She'd been waiting for the information for months. When it arrived,
in a plain brown envelope, she cried for three days.
Ivy Sucee's father, Fred Roberts, had died in 1967 believing his
mother was an English prostitute who had abandoned him at an orphanage.
But decades after Mr. Roberts's death, Sucee learned the truth
in those white, typewritten pages. Her father was born in England
in 1888 and lived as a newborn with his mother and father.
His mother died of tuberculosis at age 21, when he was still a
baby, leaving him in the care of his father and maternal grand-
His father left him with his grandmother one day, claiming to
go looking for work, and was never seen again.
Mr. Roberts' grandmother cared for him until he was two years
old before she became blind and turned the toddler over to the Dr.
Barnardo Homes - a system of homes to care for orphans and street
"Wouldn't I have loved to tell Daddy about his own history?"
says Sucee, welling up with tears in her Waddell Avenue home. "To
tell him he did have a family after all."
After reading her father's history, sent from Bamardo's (still
an active children's charity) about 10 years ago, Sucee went to
Rosemount Memorial Gardens to visit her father's grave. "I
read him every word," she says.
Sucee may not have been able to tell her father about his biological
family while he was still alive, but the 74-year-old has devoted
the last decade to making sure other Bamardo children, and their
pendants, know their roots.
There are many Canadian descendants because thousands in the Dr.
Bamardo Homes were sent to Canada in the late 19th century as part
of an overseas program to place the children with families here.
Sucee says one-third of all the children sent to Canada came to
Peterborough, to stay at a Barnardo home known as Hazelbrae.
Built in 1884 on five acres overlooking George Street, Hazelbrae
stood on what is now O'Carroll Avenue. (The home was torn down in
1939; a plaque commemorates the site.)
Sucee founded the Hazelbrae- Bamardo Home Memorial Group in 1998,
and helps people unearth information on their ancestors, runs support
groups and takes people on tours of this city and Little Lake Cemetery,
where 46 Bamardo children are buried.
Sucee is a petite, bright-eyed, gentle woman given to folksy expressions.
"Good gravy, it's a nice day out," she exclaims in a recent
But when talk turns to her Bamardo volunteer work, she becomes
emotional and tears are never far away. Her eyes widen and her voice
and passion rise to the point where she literally thumps the dining
room table for emphasis.
"I feel privileged to do what I do because people need to
know where they come from," she says, that clenched fist on
the table, "We all have a right to know where we come from,
good or bad, rich or poor."
Sucee's father was born July 10, 1888 in Queen Charlotte's Hospital
in London, England, and was admitted into the Bamardo Homes at age
The homes, funded by donations, took in children who had been
living in poverty on the streets, sleeping in chimney tops or in
At the time, London was coping with the Industrial Revolution:
The population had dramatically increased and the area was rife
with overcrowding, bad housing, unemployment, poverty and disease.
The motto of founder 'Dr. Thomas John Bamardo, an Evangelical
Christian, was "No destitute child refused."
"So many died, over there. so many children were lost,"
By the late 19th century, with the homes busting at the seams,
Dr. Bamardo worked with the Canadian Department of Agriculture to
arrange for children to come to Canada to live with families and
help on farms.
About 30,000 children came over between 1869 and 1939, Sucee says.
Some had happy, productive lives and were welcomed into loving
Others, such as her father suffered through nightmares.
Mr. Roberts, at age 10. boarded the S.S. Dominion for a 40-day
journey across the Atlantic Ocean and wound up on a family farm
in Huntsville, Ont.
He would later tell his children how he was beaten by the family,
lived in the barn and always felt "half-starved."
"He felt the dog was better fed than he was," Sucee
says. After a year there, Bamardo's moved him to another farm in
Arthur, Ont., just west of Orangeville, where he suffered extreme
When Sucee would rub her father's back in his old age, she says
she could still feel how his bones hadn't healed properly from the
Mr. Roberts was taken to other homes including in Princeton, Ont.
but Sucee says he was a small, fine-featured man who couldn't handle
much of the demanding farmwork that families wanted.
He was taken back to a Barnardo home in Toronto where, at age
14, he finally met Harry and May Watkins - a couple who took him
home to raise him and treated him with love and respect.
May Watkins, a retired schoolteacher who always said she loved
Mr. Roberts upon first sight, called him "my Fred."
Mr. Roberts was raised by the Watkinses in Ardock, Ont., near
Kingston, and when old enough, worked any job he could find, including
in northern silver mines and on farms. He eventually married Effie
Blanche Teeple and the couple moved to Peterborough in 1921, where
Mr. Roberts worked as a manager at Bredin's Bread on London Street.
Ivy was born on April 23, 1933 in her childhood home on the corner
of Charlotte and Aylmer streets where Shoppers Drug Mart now stands.
She has four older brothers: Arthur, Cecil, Frederick and Harold;
a younger sister Gladys; and five older sisters Beatrice, Dorothy,
Edith, Verna and Viola. (Viola died from influenza at 17 months
Perhaps still smarting from his belief that he was the abandoned
son of a prostitute, Mr. Roberts drilled his motto into his children:
"No child can help the circumstances of their birth. They're
defined by what they do with their life afterward."
He was a gentle father whose disciplinary style consisted of raising
his index finger to instruct his children to behave.
Sucee recalls a happy childhood, although there was never much
money as the country suffered through the Depression.
She remembers playing with neighbourhood children, including her
next-door-neighbour George Elliott, now a noted local artist.
Sucee attended Prince of Wales Public School and PCVS.
She left school after grade 10 to work in the regulation and packing
department of Westclox because she needed to help support the family
after her father became ill with appendicitis, which was complicated
by diabetes.He later recovered and worked as a labourer at General
At 17, Sucee got serious with her childhood sweetheart, Morley
Sucee, and they married days before her 20th birthday.
Sucee was a homemaker and her husband drove a horse and cart as
a deliveryman for Brown's Bread and also worked at Sunshine Dairy.
They bought their first home on George Street before moving to
a farm in Stewart Hall, just outside the City in Otonabee-South
They had three daughters: Carol, Lynda and Sheila. The couple
eventually owned Kawartha Fuels and later Trent Fuels, which delivered
oil and gas to homes and businesses and installed furnaces and air
Tragedy struck in September, 1980.
Their 18-year-old daughter, Sheila, who had been studying at Sir
Sandford Fleming College and planned to become a veterinary technician,
was driving three people home from the drive-in movies when the
car struck a tree.
The three passengers were injured; Sheila died.
Through more tears and shaking of her head, Sucee explains that
a witness to the accident told her Sheila hadn't done anything wrong.
The car had caught the road's shoulder and gone out of control.
"We all (in the family) worked together to cope," Sucee
says. "It was just so hard on us." They moved on as best
Morely eventually retired to the cattle farm in Stewart Hall.
Sucee had always been interested in her father's Bamardo history
because he had talked about it so much.
"He talked about all the good and all the bad," she
says. "He said he had joined the First World War army because
this country gave him a chance to have a life."
In 1995, however, her involvement revved into high gear.
She attended a meeting for Bamardo children and their descendants
at the Peterborough Centennial Museum and Archives.
She later got a phone call from Bamardo's asking if she'd be the
representative for this area.
She agreed in a heartbeat.
As part of this volunteerism, she takes speaking engagements,
visits descendants who have questions or concerns and helps find
family records. She says she has helped 363 people get their family
She also meets bi-monthly with 80 other members at Northminster
United Church as part of a support group.
The group raised $1,300 to get a plaque to mark the site of Hazelbrae.
Her work has earned her several awards including a Peterborough
Historical Society Heritage Award in 2000, Bamardo's Volunteer of
the Year in 2001 and the Paul Harris Fellow, from the Kawartha Rotary
Club, for promoting better understanding of people across the world.
It was through her role with the Bamardo group, and learning more
about how to access records, that she was able to find the information
about her father, who had always believed his mother was a prostitute
because that's what one of his placement families had told him.
Shortly after she joined the group, her husband Morley was diagnosed
with Alzheimer's disease. Over the years, she took on more of a
caretaker role with him as his condition deteriorated.
After 53 years of marriage, in August, 2006, he died of a heart
"There wasn't a man who was loved more," she says, again
wiping away the tears.
Since his death, Sucee has tried to put her energy into the Bamardo
group to help tope with her grief.
Her office is full of books on Dr. Bamardo and contains a fire-resistant
filing cabinet stacked with documents.
Today, Sucee's devotes much of her time and effort to petitioning
people for donations to raise $50,000 to pay for a monument at Little
Lake Cemetery bearing the, names of all 10,000 children who ! lived
Sucee's group has raised just more than $20,000 so far, mostly
at $5 or $10 at a time.
Sucee says it's important for her to document the history of Barnardo
Fist again clenched and her voice rising, she explains why: "They
were the backbone of our country, the labourers on farms who helped
clear land and work the fields. .. at one time, 11.5 per cent of
our population were Bamardo children," she says. "And
you can't name a profession that a Bamardo child hasn't been in
- from heads of universities, to doctors, nurses, ordinary clerks
in stores and farmers."
She says she fears future generations will never know their stories.
"That's why I work so hard at it," she says.
-Elizabeth Bower, Examiner
May 5, 2007
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada