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The Time Grampa Duped a Foreman With Rats

I wonder
milk_and_glass was asking for ideas  about a 1890's Toronto Ward child and their life. I have one about my grandfather but it happened between 1915 and 1925 where Grampa (born 1910)was living in the East End of London and before he was sent to Canada. I'm going to use his name, Davey for this story. Hopefully she can glean some ideas from it since The Ward of Toronto and East End were quite similar as they were both dense slums with a high immigrant population.

Davey has been living on the streets of the East End of London for a bit at this point.  He's avoided being put in the Workhouse school, getting the Spanish Flu. And there was other fun stuff like TB and dysentery that ran through the area thanks to overcrowding and slummy conditions. To get food he would find odd jobs or possibly even resort to stealing food. But usually he would just head to the docks and ask if there was anything he could do for a few pennies or shillings.

 One of the jobs was to catch rats. The Foreman hand the Davey and his friends a sack and told them to find as many rats they could. A half penny per rat was the going rate. Off the kids go and eventually they find a bunch of rats and head back to the Foreman for their pay. Mr. Foreman would count how many they caught and then he would toss the dead rats into a nearby ditch before heading into the office to get the money.

 Seeing this Davey suddenly got an idea. Why not grab the tossed rats when the Foreman walked away, wait until near the end of the Foreman's workday and sell them back to him? That way the rats would settle back down, the gang didn't have to work as hard for a day or two. The only thing they would have to worry about is making sure the rats they were re-using were not too far gone. The gang agreed this was a brilliant plan! And off they went.

 This went on for most of the summer. The Foremen were none the wiser but was always amazed that kids found so many rats. "They must get them other places besides the docks," he probably thought. Either way he always kept his promise to pay them, and it keeps them busy and it’s doing the docks a service. Until one day after the rats were tossed into the ditch the Foreman suddenly came back and caught the kids grabbing the rats he just tossed.  "You cheeky little brats! You might have fooled me once, but never again!" (Grampa said this was what the man said, but I cannot remember the exact words)

The Foreman confiscated the sack of used rats, pulled his knife out and cut each of the rat's tails off and tossed them into the ditch. "There. Now let’s see you try and pull another fast one on me."  And that was the end of that. For that part of the docks.

 Davey and his friends would head over to other docks and offer their rat catching services to other companies. But this time they tweaked the plan that the used rats would be turned in at different locations instead of the same dock Foreman. This kept 5 or 6 boys girls fed for a good long time before they were caught by police or officials, probably for Truancy, and were sent to the Barnardo Home for Children in late 1924, early '25. A few months later Davey was sent to Canada.

 This is one of my favorite stories from my grandparents. The drunken duck story Gramma would tell us was the only one that topped it. This is probably one of the only things Grampa told us about his childhood other than living with Hiram Grey, the man who the Barnardo Home for Children matched him with. Anything else I know about the history of Home Children is through my own research.

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