Book: Georgetown Boys’ powerful words give voice to Armenian orphans in new book

Halton Hills Today, Canada
Nov 17 2023
The publication compiles historical newsletters written by the orphans while living at Georgetown's Cedarvale Park – formerly Cedarvale Farm

The last of the Armenian refugees known as the Georgetown Boys died in 2006, making records of their history all the more important.

Copies of the newsletter they kept at Cedarvale Farm - called Ararat Monthly -  were scattered across the world, making it exceedingly difficult to give a concise voice to this group. But no more.

Issues of the newsletter can now be found in one place in the book Pages from Armenian Canadian History: The Ararat Monthlies. Scholars Daniel Ohanian, Salpi Garabedian and Gabriella Batikian spent over a decade scouring archives and collections for copies in multiple countries. Their work debuted at two recent book launches in Cambridge and Toronto.

Copies of The Ararat Monthlies being sold at their Toronto debut event. Mansoor Tanweer/HaltonHillsToday

“The past ends up being forgotten unless people put it down on paper and find ways of reading it, sharing it with others and so on,” Ohanian told HaltonHillsToday.

“Given this book is about things that happened 100 years ago, it was important to me that we put it together between two covers in a volume so more people know about it today.”

The Georgetown Boys - just over 100 orphaned survivors of the Armenian Genocide - were brought to Canada starting in 1923 to be trained as farmers. Their education took place in Georgetown’s Cedarvale Park, then a farm. The descendants of the Georgetown Boys and Girls, as well as several organizations, marked the centenary of their arrival in June.

The newsletter was a teaching tool to help them develop their English language skills. The voluminous tome of just over 800 pages contains their writings in both English and Armenian. 

“When I read these pages, I see my father,” Lorne Shirinian, whose father Mampre Shirinian was a regular contributor to the newsletter, said. 

Shirinian the elder did not talk much about the genocide in his life. There were a few snippets here and there. Much of what he wrote about, Lorne says, “help round out the narrative a little.”

But, even then there were not enough details in the book. Trauma may have played a role in the decision to, Lorne believes, “spare his kids.”

“Or [spare] himself,” he added. “God knows what he spoke about with my mom, or the Armenian [orphans] when they got together.”

One of the compilers of the book, Daniel Ohanian. Mansoor Tanweer/HaltonHillsToday

At its peak, the publication had 2,000 or so subscribers around the world. For $1 a year, roughly $17 in today’s money, subscribers read about the mundane daily occurrences of their lives, poetry, Armenian history and, of course, their recollections of the genocide. 

Their audience read about election coverage as the orphans vied for political posts on their farm. Mampre Shirinian was even elected mayor. 

Onnig Shangayan wrote about the importance of Mt. Ararat in eastern Turkey – the namesake of the newsletter – saying that it’s “the symbol of Armenia as the maple leaf is of Canada.”

Shangayan declared in another column that “Armenian boys will never go hungry in Canada. But we must work hard and earn the bread we eat.”

As the boys were placed on farms when they were ready to work, some penned updates about their lives with their new families. Hachig Karajian called his adoptive patriarch, Mr. Earl Hindly, in Eramosa “a good gentleman” and called his wife “a very nice lady.”

Hagop Hagopian felt it was important to talk about Vardan Mamikonian, a hero from his people’s history who fought against Sassanid Iran. 

Their trauma often comes through in their words. Many of the boys wrote about mothers, no doubt longing for their own. 

Hagopian tells the story of a 10-year-old orphan boy named Arsham. When walking through the streets on Christmas Eve, he breaks down crying. He remembered the kiss he received from his late mother the previous year. A passing woman takes pity and offers him a gift. “Please lady, give me my mother’s sweet kiss only and nothing else,” Arsham responds.

“There were lots of pieces about mothers and death,” Ohanian said when asked if he felt the boys' trauma. “When there are pieces that make reference to where people lived – their hometowns and homelands – that’s also moving.”

Pages from Armenian Canadian History: The Ararat Monthlies can be purchased from Amazon.