Saskatoon youth was sent away
Ken Stahl is trying to find out why he was taken away from his mother as a child.
Prince George’s Ken Stahl vividly remembers the day, some seven decades ago, when he was taken from his home and loving mother and dropped off at Kilburn Hall.
He recalls a big black limousine showing up at his house, and a man in a black suit getting out to speak to his mother, Katherine. His father, Ed, had gone overseas in 1939, about a year after Ken was born.
The young Stahl didn’t hear the conversation. His mom started crying, went into the house and threw some of his clothes in a cardboard box, he says. Then the strange man took his hand and led him to the car.
“I’m crying out the back window, my mom’s running behind the vehicle, crying her eyes out. It was the last time I saw her until I was 18 years old,” he says.
Stahl, now 76, isn’t sure how old he was or the precise date of the event, but he says he remembers being put in a crib when he arrived at Kilburn Hall.
He has never learned why he was taken away, and he hopes that by telling his story he will prompt someone to come forward with answers.
At the time, Kilburn Hall was a shelter for neglected children, operated by the Saskatoon Children’s Aid Society and subsidized by the city.
The old building has since been demolished, and its
“I’M CRYING OUT THE BACK WINDOW, MY MOM’S RUNNING BEHIND THE VEHICLE, CRYING HER EYES OUT. IT WAS THE LAST TIME I SAW HER UNTIL I WAS 18 YEARS OLD.” KEN STAHL
replacement is a youth custody facility.
Stahl says he didn’t enjoy the regimented experience.
“We were allowed to go out back and play in the back; there was a yard, a big ball diamond. But we were counted, (they) made damn sure we were there.”
He says he was bullied and sexually harassed by some of the older girls.
“They made us do things that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing until I was an adult, if you know what I’m trying to say … Touching them and whatever. They seemed to get off on it, I guess,” he says.
Stahl doesn’t know exactly how long he was at Kilburn Hall; he says city staff told him the city has no records of his time there.
His lawyer found out that he attended Buena Vista school in Grade 1 and that Kilburn Hall was listed as his guardian, Stahl says.
“It frustrates me to no end. I might sound a little antsy here, but I just feel peed right off because of all this ... going on, I can’t even find out nothing about my life,” he says, choking up.
“Somebody’s got to know some thing.”
All he knows is that his unfamiliar father came and picked him up after the war, in December 1945.
“I didn’t even know this man that was called my father,” he recalls.
By that time, his father had divorced his mother. Stahl says he only saw his father’s new partner twice before they married.
To this day, he doesn’t know why he was taken away from his mother. His father never spoke about it, he says. Stahl’s best guess is that his father suspected his mother of being unfaith- ful and asked the Canadian Army to put him in Kilburn Hall.
Stahl never got answers from his mom, either. By the time he turned 18, she had started drinking, he says. He only saw her a few times before she died, fairly young.
“Maybe it’s because she lost her son, or I don’t know. But in the couple years I lived with her she was a beautiful mom.”
He says his new home wasn’t a happy place to be. He found his father to be a fair, but very strict man.
“It was his way or the highway.”
His stepmother wasn’t so kind, he says.
“When I was young — seven, eight, nine years old — if I would act out of place or something, she would say, ‘We’re going to send you back to Kilburn Hall.’ … That was the last place I wanted to go to, so I walked a straight line with these guys. I was the nicest kid in the house ever, because I did not want to go back there.”
He left home at 18 and joined the army, enjoying the camaraderie. He served in Germany for nearly a decade.
When he returned to Canada, his father and stepmother had moved to BC. He lived with them until he met his wife, Irene, and settled down in Prince George, where he still lives. They have four children and 10 grandchildren.
Stahl says he feels his grandchildren are too young to hear his story, but he wants to be able to share it with his children.
“I think my kids deserve to know, before I die, what happened to me during that time.”