Nova Scotia: Forever in her debt

The Halifax Herald, Nova Scotia, Canada
April 22 2004

Forever in her debt
Armenians remember N.S. nurse who saved thousands of orphans
By STEPHEN MAHER / Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA – A Nova Scotia woman was honoured Wednesday on Parliament
Hill for saving the lives of thousands of orphans in 1922.

Eighty-two years ago, Greece lost the city of Smyrna (now Izmir) to
Turkey. After the city fell, Turkish soldiers massacred thousands of
Greek and Armenian civilians and then set the city ablaze.

Sara Corning, a Red Cross nurse from the Chegoggin area of Yarmouth
County, helped to rescue 5,000 children, escorting them through chaos
to the harbour, where they were rowed in small boats to safety aboard
an American destroyer.

A year later, Ms. Corning was decorated for her bravery by King
George II of Greece, receiving the Silver Cross of the Knights of the
Order of the Saviour, which is similar to the Order of Canada. She
died in 1969 at the age of 97.

On Wednesday, Bagrat Galstanian, the bishop of the Canadian diocese
of the Armenian Apostolic Church, presented relatives of Ms. Corning
with an encyclical – a papal letter – from Karikan II, the
Catholocos, or pope, of the church.

As Armenian-Canadians, dignitaries and relatives of Ms. Corning
struggled to hold back their tears, the encyclical was read:

“The name of the late philanthropist Sara Corning is very cordial and
precious to Armenians living around the world. Despite grave dangers
and difficulties in the Ottoman Empire, brought up by unprecedented
massacres, as a nurse she brought care and help to the persecuted
Armenians and those who survived unbearable tortures,” the letter

“More specifically, we acknowledge with deep gratitude her efforts to
salvage several thousands of Armenian orphans from burning cities and
rural villages. With her life and her accomplishments, Sara Corning
confirmed to the world and condemned the great holocaust of the

Ms. Corning’s grandniece, Margaret Pedersen, who lives in Toronto,
thanked the bishop for the letter.

“It is a great honour to have this,” she said. “And a full circle has
been completed. And I think we should all rejoice.”

Ms. Corning, who trained as a nurse in New Hampshire, joined the
American Red Cross during the First World War. She served in Turkey
during the war and afterward ran an orphanage for Amenians at the
foot of Mount Ararat.

She described her experience in Smyrna in a letter to an alumni

“The Turkish army was just taking the city as we arrived, but we went
ashore and as the place was crowded with many sick refugees, we
opened a clinic to care for as many of them as we could, but it was
soon closed by the soldiers.

“We then went to another place and opened up, but before we could do
more than one or two dressings, they closed that also. After the city
was looted, then they began to burn it down, then the refugees had to
get to the shore, but many were drowned rather than be burned.

“Then we had to evacuate Miss Morley’s orphanage. They were counted
carefully as they came out and I was sent with the first ones to the
quay. From there they were taken by the sailors in small boats out to
the destroyer.”

Canada became one of few countries to formally recognize the genocide
of Armenian Turks during the First World War in a strongly worded
motion adopted 153-68 in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Government members were discouraged from voting for the motion, which
is sure to anger a Turkish government that has never recognized the
massacre of 1.5 million Armenians starting in 1915.

Nova Scotia MPs Alexa McDonough and Robert Thibault were present at
the reception Wednesday. There was a display of photographs from the
Yarmouth County Museum of Ms. Corning at work with orphans in Turkey.

Mary Anne Saunders, Ms. Corning’s first cousin twice removed and a
volunteer at the museum, was one of the relatives present for the

Sarkis Assadourian, the Armenian-Canadian Liberal MP for Brampton
Centre, organized the reception. In the House of Commons late
Wednesday, MPs voted 153-70 in favour of a private member’s bill
recognizing the massacre.

Ms. Corning’s relatives described her as a quietly determined woman
who was motivated by her strong Baptist faith. She retired to the
Chegoggin area in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

Ms. Corning rarely talked to her relatives about her experiences in
Turkey and Armenia, and her surviving relatives say they were in awe
of her as children.

“I think the people in my hometown were in awe of her because she had
travelled so and she had done something wonderful,” Ms. Saunders

“And that didn’t come to many of her family. They were farmers who
stayed in the area, so she was really looked up to.”

Ms. Corning’s headstone bears the epitaph: “She lived to serve

Bishop Galstanian said that there is a lesson for everyone in the way
Ms. Corning lived.

“Looking at her story, we understand that justice shall prevail in
this world,” he said Wednesday.

“For us, her memory is very, very dear. Unfortunately, we couldn’t
recognize her in her lifetime properly. But now we’re happy that we
have this opportunity to recognize her memory and pray to the
Almighty for everlasting life for her.”

The bishop said we should remember the message on her headstone.

“The memory of Sara Corning tells us to be dedicated and selfless
people. This is a good model for us, for us to live and create and
pray in this way.”