In 1920, the London Advertiser ran a story that sounded more like a romantic novel than real life. But the tale did prove the old adage that truth really is stranger than fiction!
This is the story of Vernon Boxall, who left SoHo as an eight-year old girl and was accidentally reunited with her birth family a decade later.
Mr. and Mrs. John Boxall lived at 578 Ottaway Avenue (now South Street) in SoHo when a London Advertiser reporter visited their home in 1920. A decade before, their mischievous daughter had been placed in a local children’s shelter by order of the Children’s Aid Society. That decision was made against the wishes of Vernon’s parents. The little girl was separated from them and her two older brothers.
This separation was not a happy one either for the worried parents or for the “rebellious, curly-headed little girl”. On three different occasions, the youngster “escaped” from the institution (possibly the Protestant Orphan’s Home) where she had been placed, and returned to SoHo.
After her third adventure, Inspector Sanders of the Children’s Aid decided the best solution was to have the girl adopted far away from London. This is exactly what happened. Vernon was chosen by a French-speaking family who moved to Niagara Falls, New York.
Back in London, a frantic search was launched by Mrs. Boxall who had not given up on her young daughter. She traced Vernon as far as Niagara Falls, but then the trail went cold. Mrs. Boxall was unable to learn that the adoptive family had moved to the American side of the border.
Not long after that, Vernon’s new parents abandoned Niagara Falls and moved to New York City. We can assume Vernon was still “mischievous” because her family placed her in a convent to complete her education.
The story resumes in the fall of 1920, when a young woman came to visit at the home of John Bowker, the next door neighbor of the Boxalls. Vernon had been holidaying in Detroit, Michigan but felt a pull to visit the city of London, Ontario. While attending a show at a local theatre, she was introduced to Mrs. Bowker, who invited Vernon to stay at her home. This seems unusual, but the newspaper article provides no further details of why the invitation was issued.
Inevitably, Vernon encountered Mr. Boxall face to face on her travels. He thought his neighbor’s guest looked very much like the daughter he had lost long ago, but he remained silent. Then his son, Henry, also met Vernon and mentioned how much she resembled his little lost sister.
Mr. Boxall may have been a careful man, but eventually he had to satisfy his curiosity. He approached Vernon one day, asking questions about her childhood. He hinted that he once had a daughter that looked very much like her, but Vernon could remember almost nothing about her early life. Still, a strong friendship grew up between John and Henry Boxall and the young visitor.
Mrs. Boxall, during this period, had been out of the city visiting friends. Not wanting to arouse false hopes, her husband waited some time before confiding to his wife that he thought Vernon, the teenager visiting next door, looked remarkably like their daughter. The amazed mother recognized Vernon at once, and immediately told her newfound daughter the story of her London childhood.
In case the tale sounds a bit too “Hollywood” to be true, the mother did implement one test. Mrs. Boxall asked Vernon if she had a vaccination mark a few inches from her left knee. When the girl admitted that she did, this was accepted as the final proof of identity.
Not surprisingly, this led to a happy family reunion, although it took Vernon some days before she could become accustomed to her new ties.
“But”, she confided to the reporter, “it all seems real now and I am very, very happy. There is only one more thing that we want. One of my brothers, who was a soldier, went away and we don’t know where he is. We are all waiting eagerly until he comes back.”
Now, do any SoHo readers know how the Boxall story ended?
– Alice Gibb