In the Spring 2013 issue of British Columbia Magazine, Susan Rybar wrote about the hundreds of British children from poor, urban families who were sent to Fairbridge Farm School on Vancouver Island to learn about agriculture, a social experiment with mixed results. In this guest blog, Rybar recounts part of her journey to Fairbridge while researching the story:
Like many roads in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, Koksilah Road is bucolic, tranquil, and inviting. If I had to raise my two boys all over again, this is where I would want to do it, close to rolling hills and a natural playground full of treehouses and tire swings, crickets and creeks, exploration and adventure.
Last summer, after extensive arms-length research on the Fairbridge Farm School, I drove down Koksilah and turned into Fairbridge Drive, the street where the school children resided before the school closed in 1952. My imagination took over and I could almost see the hazy outline of kids playing tag on the grass, running into the woods to throw rocks in the creek, or walking to the library to read a book and perhaps get a moment of peace. “I could live here,” I thought, as I slowly drove around.
At the Fairbridge Chapel heritage site I parked and got out to take a look, but I could barely move as I stood on the lawn with imaginary children walking around me. Suddenly, the church bell rang out. Quite unexpectedly, I burst into tears.
Sometimes a story just grabs you by the heart and turns your world slightly upside down. The story of the Fairbridge Farm School children did just that to me. Perhaps I was overwhelmed by the personal accounts I had just read, some happy, some sad, all endearing; perhaps I was overcome by the beauty of the rural setting. Or perhaps I was thinking how grateful I was my boys spent their childhood safely close at home, close to me. Perhaps—all three.
I took a few deep breaths, pulled myself together, and left with an even deeper understanding of life at Fairbridge and greater respect for the 329 children who migrated to Canada and found a new life along Koksilah road.