‘It brings back me­mories’

Train­ing school sur­vivor was sur­prised when a po­lice of­fi­cer asked him about his ex­pe­ri­ence 55 years ago

Waterloo Region Record - - Local - COLIN PERKEL

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 — if 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 ages 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.

“I now know what hap­pened to James Forbes that night,” Brown said. “I’m elated. Fan­tas­tic! Tremen­dous re­lief.”

The two men spoke at length by phone this week and plan to meet soon.

“We want ev­ery­one to know what they did to us chil­dren so long ago,” Brown said.

Orig­i­nally from Hamil­ton, Forbes said the beat­ing left him with a rup­tured nerve close to his spine. Sent to Brook­side for three yeas as a “way out of con­trol” 12-year-old who had bro­ken into gas sta­tions, he said the ex­pe­ri­ence was ter­ri­ble.

Some days, he says he can barely hold a cup of cof­fee be­cause he shakes so badly. After his hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, he said he spent 30 days in soli­tary con­fine­ment in a padded cell get­ting meals through a slit in the door.

“It up­sets me. It brings back me­mories,” Forbes said. “You don’t know half of the stuff that they did.”

This past week, the On­tario govern­ment agreed to al­low a law­suit spear­headed by an­other train­ing school sur­vivor to go ahead as a class ac­tion. The un­proven suit al­leges the re­form schools — essen­tially pris­ons for chil­dren — were no­to­ri­ous cesspools of phys­i­cal, sex­ual and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse.

Forbes, who worked mostly in jan­i­to­rial ser­vices in Lon­don, said his ex­pe­ri­ence was one of the mo­ti­va­tions for him and his wife to adopt eight chil­dren over the years.

“I didn’t want the kids to go through what I went through,” he said. “No­body knew about it. It was be­hind closed doors.”

Dolores Forbes, 48, said she was equally shocked at learn­ing about the train­ing schools and her hus­band’s ex­pe­ri­ences.

“Now I know why he’s got the nerve dam­age. I can’t be­lieve that there’s peo­ple out there who’s done that stuff,” she said. “It’s dis­gust­ing. It’s just shock­ing news.”

The Cobourg of­fi­cer in­volved in track­ing Forbes down did not re­spond to a re­quest to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion.

(A su­per­vi­sor) 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 ... so I kicked him be­tween the legs. He went crazy on me ... I woke up three days later. JAMES FORBES Train­ing school sur­vivor


James Forbes, 68, stands in his kitchen in Lon­don, Ont. After a po­lice of­fi­cer called to talk about his time at train­ing school, Forbes said he sat his wife down to tell her the whole story. “She didn’t know any­thing about it,” he said. “I just wanted to put this all be­hind me, eh? Be­cause when I men­tioned it, no­body be­lieved me.” A se­vere beat­ing dur­ing his time at train­ing school rup­tured a nerve by his spine. His hands still trem­ble.


In Oc­to­ber 1963, a judge or­dered Brown to Brook­side, the re­form school in Cobourg. The only pa­per record he still has of his stay there is the Bible they gave him that first day of his year in hell, as he puts it.


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