• Barbara Elk

The Refuge

Updated: Mar 5, 2019

For the first five years of my life, I lived with my biological family. Then from 1975-1979, I lived at the Maples, it was the children's home in Brandon, Manitoba. (The only time I left the Home was when I was adopted for a very brief time but I'll tell that story in another post.)

I think most people tend to think of orphanages/children's homes as loveless places full of sadness and despair and pitiful, dirty children in rags forever holding out cracked food bowls who are always looking for "just another bit of porridge, sir, if you please." (I'm sorry my attempt at a British accent is terrible!)

The Maples was a different experience. It's a time I look back at that time fondly. Do not get me wrong, I would have much rather been with my biological family but after the horrific foster home I had been dumped in after I was taken from my family, the Maples was a much kinder placement.

The first time I saw the Maples, I was in the back seat of the social workers car. They had picked me up from an abusive foster home earlier on in the day. I was a five year old who was full of grief and confusion. The day before, I had to say good bye to my sister who was my best friend. I didn't know why social workers picked her up and left me by myself to face my abusers alone. During that short stay at that foster home, we had both endured horrific abuse but at least we had each other.

But now, as the car was parked on the wide driveway of yet another new place, I was alone and hurting, unable to express all the terrible acts that had been inflicted on me, and unable to express the tremendous loss I was experiencing.

Staring out at the brown, shingle-style two floor structure from the back seat of the car, I apprehensively waited for further instruction from the social workers. I could feel my heart flutter madly, much like a terrified bird when cornered, unable to save itself except to furiously beat its wings.

The social worker opened the car door for me and I slid out, my feet lightly touching the ground. The sound of a kind, female voice made me turn towards the chain-link fence that spanned the garage and main building. A plump, elderly white woman in a button-down, pastel dress, opened the gate. She chatted with the social workers and smiled kindly at me. I didn't move. The social worker gently nudged me towards her but I slowly dragged my feet. It wasn't until I saw one, two, three...six, seven tan faces like mine pop around the corner. The younger ones stared at me while two older girls took over by talking loudly.

"Come on! There's nothing to be scared of. We're nice!"

"What's your name? What's her name?"

"Let me show her around!"

"I'm doing it! Mrs. Dunn already told me I could!"

The white hair woman laughed and told the children to clear the way and let me inside the gate.

I felt hands and fingers touching my hair and other patting my back, walking alongside me. Someone grabbed my hand and I pulled it away, which didn't deter my other hand being grabbed and I found myself being led inside the side door and into the building.

Before I was led inside, I caught a glimpse of a swing set, and boys and girls who were curious about me as I was about them. The majority of the children were Indigenous, like me, with only two or three Caucasians in the mix.

I felt safe with the older Indigenous girls, They held onto me for the rest of the day. I was theirs to show off and to walk around with. I didn't mind. They reminded me of my older sisters whom I missed so much. And with what I had just been through, I needed to be mothered. Even if it came from girls a few years older than me, at least they seemed to have understood my plight much more than the adults.

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