintendent of Neglected and Delinquent Children responded that unless the youngster was destined for hospital, there was no other place to put “it.”
The province released those documents and hundreds more after lawyer Ray Wagner filed a Freedom of Information request. Wagner is representing former residents of the home in their class action against the province and the home.
Smith, who is represented by the same firm, has filed a separate lawsuit against the Children’s Aid Society of Halifax, the home and the province.
The children who lived in the home were wards of the province, but funding was so meagre that the home’s board was driven to launch an annual fundraiser 10 years after it opened.
By the 1960s, half of all funding came from non-government sources, according to a plea to the community sent out by then-president M. Cumming. It wasn’t enough to keep their “heads above water,” he wrote.
“There is some dissatisfaction among the staff regarding the wages paid, which are low and do not meet even the minimum Wage Scale,” wrote Rosemary Rippon, the director of the Lunenburg County Children’s Aid Society, in a 1966 report on the home.
The province paid the home $3.50 per day per child around then, though the home insisted it cost at least $9 per day to care for each child.
A handwritten note from the home to the minister of social services addresses bringing up per-diem rates “to fall in line with other applicable rates for 1973.” The rates listed are around three times higher than the $3.50 the home was getting at the time: $9 per child per day at institutions and $10.90 per day at “multifunctional models” and provincial group homes.
In 1980, social worker Jane Earle became executive director of the home, working for free. Funding at the Colored Home had risen to $27.88 per child per diem, she said in an interview. But kids at other group homes got $55.
“When you don’t have enough money to run an organization, you cut in two ways,” said Earle, who supports former residents alleging abuse. “You cut staff. The other is that you hire less-qualified people.”
Poorly paid workers walked off the job in 1979. But they came back quickly.
The staff who stayed at the home, often for decades, were apathetic or worse, according to former residents who describe trying to reach out for help.
“I told (a home worker) about what Georgie Williams was doing to me,” alleges Deanna Smith in her affidavit. “I later realized that (she) was very close with Georgie Williams. They were relatives or good friends.”
Smith recounts in her affidavit seeing Williams and another staffer take away pages from her roommate’s diary, which detailed near-daily sexual abuse.
Stacey Beals, who lived there from 1972 to 1976, said that when he left the home at around age 11, he didn’t know how to read or tell time. He had stopped going to school — one of the few places where people from the outside world had seen him.
“I believe now that there was a level of collusion amongst the Home’s staff,” some of whom were his own relatives, he wrote in his affidavit.
“The staff were all from the surrounding Black community. Most had little education. For most staff members, working at the Home was their first job.
“I believe that there was a code of silence among staff; no one wanted to get anybody in trouble for fear that they would lose their job or be looked down upon in the surrounding Black community.”
Nine former staff members reached for this series refused to comment on the claims of abuse, and a tenth, Herbie Thomas Desmond, denied all allegations.
Veronica Marsman, who still works as a director at the home after starting there in the 1980s, refused to discuss funding at the home or any abuse allegations, as the matters are before the courts. She referred questions to her lawyer, who also would not comment on those issues. A certification hearing for the class action suit is scheduled for next June.
After the Second World War, social workers discovered that children did better in foster homes, and most big institutions shrank.
[BUT] Not the Colored Home. In 1966, 75 children lived there, up from 64 in 1948.
“In view of the low economic status of the Black family, the acquiring of appropriate foster homes was difficult,” according to a Mr. Hall, who wrote a report for the Department of Public Welfare on five child care institutions. A Home for Colored Children board member referred to the Hall report in a 1971 document.
In other words, there were few black foster families available, and the next best option for black orphans was considered the Colored Home.
“We didn’t like the idea of placing black children in white homes. It was never considered to be an environment that they should be exposed to,” said Harold Beals, a longtime supervisor at the Department of Community Services, in an interview.
“The thinking was a black child would be more comfortable in a home with black people, people of their own race.”
In a way, the home had been a last resort from the start, despite the community’s excitement when it opened. Before 1921, homeless black children were placed in poor houses with old, sick and mentally ill adults, according to the 1971 report by Rev. W.P. Oliver.
Black children, as long as they were in foster homes or other group homes, got the funding other children got in those situations, said Earle. [BUT] Once they were placed in the Colored Home, their per-diem funding was slashed, she believes.
Tony Smith’s story shows how racial segregation among the province’s wards was applied.
A very light-skinned Catholic boy with a white mother and black father, Smith had spent his first years with both black and white families.
He was sent to the Home for Colored Children at age five, then moved quickly to Veith House, with white children, in the north end of Halifax.
Then, after a couple of weeks, he was moved back. He was told there had been a mix-up about his race.
“When I went back to the home, I don’t know exactly who told me, but they said that the reason that you’re back here is because you’re black,” he said.
“I didn’t know what black was.”
He remembers conditions at Veith House being much better than at the Home for Colored Children, where Children’s Aid workers noted in his file that he was an “extremely sad child.”
“I thought it was nice. I didn’t get any beatings there.”
Dozens of former residents say they never saw social workers after they arrived at the home. During Jane Earle’s 10 months there in 1980, not a single social worker visited, she said in her affidavit.
Smith was one of the first former residents to spoke to The Chronicle Herald, in 1998, about his alleged abuse. A few months later, he went to the RCMP, he said.
No charges have ever been laid, and Mounties only launched a widespread investigation this year.
Nova Scotia RCMP announced last winter that it was looking into accusations that previous complaints about the home were ignored.
This month they came back with an answer.
“We have conducted an extensive review of existing RCMP records and have determined that prior to now, there is no record of any complaints or criminal investigations in regard to the alleged sexual and/or physical abuse of residents residing at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children,” wrote RCMP spokesman Alain Leblanc in an email.
Smith, a meticulous record-keeper, laughed at that in disbelief, emailing names, phone numbers and case numbers he took down in 1999.
“If there was no case, why would I have that number?” he said. “I got that information from the RCMP.”
Two RCMP officers have told The Chronicle Herald that they received complaints about the Home for Colored Children. In 1998, Cpl. Devri Warnell said officers were looking into a complaint, and Const. Peter Marshall said, in 2003, that there had been an investigation, with no charges laid.
Smith has asked the Mounties to track down specific records with information from his own files but has gotten no answer, he said. If necessary, he plans to make a formal complaint.
“I’m not finished with them.”
When it comes to provincial government, it’s too late to get answers about many of the documents from the archives. [?]
In 1972, not long before Georgie Williams, Herbie Thomas Desmond and other alleged abusers were hired, the home’s board asked for help paying for a report to evaluate its facility.
That help was denied after a back and forth among three top officials who worried about a “witch hunt.”
One was Fred R. MacKinnon, Deputy Minister of Public Works, whose signature appears many times in the archives, usually to deny funding.
“If we allow ourselves to get involved with the home,” he wrote in 1972, “we will be purchasing an escalating responsibility from which we cannot extract ourselves.”
Like most officials named in the documents, MacKinnon has since died. He was named to the Order of Canada. A scholarship at Dalhousie is named for him.
Facing a lawsuit over the actions of a government long past doesn’t mean automatically defending them, said Justice Minister Ross Landry.
“Any time anyone feels they’ve been abused, or have been abused, we as a society needs to have a sensitivity and an awareness to hear and to listen,” said Landry, speaking hypothetically.
To former residents, it wasn’t just sexual or physical abuse, they say. Growing up in the home meant feeling that their lives were worthless.
“It’s like they had no respect for the kids in the home and they didn't really care what happened,” said Robert Borden, who spent 18 years at the home,
“I don’t blame the community, because you know what? A lot of the community didn’t know. But the government should have somebody checking that place out.
“To me, race made us less important to deal with. This was a place where they just put all these black people — hopefully they can all get along.”
Earle, who has become a crusader for the home’s former children, can’t forget how one elderly man put it.
“He told me very clearly, ‘I learned man’s inhumanity to man when I was at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.’ ”
In Wednesday’s edition, Herbie Desmond was identified as a former Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission worker who now works at the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp.
The reference to Desmond was made as part of The Chronicle Herald’s investigation into abuse allegations at the Nova Scotia Home For Colored Children.
Herbie Thomas Desmond, the man accused of abuse at the home, worked at the Human Rights Commission but does not work for the liquor corporation.
Herbert (Herbie) Caywood Desmond, however, is a long-standing liquor corporation employee and has no connection to the home or the subject matter of the series.
The Chronicle Herald sincerely regrets the error and apologizes to Herbert Caywood Desmond for any upset or embarrassment.