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Our Children in Old Scotland and Nova Scotia
Part II - Chapter XIV - Our Children at Home and Abroad


IN the last number of "Our Children" I gave an account of their life at home at Hillfoot Farm, so that it may be somewhat tedious to repeat; but still, for the sake of new friends, it may be well to give a few details, and I shall then leave other friends, who have frequently visited us, to give their own account of the Home and our doings there.

In summer we have to make the most of our time. The workers in the house and out of it, rise at 5 a.m., as the men and boys must have their breakfast at 6.30, after doing the morning chores. The breakfast for the various classes in the big house goes on till 8.30. Prayers in the schoolroom at 9, when the children settle to lessons and the women and girls go to the forenoon’s work. I am then ready to meet them, and make a round of visits to kitchen, laundry, schoolroom, nursery, and bedrooms, not forgetting the poultry-house. I forgot to say our latest improvement was to make a beautiful one out of the old stable and coach-house, which provides ample accommodation for our turkeys, geese, ducks and hens.

We then all go on with our work, and I write letters till 12. Then usually when school is over, and the men and boys are coming in to dinner—at 12 till 1—somebody or other wants me most of the time till 1. The children dine at 12.30, the rest of the family at 1 o’clock.

At 2 we all settle to the afternoon’s work. The children usually go to play in the "little woods," a pretty, shady nook across the ravine behind the barn, with somebody looking after them, or pick berries to make jam for them later on.

There are immense quantities of wild strawberries, rasps, and blackberries on the farms, and down on the Caribou Bog, as it is called, about four miles off, any amount of blueberries. Every year we have one or two picnics to go and gather these. Of course only those big enough to pick well and steadily go, to say nothing of the risk of infants being lost on the wide-spreading bog, which extends for miles. I need not say these ploys are a great delight.

Few people of any age will be found doing nothing round the doors, as I have great faith in Dr. Watts’ statement as to the ingenuity of somebody with a bad name providing employment for idle hands, and I never find it fail when the hands and heads are so left empty. Play is most desirable. Idleness is destruction. All boys of eight or nine get something to do with the men, in farm work or the workshop, even bringing in kindlings and firewood. The women and girls have enough to do to cook, bake, clean house, wash, iron, and sew for such a party. Yet we have plenty of music and recreation too. Tea at 6, prayers at 8.30, supper at 9; and I expect everybody to go to bed at 10, except on Saturday nights, when a general and extensive tubbing takes place.

In winter the hours are the same, except that no one rises till 6 o’clock, and of course the children must be occupied and amused indoors instead of out. They make strawberry boxes in the afternoon, when the material is to be had, which is not until February or March, our most inclement weather. And they (when there were more boys of ten and twelve years than could be employed in the barn) used to make toy furniture, boxes, etc. When our party increases, this will be revived. At other times, in bad weather, they have what we call a "play school," when the boys as well as the girls knit, draw, etc., and are allowed to talk quietly at the same time. There is also a collection of toys, which are given out on these occasions, and returned to the teacher when play school is over, about 4.30. Some of the bigger ones have learned to make common scrapbooks for the little ones, by cutting out pictures, advertisements chiefly! and pasting them on strong brown paper, stitched together. I save every mite of a picture or coloured paper for this purpose.

In fine winter weather, when there is hard frost and snow, their "sleds," are a great joy and delight, as our slopes are capital for "coasting." The big boys are very kind to them in making these, and each has one. The fun seems to consist in the child throwing himself on his stomach on this arrangement, which forthwith, and without the slightest warning (it seems to me), shoots like lightning down the nearest hill, the performer uttering shrieks of rapture, and dancing like a wild Indian when he reaches the bottom. I cannot help feeling nervous, and don’t like to look at them while this is in progress; but they never seem to get hurt; and with a lot of boys, really, if they are happy and not in mischief, I can but be happy too. And it evidently agrees with them, for a more sturdy, active, merry, independent set of little fellows you seldom see. And although they have all good appetites (bless them !), and will wear out their clothes, and will outgrow their boots with fearful rapidity, they are very good children. This is the almost invariable testimony I receive from those who have taken them, as well as the character they bear in the neighbourhood of the Home.

I have finished the description of our winter’s life when I have again alluded to our Friday evening merry-making in the schoolroom, which is begun every year at Hallow-e’en and continued till March, when all in the houses are invited at 6.30. The little ones stay up till 8.30 to enjoy it, and big and little dance reels and country dances, play games and sing songs to their hearts’ content. There is a general preparation in the way of "tidying" for the occasion; and at the close we take care to have ready some sweeties, cakes, or "jelly-pieces," and disperse at 9 o’clock, very happy. I make a point of keeping up this custom, as we have a long dull winter, and I think it positively very bad for children and young people to be kept without reasonable amusement and variety.

At Christmas we have great doings. The Christmas shopping is a great event, and conducted with the utmost caution and secrecy—consists of gifts for everybody in the houses, not all painfully useful ! but toys, goodies, pretty things, and a great many useful things too. I find this institution will have to be continued, as about July requests and suggestions are made by the smaller members as to what they think "Santa Claus" should bring them " AT CHRISTMAS." I used to fill their stockings, but having stayed up one Christmas morning until 1 a.m. for this purpose, and having carried it out successfully (as I thought), was interrupted at the close by a perfect chorus of congratulation. I never did it again! My sleep is too precious to be wasted on such very wideawake people!

To return to Christmas Eve. In the course of the day the boys have followed up a thorough housecleaning, which has been going on for nearly a week, by bringing evergreens, and the house is decorated before evening, and the Christmas tree decorated and filled with its nice things in the schoolroom. When all is ready, about 7 p.m., everbody, old and young, in the various houses, every man, woman, and child on the place, assemble in the drawing-room, and I read the Christmas reading which we have read together for so many years—Isaiah ix. 1—9 and St. Luke ii. 1—20—sing the Christmas hymn, "Once in royal David’s city," and pray. Then we all go down to the schoolroom, and admire and benefit by the Christmas tree, which is amusement enough till 9 o’clock, when, very happy and rather sleepy, most of the assembly want to go to bed, and get ready for to-morrow, with its "Merry Christmas," all good wishes all round, Christmas cards, and—Christmas dinner of roast beef and plum-pudding. Those who have left us are not forgotten, as I send every one of them a Christmas card, with loving greeting, and receive a pile of such in reply or anticipation.

This completes my story of our children’s life at home. My friend, Mrs. Gee, will now give her account of it, and after her, Dr. Lawson and other friends will give their opinion of our children and their surroundings at home—at Hillfoot Farm.

METHODIST PARSONAGE, MIDDLETON,
ANNAPOLIS Co., NOVA SCOTIA,
Feb. 4th, 1892.

Passing the world-famed land of " Evangeline," and entering the Annapolis Valley by the Windsor and Annapolis Railway, we have often heard travellers inquiring about the picturesque group of buildings nestling at the foot of the North Mountain, in the vicinity of Aylesford. A few times we have felt glad to have the chance of giving full information; more frequently, however, we have been obliged to sit and hear meagre and incorrect details given about the history, past and present, of "Miss Stirling’s Homes," Hillfoot Farm.

As the honoured founder and supporter is about to extend the work by giving a hearty invitation to destitute children —amongst fresh people in fresh places—perhaps a few words from a disinterested and constant visitor may be received with interest.

At this point in the history of the work a summary will be given by the founder herself, so that no statistics need be repeated here. It is rather of the home element in these Homes of which we would now speak.

Since the commencement of the work in this country from two to three hundred children have been received into the homes of the people, the great majority of them giving satisfaction and doing well in the truest sense of the term. Again and again persons having these children have spoken to us of the constant proofs given by them of their love for Miss Stirling, and the happy recollections of their home with her; others say " marvellous," " wonderful." Still others ask, "Whence this strong bond of union?" Perhaps the secret can only be discovered and understood by those who are often in their midst. It is not found in the literal " giving food to the hungry," or "clothing to the naked," though we would to God that all children EVERYWHERE could have this literal work done for them. Alas, alas! even this week we read of hundreds going to school in the city of London "without breakfast, and no prospect of dinner or tea"

Soon after our arrival on the Aylesford circuit three and a half years ago, we were shown over the buildings by the founder. The most striking thing to us was, not the noble arrangements for the bodily comfort of the children, but her own manner of dealing with the children. Now a fat rosy boy, then a happy-looking girl—scarce able to speak plainly— would appear from. all corners, and with a pull at her dress exclaim, Tirling! Tirling! " but the look in the baby eyes who could portray it ?—of fullest confidence and entreaty, for what the human heart, old or young, everywhere craves, the soft touch of a loving hand on the cheek, the hug, the kiss!—all this these children got ere they were sent off to their play.

Millions in other days have given thanks to God for that precious narrative which tells of Christ and the children. Millions more will yet give thanks for it. If the children brought to Him then had needed bread or clothing, we believe those disciples would have tried to supply them willingly. But oh, that further action on the part of Christ our example—that folding to the heart! What pen can tell of all it means to the human soul? How the world yearns for more of it to-day! This is the element permeating the lives of these children of whom we write: it is shown in everything that goes to make up life to them, in the way they are taught the commandments of God, in the observance of all Christian festival seasons, down to the care of a sore toe or finger.

This is the element into which other children are now invited, to enter and partake. Within and without the gospel "law of kindness" reigns; the large stock of animals and fowls, as well as the wild birds, come in for their full share of love. If the venerable "Father Chirpie" and noble "Uncle Toby" of Dicky Bird fame, presiding over their thousands upon thousands of captains, officers, and members, could spare time to visit the leafy shades of Hillfoot Farm, they would be very much delighted.

Some of the most precious memories of our stay on the Aylesford circuit are in connection with our intimacy at their Homes—watching the effect of good food and tender care upon the delicate boy or fragile girl, until all have become alike rosy and strong, saying "Good-night" to them snugly tucked up in their warm beds, when all with folded hands and closed eyes would say, " God bless all the little children in the world." Reading God’s truth with them, and kneeling for prayer in the morning, sharing in their games, etc., etc.

Not much more than a dozen years ago we supplied daisies and buttercups to chidren in cities, who had never seen a daisy growing, never been in green fields, knowing nothing of murmuring brooks or of singing birds, as they abound around Hillfoot Farm. Much, much has been done since then in the way of trips to the country for a day or more. Still there is so much to be done, and we can never, never forget these suffering children as we gaze upon the luxurious abundance of flowers and fruit in these favoured provinces. We close with a prayer that God may direct His people to send of His most needy little ones to where "there is bread enough and to spare," until the doors now opened unto Christ Himself by one of his followers, shall all be filled.

Remaining the attached and devoted friend of "Our Children,"

Mrs. (REV.) JOHN GEE.

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA,
6th February, 1892.

In September last I accompanied my friend, the Rev. Dean Ellis, Rector of Sackville, on a visit to Miss Stirling’s "Home for Children," at Aylesford, in this province. We spent part of two days there, enjoying the hospitality of Miss Stirling and her cousin. We visited every part of the establishment, the school and play-rooms, work and mending rooms, washing and drying rooms, dairy, pantries, kitchen dormitories, and the large room used for worship and social meetings, which neighbours as well as the servants and children attend. The school-room was visited while the teacher was engaged in her work, and Mr. Ellis spent an hour in drawing out from the children the results of the useful instruction in reading and arithmetic which they were receiving. We conversed freely with the servants, male and female, while they were engaged in their several employments, and found them to be industrious and intelligent, all working together under Miss Stirling’s judicious direction in perfect harmony, with a sincere desire to do the best they could for the little ones committed to their care. The children were well and happy; they spoke affectionately to and of each other, and showed a confidence in Miss Stirling’s love for them that any mother might envy.

The "Home" occupies "Hillfoot Farm": the buildings are pleasantly situated on level ground facing the main road, and are sheltered behind by a hill range a few hundred feet high, the farm stretching up the hill, which is mostly wooded, and serves for pasturage. The level fields of the farm showed successful cultivation, the grain and root crops being in fine condition. The main building, the "Home" proper, is a commodious villa, shaded in front by old willows that were probably planted by the Acadians while Nova Scotia was a French colony, and there is an old apple orchard in rear. There are separate dwellings at some little distance off for the farm servants The farm barn is substantial, commodious, and complete, one of the best in this country, and there is a separate piggery, commodious and well planned. Early in the morning (before breakfast) I found several of the boys at work in the barn, feeding the cows and doing other ordinary light work, in which they took evident interest some I met on a pathway bringing in firewood or kindling, and others were engaged in a workshop near by. They were too young to do much effective "work," but were obtaining their early lessons in industry, and showed cheerful signs of emulation in trying to be useful.

I was much pleased with what I saw on the occasion of our visit, a comfortable and happy Christian home, where young children were being carefully brought up to habits of industry, and of regularity in the performance of daily duties, and educated for their prospective sphere in life, so as to become useful, independent, and self-respecting members of society.

GEORGE LAWSON
Professor of Chemistry in the University, and Secretary for Agriculture of Nova Scotia Government.

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA,
15th June, 1891.

MY DEAR Miss STIRLING,— Will you allow me to convey to you my best thanks for the great pleasure and profit I derived from my recent visit to your farm at Aylesford, and your large and very comfortable Home for children there. I regret very much that you were not at home, but I nevertheless embraced the opportunity to carefully go over your delightfully situated Home and well-cultivated farm, and was surprised beyond expression to find that in so comparatively short a time you have brought your farm to so high a state of cultivation by many improved methods of agriculture, as is not, I believe, attained elsewhere in this province.

The little ones, both boys and girls, all looked so healthy, happy, bright, and generally well kept, that I could not help thinking what a great change for good has been made in their lives. There is every prospect that each will grow up to be a useful member of our Canadian society. I am glad that your work is already bearing good fruit, as those placed by you in homes in different parts of the country show, I am informed, the results of their training under your good care, and by their conduct testify to the good work you are accomplishing.

I wish for you many years of continued usefulness in your arduous, but nevertheless grand work, and trust that each year you will have greater rewards for your labours in the direction you have chosen for yourself.

Again thanking you for the pleasure and privilege I enjoyed,

I remain, yours faithfully,

WALLACE McDONALD.

Barclay Webster, Esq., M.P.P. for Kings Co., N.S., writes :—

KENTVILLE,
Feb. 6th,
1892.

DEAR Miss STIRLING,— During my visits to Hillfoot Farm I had an opportunity of seeing how the children there under your charge were looked after and cared for. And I have much pleasure in testifying that in my opinion the well-being of the children was carefully regarded and seemed the first consideration of all there. The schoolroom was under the charge of an efficient teacher and the children appeared happy, contented, well dressed, and cleanly.

Yours sincerely.

B. WEBSTER, M.P.P.

George Whitman, Esq., M.P.P. for Annapolis Co., N.S., writes:—

ROUND HILL, ANNAPOLIS, N.S.,
6th Feb., 1892.

DEAR MADAM, On visiting Hillfoot Farm in Aylesford, King's County, found the buildings and grounds admirably suited for a school of agriculture for children. The variety of soil is well adapted to mixed farming, and gives employment to young as well as old—to the young in the care of small fruit, poultry, etc.

The farm is protected from the cold north wind by the range of mountain along the south of the Bay of Fundy, and from the buildings you have a fine view of the valley.

On visiting the schoolroom found the children comfortably situated and being taught by an efficient and painstaking teacher, and looked as though they would make themselves useful in the work for which they were being trained.

Sincerely yours,

GEO. WHITMAN, M.P.P.

Miss EMMA M. STIRLING,
Hillfoot Farm,
Aylesford,
King’s Co.

Rev. A. S. Tuttle, Berwick, N.S., supernumerary minister Methodist Church, writes :-—

Having resided in the vicinity of Miss Stirling's Home for Children, at Hillfoot Farm, Aylesford, N.S., since it was founded, and having had every opportunity of observing its managements, I am fully persuaded there is no institution of the kind where more ample provision is made for the physical comfort and religious training of the young, and where better facilities are afforded for acquiring all the elementary branches of education. The greatest care is taken to secure the best homes for the children, and in this Miss Stirling has been remarkably successful, as well as most particular and indefatigable in seeing that the conditions made in their interest are carried out by those who adopt them or receive them in charge.

There is much additional that I could say, but it is probably not required.

(Signed)

A. S. TUTTLE.

Rev. George Steel, 104, Broad Street, St. John, N.B., writes :—

ST. JOHN, N.B.,
Feb. 6th, 1892.

DEAR Miss STIRLING,— During my residence in the province of Prince Edward Island, I had great satisfaction in placing several children, who had been under your training, in suitable homes. After their adoption into those homes I visited them from time to time, and made careful inquiry about their characters. In addition to this I visited several other children, who had received the benefit of training in your institution. From all that I have both seen and heard I am most thoroughly convinced that the training you give them is admirably fitted to make good Christian men and women of those who are fortunate enough to be placed under your care. The children compare favourably in educational ability with the other children of the province. And they are also trained in habits of neatness, obedience, and reverence. Happy are the children that come under such influences. Your work is deserving of all confidence and support. May it continue to prosper!

Yours fraternally,

GEORGE STEEL,
Methodist Minister.

I receive from all quarters good accounts of our children. No doubt they are not all alike, and none of them are perfection, but they are a very well-conducted and promising set of young people, and, I must do them the justice to say, have in the vast majority of cases done what they can to do me credit and repay the care and pains bestowed upon them. A great many have risen to positions of trust, as well as usefulness, and are a testimony known and read of all men to the good results of the work for our children at Home and Abroad.


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