Boy survived brutal training school beating 55 years ago
TORONTO — The mystery that has haunted Rick Brown since he watched the brutal beating of a young friend at an Ontario training school 55 years ago was finally solved this week: James Forbes survived that night.
In fact, at 68 years old, Forbes is living not far from Brown and doing well — is still getting over the shock of a call from an officer inquiring after him.
“Yeah, I’m alive,” Forbes said he told the officer, his voice cracking up. “It brought tears to my eyes.”
After the call, Forbes said he sat his wife down and told her about his training school days.
“She didn’t know anything about it — because my past was my past,” Forbes said. “I just wanted to put this all behind me, eh? because when I mentioned it, nobody believed me.”
In February, The Canadian Press recounted Brown’s harrowing tale of how, as a 10-year-old incarcerated in 1963 at the now-defunct Brookside training school in Cobourg, Ont., he watched a supervisor beat Forbes to a pulp in a dorm one night.
Brown, now 65, described how the cracking sound and almost black blood had haunted him ever since. It also left him wondering whether Forbes, whom he never saw again, had actually died that night after being carried away a bloodied mess.
The original article turned up a few leads but finding Forbes proved elusive until Cobourg police recently decided to see if they could determine his fate.
The preliminary investigation led to London, Ont., where Forbes and Dolores, his wife of three decades, live. Neither were aware of Brown’s futile search or of a pending lawsuit against the training schools.
“Alive? What the hell you talking about,” Forbes said he responded to the officer. “Then he explained it and I go, ‘Wow! You gotta be kidding me.’ And he says no.”
The father of 18 natural and adopted children, Forbes remembers the night of the beating only too well. The supervisor, he said, was a “total nightmare.”
“If your bed ain’t made right and he can’t bounce a quarter off of it, you’d do it over again. He made me do my bed about three or four times. I finally got tired of it and said, ‘I ain’t doing it again.’ And he gave me a backhand,” Forbes recalls. “I’m only 13 years old, so I kicked him between the legs. He went crazy on me. He put his boots and all that to me. All I can do was roll up in a ball, eh? They carried me out on a stretcher. I woke up three days later.”
Forbes, who spent three years at the reform school from aged 12 to 15, was then sent to a different part of the facility, which explains why Brown never saw him again. Forbes said he remembers Brown as one of the younger guys he tried to protect.
Brown, of Kitchener, Ont., could barely contain his happiness at learning his pal had survived.
The two men spoke at length by phone this week and plan to meet soon.
James Forbes, 68, stands in his kitchen in London, Ont.