Rose Miller graduated from the Methodist National Training School and was employed in Canada as a Methodist Deaconess from 1917 until 1926. Her work included congregational work in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and then institutional work in a Manitoba residential school (Brandon) and in the Armenian Boys’ Farm in southern Ontario. In 1926 Rose joined the United Church Order and moved to New Zealand. She continued to be a member of the Order until 1929 while she was employed in New Zealand Government Children’s Homes.
The Secretary of the Deaconess Order, Winnifred Thomas, wrote to the Deaconess Committee in 1929 to inform them that Rose Miller was withdrawn from the Order, but no reason was specified. The minutes are not consistent about naming the reason for women leaving the Order. Withdrawn is sometimes the word used to describe removal because of marriage, but in this case, it seems quite possible that Rose Miller withdrew because of her new location and work.
Rose sent the following letter to her Deaconess sisters in Canada which was read at the National Deaconess Conference in 1927.
July 17, 1927
To The Deaconess Conference
Congratulations to one and all, may the present conference bring added strength and wisdom, as each previous one has done. Sorry I cannot be one of the number, I am grateful for the news so faithfully forwarded; my sympathy to those who are sick and sad.
The Deaconess Training School of New Zealand is very small and has not scope for work on broad lines, either for students or deaconesses. I was on my way to visit the school when I was called to Miramar Children’s Home. I have been very fortunate in getting five temporary positions, in orphanages in Government Homes, which has been a very valuable experience to a stranger; a permanent position is reserved for those deserving promotion. I must wait my turn, to secure a favourable position in the Government employ.
Many deaconesses here have entered the Government employ, recognizing a wider field for service, but I think it is more like the work of the hospital at the foot of the cliff, for the greater number that pass through these receiving homes and probation homes, can never rise to the level of normal life, as we recognize it. Yet, who can decide that?
I am grateful to find faithful deaconesses in the work of the city church, and also Maori missions in lonely circuits, who are making a fence around the danger zones of life, quietly and patiently, receiving less of this worlds goods or praise, but working effectively.
May the coming winter of deaconess work in Canada, also the preparation for deaconess work, meet the highest ideals of its promotion.
Yours sincerely, Rose Miller
The experiences of the children in care in New Zealand residential homes and schools (more on the New Zealand institutions) has sad parallels with those of Aboriginal children in Canada, and, also to those of the orphaned boys with whom Rose worked as Matron for the last year of the Armenian Boys’ Farm in 1927.
The boys were orphans of refugees who had fled years of strife in the former Ottoman Empire. Money was raised in an ecumenical effort and pressure was applied to the Canadian government to relax immigration laws and accept some of the children from what is now known as the Armenian genocide. Former Methodist missionaries to the region had been instrumental in helping to make way for Armenians to settle in the Hamilton area since about 1905 so interest was high and over $300,000 was raised. Between 1923 and 1926, 109 boys were brought to Canada and to the Armenian Boys’ Farm near Georgetown, Ontario. They became known as the Georgetown Boys.
Armenian historian George A. Bournoutian described their experience :
The boys’ education on the farm was not comparable to that provided to other children in rural Canada at the time. Like their Canadian counterparts, the orphans had to tend to the farm and therefore were often absent from the classroom, but they also had to work in the kitchen and the building. Moreover, the teachers they had, the superintendents, did not have training in teaching, neither could they allot their time only to teaching, since they had other duties to attend to.
The boys spoke no English, so the Farm and Home Committee hired a bilingual teacher, but later some members of the Committee were adamant that the boys needed to spend all their time learning English. The bilingual teacher remained, but so too did the tensions about how to best treat these children. The boys were also given “english” names in another attempt to Canadianize them. Some of the boys rebelled though, making a case that all they had left of their families and homeland were their names.
Some of the boys were placed with local families after learning sufficient farm skills. Despite a stipulation that the boys would be allowed to go to school until they were 16, for many placement meant an end to their formal education. This however, would not have been an abnormal practice in the time period, when many young people did not complete high school. The Armenian Relief Committee also sponsored some young girls. They were put directly into domestic service without the chance to attend school at all.
In December 1927, the Farm Home was sold and converted into the United Church’s Cedarvale Home for Girls and the Armenian Relief Association’s assets were transferred to the Church. The boys who remained in the home suddenly became homeless. Some were taken in by families as a few years previously but others were left on their own to make their way in the world. In later years, in reflection, the men commented that it was difficult to make the transition from the home to work in the city because of their poor English skills.
In 2011 a plaque commemorating the Farm Home was unveiled on the site which is now a park. Michael Chan, Ontario’s Minister of Tourism and Culture said at the time, “The plight of the Georgetown Boys is a powerful reminder of our deep conviction…as Canadians to help those in need.” But the story of the school is also a reminder that actions to help are never neutral. While there is good, there is always some negative, even if unintended, consequences. The underlying cultural imperative of the time to Canadianize and Christianize the nation complicated what was best. Sometimes the interests of the children competed with the interests of the cultural agenda. The people ministering in institutions like the Armenian Boys’ Farm often found themselves in such conflict, with learning English as a case in point. From our vantage point, we can see alternative solutions to the problem which is set up as an either/or of English or Armenian. It is likely that there were people at the time who could imagine ways to meet the legitimate needs of the children to both retain their culture and be prepared for success in Canada. But just as now, making that kind of “third way” change requires systemic adjustment and a shift in power. It is what the Social Gospel called for, based on a strong theological conviction that the ministry of Jesus modeled that kind of alternative option, where the status quo gave way to innovation for justice.
Was Rose one of those people who saw the injustice of the situation and longed for a more just response? It is unknown if she went to the Farm with the knowledge that it was to be closed and with a mandate to offer leadership during the transition. Or, was the matron only a day to day manager without any decision making authority? That is entirely possible. But without more detailed research anything would be conjecture. Evidence about Rose is ambiguous though, based on her letter to her Deaconess sisters. In such a short epistle, it is interesting that she offers a critique of the institutional enterprise, “but I think it is more like the work of the hospital at the foot of the cliff, for the greater number that pass through these receiving homes and probation homes, can never rise to the level of normal life, as we recognize it. Yet, who can decide that? “ Did she see the futility of the approach and that without offering the children safe and loving homes and a secure upbringing there was little hope? Did she imagine a different way of doing things? Did she try to change the system from within? Or did she judge the children as flawed, failures at achieving what was expected, blaming them for the ills they experienced? Perhaps Rose found herself sometimes on one side of the fence and sometimes on the other. That experience can be recognized by most of us.
Rose’s gratitude for those working “quietly and patiently, receiving less of this worlds goods or praise, but working effectively” suggests she was not a vocal advocate for change but rather plugged away within the confines of the system, trying to do the best she could.
Rose’s name is not on the historic roster of Methodist Deaconesses in New Zealand. What happened to her after 1929 is not known.
This biography was written by Caryn Douglas, August 2012. Sources for the Armenian History include:
http://www.creditvalleyartisans.ca/history.html; http://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/News-and-Events/2011/Jun/Provincial-plaque-commemorates-The-Armenian-Boys-.aspx; http://www.armembassycanada.ca/diaspora_history.html
 Deaconess Jessie Oliver is the first Matron of the Girls’ Home. Jessie was a graduate of the Presbyterian School in 1915 and is not to be confused with another, and better known, Deaconess named Jessie Oliver who graduated from the United Church Training School in 1950.
 For more on the issues of enculturation and integration see the profile on Florence (Capsey) Karpoff and the Ukrainian experience.