Should they let “Mom” Whyte keep her children?
This Ontario housewife believes God has commanded her to shelter homeless children. With simple faith and little cash—she cares for eighty. She’s called both a saint and a dangerous fanatic
SHOULD THEY LET “MOM” WHYTE KEEP HER CHILDREN?
To Mrs. Robert Whyte, a forty-one-year-old factory worker's wife living near Bowmanville. Ontario, the complications of twentiethcentury life seem unnecessarily confusing. For some years now she has been wrestling with an almost insurmountable problem: how to adhere to Biblical principles in a complex industrial society.
Mrs. Whyte, who is better known to her neighbors as “Mom” Whyte, believes that God has commanded her to give shelter to homeless and unwanted children. As a result, she finds herself cheerfully working an eighteen-hour day as “mother” to an estimated eighty youngsters, ranging in age from a few months to thirteen years.
Nobody is quite sure how many children there are in Mom Whyte's menage because as she puts it, “they are always coming and going.” As a
simple Christian she is not impressed with the trappings of a sophisticated society—the meticulous records, the social workers’ code, the fire and health regulations and so on. For this reason she has become a controversial figure, described on the one hand as a saint and an angel, on the other as a potentially dangerous egocentric and fanatic.
Caught between conflicting opinions, most of Bowmanville’s six thousand citizens don’t know what to think about Mrs. Whyte. Their confusion is shared by millions of other people because “the Mom Whyte affair” has already received national and international attention. The simple facts of the controversy are these:
Mrs. Whyte conducts her haven for homeless children on her fifty-acre farm, three miles southwest of Bowmanville. Most of the youngsters are
from Ontario but several arc from other parts of Canada and the United States. Admission to Mrs. Whyte's haven is simple: parents have only to drive up and deposit their children. Few questions are asked. “The children arc placed here by God,” she says. “If there are children I shouldn’t be taking, He would give me warning.” So far she has never turned away a child. No time limit is placed on the child’s stay and no regular charge is made for Mrs. Whyte’s services. “God will provide,” she says.
Actually, Mrs. Whyte makes do on her husband's sixty-dollars-a-week salary and on contributions of money, goods and services from some of the parents and from the public at large. She keeps no records of where the money and goods come from, or how they’re used—a fact that rankles the more methodical.
Their criticism doesn’t worry Mrs. Whyte. “I’ve got no time,” she explains, “and anyway what would be the point? The Lord said, ‘Let not your right hand know' what your left hand doeth. ”
Here’s how Mom Whyte’s many children live and learn—”They’re always coming and going.”
Because she does not operate her haven "for reward or hire” and accepts no money from any charitable agency, Mrs. Whyte has a fairly free hand. Social workers, public-health officers and child-welfare officials are anathema to her. "I'd rather come under God than under regulations." she says. “I want to run this place the way I want to.”
Mrs. Whyte's admirers have won more public attention for her than her detractors. Farley Faulkner, a former Oshawa reporter, describes her "as something special — like Dr. Albert Schweitzer. To ask why she’s doing this work is to ask why he went to Africa to open a hospital.” Helen Francis, an Oshawa housewife left with three youngsters to support, writes. "She's taking care of my children without charge. She’s heavensent." Keith Ross, secretary-treasurer of the influential Oshawa and District Labor Council (membership 24,000) described Mrs. Whyte as
“dedicated" and threw the weight of his organization behind her in a drive for funds that netted six thousand dollars. Carloads of union members worked without pay to build a new dormitory on the Whyte farm.
Garry Moore, emcee of the CBS-TV show I’ve Got a Secret, had Mrs. Whyte, accompanied by thirty of her children, brought to New York to tell her story to his forty million viewers, then gave her ten thousand dollars worth of merchandise for the kids and the haven. In Ottawa a special order-in-council—-recommended by David Sim, deputy minister of national revenue — was passed to admit the goods into Canada duty-free.
Scores of visitors drop in at the Whyte farm and seldom leave without words of praise and gifts. One Kentuckian pressed a hundrcd-dollar bill in Mrs. Whyte’s hand. Each week the mail brings contributions from admirers—toys from Edmonton, a gas furnace from Winnipeg, clothing from Los Angeles.
Yet. mingled with the acclaim for Mrs. Whyte there's a strong undercurrent of criticism. Her critics include businessmen, clergymen and health, welfare and municipal officials. John James, publisher of the Bowmanville Statesman, told me. “Local feeling about Mom Whyte is all mixed up. People hesitate to criticize her publicly because opinion about her is split down the middle." No major women’s organization, church group or service club in the Bowmanville area has given her wholehearted support.
Why this reluctance? I recently spent some time talking to people about Mrs. Whyte and got at least part of the answer to this question. Lloyd Ecker, assistant director of the Child Welfare Branch. Ontario Department of Public Welfare, told me flatly, "There’s no need for Mrs. Whyte's place. Ontario is served by a sufficient number of organized agencies with competent staff's, money and experience to do a very good job with children who need any kind of care.” Besides various kinds of special institutions and services. Ontario has fiftyfive Children’s Aid Societies with a total staff of almost one thousand. (Mrs. Whyte: "We have children who have been withdrawn by their parents from the CAS. 1 want to operate a haven that's like a home—private and personal. As for social workers, how can you teach someone to help other people? You have to have the instinct for it.”)
Mom is never sure just how she has, but she insists, "I can be a mother to them all"\
Who could carry on for Mrs. Whyte? “Christ will provide workers to take over,” she says
Stuart Ryan QC. solicitor for Northumberland and Durham counties in which the haven is located, is worried about its continued existence. He recently told Mrs. Whyte, ‘‘There’s no assurance of permanence. The success of your home depends on your personality. People like you aren’t found everywhere; a successor would not easily be found. Then what would happen to the children?” Mrs. Whyte replied, “It’s not my personality that runs the home—it’s the personality of Jesus Christ. He will provide workers to take over if anything should happen to me.”
It is also Ryan who has repeatedly pointed out the possible serious consequences of Mrs. Whyte’s failure to keep proper records of children coming into her care. People bringing children to the haven aren’t required to produce any form of documentation or to establish their own identity or that of the children. Anyone can dump a child at the Whyte farm and vanish. Two of Mrs. Whyte’s wards don’t know who they are, and this can be a serious matter in a society that requires a birth certificate to establish one’s right to such things as citizenship, domicile, pensions, family allowances and travel visas.
“It’s one thing to say you’re taking a child in for Christian charity,” says Ryan. “But it’s another thing to deprive that child of its identity, legal status and rights.” (Mrs. Whyte comments: "The people who come to us are desperate. We don’t have time to ask them for details just then, so delays often occur in putting down all the details in our record book. But we do keep records. They’re not fancy, but adequate.”)
Dr. Charlotte Horner, health officer for the Northumberland and Durham counties, has repeatedly charged that the health of Mrs. Whyte’s children is not being properly safeguarded. Neither staff members nor children are given a physical examination before being admitted. Recently, two children were accepted whose mother had been sent to a sanitarium with tuberculosis. It was only at the insistence of the health unit that the youngsters were given complete chest X rays after their arrival. The danger of an epidemic is multiplied by the fact that the haven is always overcrowded; Mrs. Whyte takes children faster than they can be accommodated properly.
There are no isolation facilities. "I dread to think what would happen if someone came down with whooping cough,” says Dr. Horner. Whooping cough is highly contagious and has a high mortality rate among young children. (There are about twenty-five Whyte children under the age of three.) At the Whyte haven there are no regular medical checkups, no regular nurse on duty, no complete immunization records. Again, a real fire hazard exists, according to officials. The haven is short of water and three miles from the near-
est volunteer fire brigade.
There are also no regular dental services. "They cost too much and no local dentist has volunteered his services.” says Mrs. Whyte. According to a member of the haven staff, when a child complains
of a toothache Mrs. Whyte prays over him. (Mrs. Whyte: "Our health record here is good. We’ve had no broken limbs. The only epidemic we've had is chicken pox. We've only had children to hospital twice. We don’t like the public-health
nurse popping in here — she causes trouble.’’)
There has been one death at the Whyte haven. On Aug. 5, 1956. Angelo Olympiu, the six-months-old daughter of a deserted mother, died, according to the verdiet of a coroner’s jury, “accidentally, due to asphyxiation brought on by food lodged in her windpipe and lungs.” The jury made some pointed recommendations to Mrs. Whyte: a registered nurse should be in attendance at all times; the children should receive regular medical checkups: the haven should come under closer supervision of the health unit. Mrs. Whyte describes the Olympiu death as “an act of God.” None of the jury’s recommendations has been implemented.
While congratulating Mrs. Whyte for her selfless efforts, child-welfare authorities have consistently criticized her approach to the problem of caring for children. The views of James A. Mclsaac, president of the Ontario Association of Institutions for Children and Youth, are typical: “Children under four must have the love and security of a foster home. It’s utterly impossible for one set of parents to look after twenty, thirty or forty children.” Furthermore, says Mclsaac, there must be a plan for every child so he won’t remain indefinitely in an institution. But in the first place vigorous efforts should be made to keep the family together. If “a reunion is not possible a permanent home must be found either in a foster home or an adoption home. If no such plan is made, babies can languish indefinitely in an institution, denied the warmth and love only parents can give.” (Mrs. Whyte: “I can be a mother to all my children. We do what we can to reunite families. We promise parents that we’ll keep their children until they call for them. We intend to honor this pledge even if the parents never show up and the children are left permanently with us.”)
There are differences about the religious upbringing of the children. Childwelfare authorities hold that a youngster placed outside his home has the right to be reared and instructed in the faith of his parents. The children at the haven come from Protestant, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox homes, but Margaret Hancock, director of the Oshawa CAS, observes, “Mrs. Whyte is giving them all her own religion.” This is a nondenominational faith based on a personal and literal interpretation of the Bible. (Mrs. Whyte: '^E hope we’ve taught our children well enough so that they won’t want to have a denomination. We hope that our religious training stays with them and that everyone will make a career of serving the Lord. Perhaps some will start a haven such as we have here.”)
I recently made several visits to the Whyte farm. It is on the north side of the superhighway that runs west to Toronto, and motorists can easily identify it by the hundreds of diapers and other clothing on endless stretches of clothesline. The haven consists of a hundredyear-old stone house, three recently built adjoining dormitories, and a barn. I found Mrs. Whyte in the basement of one of the dormitories, which serves as a kitchen-dining room, preparing the noon meal of spaghetti and red Jell-O. She was wondering if there would be enough Jell-O to go around. “Perhaps we should stretch it out by putting some fruit in,” she said to Mrs. Sharon Rogerson,.one of her assistants. Like the other four women who work at the haven fulltime without pay, Mrs. Rogerson reveres Mrs. Whyte.
Mrs. Whyte is five and a half feet tall, weighs about a hundred and thirty pounds, has dark-brown hair with a few streaks of grey. Her face bespeaks strength, with its high forehead and piercing eyes. She talks emphatically and smiles and laughs frequently. All in all, she has an engaging and charming personality. After a recent TV appearance,
one newspaper critic called her a “show stopper.” One of her severest critics, county solicitor Stuart Ryan, has described her as possessing “a hypnotic personality that enables her to cast a spell over people.”
Without such an extraordinary personality it would be impossible for Mrs. Whyte to keep a family of eighty children well fed. “My husband Bert makes sixty dollars a week,” she told me, “and every payday we go to the wholesale grocery and spend it all on food. We get further reductions by buying damaged goods. Often the wholesaler gives us a huge carton of odds and ends that he can’t sell in small lots. We make our own baby foods in our emulsifier. I put up hundreds of tins and jars of jams, fruits and vegetables—much of which we grow on the farm. We keep cows, which give us some of our own milk. We also keep chickens, so that gives us eggs and meat. But we still have to buy a lot of stuff. We use a hundred and fifty loaves of bread a week; we get dozens of quarts of milk from the dairy; we use a seventyfive-pound sack of potatoes every four days; and an eighty-pound bunch of bananas lasts for two meals. This is supplemented by gift offerings of food.” With the noon meal well under way in the dining room, Mrs. Whyte gave a few instructions to Mrs. Rogerson and walked the seventy-five yards to the stone house. In an enclosed yard adjoining it, some twenty preschool youngsters were playing. A broken swing was the only equipment. Another twenty-three children were in the classroom in the basement of one of the dormitories. Two women, both voluntary helpers, were hanging a huge pile of wet clothes on the line. Another
helper, Frank (Pop) Miller, who is seventy-one, was puttering with a wheelbarrow.
Mrs. Whyte entered the living room. It was well furnished with a grey rug, two chesterfields, three easy chairs and a piano. In the kitchen Mrs. Reta McLean was washing a basir. of baby bottles. There were infants everywhere. A room off the kitchen contained ten cribs; there was a similar number in another room off the living room. Upstairs, two small bedrooms each contained six cribs. Physically, the children appeared to be clean and healthy. The house itself was spotless.
One of the features of the house is its religious decorations. In the living room a portrait of Christ in a gilt frame occupies a prominent place. The walls are adorned with plaques bearing religious quotations. On a blackboard were chalked the words, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.”
These words apply to Mrs. Whyte, who is always eager to discuss her faith. At a recent meeting in Oshawa that she attended, the movie projector broke down and the program had to be abandoned. The chairman asked Mrs. Whyte if she would fill in by saying a few words. “Don’t tie me down,” she replied. “I find it hard to talk about God’s work in a few words.” She then spoke effortlessly for thirty minutes. Mrs. Whyte displayed the same fluency and religious zeal in telling me the story of her work.
She and her farmer-husband had moved from rural Saskatchewan with their own five children and settled near Bowmanville in 1944. Some years earlier, they had both “committed their lives to God.” In Bowmanville Mrs. Whyte was
an active member of the Pentecostal church, but she was dissatisfied. “I felt the church was not reaching people. It was too impersonal. It was like going to a banquet and coming away with the feeling that you haven’t eaten.”
It wasn’t until 1948, Mrs. Whyte says, that God showed her the path He had chosen for her. An unemployed man and his wife asked her to take care of their children for two or three weeks while they established themselves. As it turned out, the entire family stayed for three months without paying. Later, Mrs. Whyte repeated the service for another family.
To help renovate the farmhouse, Mrs. Whyte scrubbed floors in Bowmanville. “Everything I ever got in my life I got on my knees—scrubbing and praying,” she says. When the farmhouse was fixed up, the Whytes dedicated their home as “a haven to anybody in need.” She advertised, offering her home to children whose parents couldn’t care for them. The news spread until, in 1955, she had twenty-three children. “God led them to this home,” she says.
Mrs. Whyte’s helpers are motivated by the same religious zeal. Reta McLean worked in an Oshawa lock factory to support her three children after she separated from her husband. She found her life futile and unhappy. Searching for a faith, in turn she became a Baptist, Anglican, United Church member and a Witness of Jehovah. When she visited the haven to enquire about placing her children, she says, “I found all the things that were missing from the other religions. Mrs. Whyte’s beliefs are different from anybody else’s. She lives for others, not herself.”
Mrs. McLean moved into the haven with her three children and, for the past year and a half, has been Mrs. Whyte’s lieutenant. She works in the nursery daily from six a.m. until midnight, making formulas, scrubbing babies, washing and ironing. “But l have more contentment here than I’ve ever had in my life. God is here. Mrs. Whyte has helped me straighten out my own life. Perhaps my marriage wouldn’t have failed had I been the person I am now.”
According to Mrs. McLean, God has a plan for everyone but you have to make an effort to find out what that plan is. That’s one of the reasons, she explains, that radios, TV sets, record players and newspapers are not to be found in the haven. “You are supposed to have your mind on the Lord all the time.”
Sharon Rogerson, who is twenty-five, traveled a much longer route to get to Bowmanville. She had been working in a bank in Miles City, Montana, as an IBM operator to support her four-yearold daughter. Religious differences had led to a separation from her husband. Reading a religious paper late one night, she learned of Mrs. Whyte’s haven. “Right then and there I wrote her a letter,” she says. “God made me do it.” Now she lives at the haven with her daughter.
Mrs. Whyte’s other helpers are Katie Bearinger, a husky woman of twentyeight, with jet-black hair. A former Mennonite who was brought up near Kitchener, she finds satisfaction working at the haven because “Mrs. Whyte builds me up spiritually.” Pop Miller, who comes from Toronto, settled with the Whytes because he wasn’t happy living with relatives. Mrs. Whyte’s other two helpers are a twenty-year-old girl from northern Ontario and an unmarried pregnant girl who’ll stay until after her child is born.
As Mrs. Whyte helped Mrs. McLean wash bottles I asked her how many children she now had. “I don’t know,” she replied, “I’d have to count them first.” I asked the same question of various staff members on three different visits to the haven and I was always given a different figure. My own count revealed eighty. I asked to see the record book. "You're as bad as old Doe Horner (Charlotte Horner).” said Mrs. Whyte. ‘T don’t think I know where it is.” After some searching, she produced a green notebook from a kitchen cupboard. This contained columns for the names, dates of arrival and dates of birth of the children and for the names and addresses of Ihe parents. It covered the period from February 1955 to November 1956. There were fifty-six entries. Here, Mrs. Whyte explained, she’d only listed children over three. She had another book for the infants.
“Men today are sissies,” says Mrs. Whyte. “Women have made them sissies”
The records were not very complete. The addresses of some parents were given as “unknown.” Others gave city addresses c/o General Delivery, or care of a friend. Street numbers were sometimes omitted. The order in which the entries were made was confusing. Six successive entries in 1955 read as follows: May 20, October 31, February 20, August 30. December 2, June 23. Although Mrs. Whyte had previously told me that some children remain with her for only a lew months, there was no record of any child having been withdrawn from the haven.
Two of Mom Whyte's children appear to have lost their identity. Reta McLean told me about them. One. Ruthie, was brought to the haven when she was a few months old by a woman who claimed to be her mother. The woman said she was in a hurry and promised she’d be back the next day. She never returned. Nothing is known about the infant except her first name. Another woman delivered a year-and-a-half-old boy and gave Mrs. Whyte the child’s birth date and name as well as her own name and address. As is her practice, Mrs. Whyte didn’t ask for proof. Later, when familyallowance officials searched birth records, they couldn’t find the birth of the child registered. Obviously, the woman had given a false name. Arranging legal adoptions for such children could end in tragedy since the real parents might turn up some day and want their children back.
Mrs. Whyte forthrightly defends her policy of accepting all children with no questions asked. “Is it better for a child to be drowned or abandoned in a railway station than to be brought here?” she asks. "If a mother or a father hasn’t enough love to keep a child then that child will be abandoned whether our place exists or not.”
After looking over the records, I went back to the dining room for lunch. The children lined up to wash at a basin of water. Because of a poor supply, the same water was used over and over again. The children were orderly and well behaved and the older girls made themselves useful as helpers. The meal consisted of bread and butter, soup and fresh apples for dessert. Before eating, the children said a prayer. The next day lunch was more substantial and consisted of chicken, two vegetables and canned plums for dessert.
I sat at the adults’ table at the end of the hall. Here I met Mrs. Whyte’s husband, a wiry, blue-eyed man whose face and neck are reddened by wind and sun. He still talks with the twang of a man who’s spent most of his life on the prairies. Besides putting in a stint of forty hours a week at a local rubber factory, Bert Whyte spends about six
hours a day working around the haven. "I enjoy this life because we’re living by the Scriptures,” he told me. “It’s not a sacrifice if you enjoy it.” He told me that they lived hand-to-mouth, but somehow were always provided for. “A gas furnace was given to us by a Winnipeg firm, so I engaged a local firm to install it for four hundred dollars. I didn’t have a cent at the time. Today a cheque arrived for $355. That kind of thing is always happening.”
Whyte said his wife is so busy he sometimes doesn’t get a chance to talk to her for two or three days at a time. And he doesn’t get much personal attention. "Haven’t had a pair of matching socks for weeks," he said. Three of the Whyte’s five children (the five arc between the ages of eight and twenty-two) are living at home. Lloyd, fifteen, joined us at the table and told me that if he wanted to tell his mother anything he had to talk on the run.
Mrs. Whyte sat down to eat only after seeing that all the children were settled.
I asked about the background of some of them. One youngster, she told me, had lived for months practically by himself, shut up in a small room while his mother
Clock punchers who are minutes late Get Hades, but they have to wait Until the boss comes in about Ten-thirty for their bawling out.
P. J. BLACKWELL
went away to drink: "No wonder he
couldn’t talk when he came here. He’s doing nicely now.”
Another child, three years old, was badly burned in a fire and sent to hospital. His father was overseas with the army. A few days before he was to return from hospital, his mother deserted him. He left hospital with his hair permanently burned off and no home to go to. Mrs. Whyte took him in at the request of the father who had been brought home.
Another guest was a thin, mentally retarded eleven-year-old, badly crippled by polio. "When he came to us he could hardly walk or talk and just wanted to stay in bed all day,” said Mrs. Whyte. “Look at him now. He can carry on a simple conversation and he can sometimes walk straight. The other chiidren are kind to him.”
Mrs. Whyte is strongly opposed to putting mentally retarded children into institutions. “Put them with their own kind and they stay the same. In a place like ours the brighter children help them move ahead.”
The children themselves told me something about the hardships they had suffered in their own homes. A fair-haired boy of ten told me of his last few days at home: "I woke up and went into the next room and found Daddy in bed with another lady. I asked him ‘Where’s Mom?’ He told me she had run away and that he couldn’t take care of us any more. Four days later we were taken to Mrs. Whyte.”
An eight-year-old girl said, “We get better food here than we did at home because my father was in jail and my mother and me were all alone.” A fiveyear-old recalled, “My father and mother would fight and then one night I remember my mother was all cut here (indicating his chest) and the police came.”
Mrs. Whyte’s meal was interrupted by a telephone call. Somebody phoned to tell her that the mother of three of her children was going to consult a lawyer about getting the youngsters back. Mrs. Whyte later explained that the mother was not fit to have her children: she was an alcoholic and had deserted them on six previous occasions. Yet there was nothing she could do legally to retain custody of the youngsters. "I’ll pray for them,” she said. (Under Children’s Aid Society regulations, a child who has beer legally made a temporary ward can’t be returned to his parents until a court rules the parents qualified to resume care of him.)
Mrs. Whyte returned to the table to explain why she was being called on to take care of so many children. “There are more broken homes than ever before and most of it can be blamed on modern women. Most women today are taught to be career girls, not mothers as God intended them to be. No married woman should work outside her home.” Women are discontented because what with electrical appliances and canned and frozen foods they haven’t got enough to do. “They start playing bridge and pretty soon, to add excitement, they play for money and have cocktails. When they find out they’re going to have a baby they growl about it. No woman should practice birth control,” she added. And men? “Men today arc sissies because women have made them sissies.”
Mrs. Whyte also deplored present-day conformity. She refuses to follow the current fashion in hairdressing and clothes. "And I’m the same about religion,” she said. "I choose to be an individual. We are not meant to be like cattle or sheep.”
After lunch Mrs. Whyte excused herself because she had an errand in Oshawa. I wandered over to the basement of the adjoining dormitory where Ingrid Carlson, a slim attractive girl of twentyfive, was conducting her one-room school. There are twenty-three pupils in her class, in grades one to five. The school was organized this fall as the result of criticism that many of the Whyte children were not receiving an education. Mrs. Whyte couldn’t use the local schools because the parents of the children were not local residents—a requirement for admission. Last year some of the children were transported daily to Oshawa to attend a private school conducted by the Seventh-Day Adventists, but that wasn’t satisfactory — instruction for twenty or more children cost too much.
A solution presented itself when Miss Carlson, a qualified teacher with six years’ experience, volunteered her services. She had temporarily interrupted her teaching career near Kirkland Lake, Ont., to go to a Bible college. “Teaching was never enough for me,” she says. “I also wanted missionary work. It’s such a thrill teaching children to know Christ.” She had heard of Mrs. Whyte. Then one day late last summer, while motoring from Toronto to Sudbury, she missed a turn on the highway and, when forty-five miles off her course, found herself at Mrs. Whyte’s doorstep. “God led me here.” she believes.
After school the children romped around the farm, and Mrs. Whyte returned from Oshawa. “We let them run off their energy outside; that’s why they’re so well behaved inside,” she said. She claims to have few problems in discipline. “They say I can’t be a mother to them all, out I can. I know each of my children as individuals. I know exactly how to discipline them. Some need a paddling, but for others going to bed without dessert or a meal is better.” To keep the children busy Mrs. Whyte organizes wiener roasts and swimming and baseball games in the summer and skating and hockey in the winter.
After supper the children amused themselves as best they could. A good supply of books was lacking. At bedtime each child said prayers. “We never teach the children to pray,” says Mrs. Whyte. “They make up their own prayers and speak to God as if in conversation.” Most of the children ask God to bless Mom and Pop Whyte, and thank Him for the gas furnace or oil supply or whatever the mos*t recent blessings have been. Every child is kissed by Mrs. Whyte before going to bed. “We pick up our children and cuddle and kiss them as much as possible,” she says.
Convinced that she’s following God’s plan and providing a loving home for homeless children, Mrs. Whyte is sometimes puzzled and hurt by criticism against her. Her real difficulties with officialdom began in 1955 when she had twenty-three children. Because she accepted no fees Mrs. Whyte didn't have to meet standards set by the Ontario Department of Public Welfare. But she was subject to certain regulations in the Public Health Act pertaining to overcrowding. Dr. Charlotte Horner warned her that packing so many people in one house was unhealthy as well as dangerous. Stuart Ryan, the county solicitor, says, “I was obsessed with the fear of fire.” In the fall of 1955 the situation at the haven was temporarily eased when a private citizen collected five thousand dollars for materials for a new dormitory, and union members at the General Motors plant in Oshawa built it.
But by the spring of 1956 Mrs. Whyte’s brood had grown to fifty and she was in financial trouble. A possible solution was to register her haven under the Ontario Charitable Institutions Act and thus become eligible for assistance. Accordingly, she instructed her firm of Oshawa lawyers, McGibbon and Bastedo. to apply to the Ontario welfare department. As a result her premises were inspected by department officials on various occasions. They didn’t like what they saw and their reports described the ways in which Mrs. Whyte’s haven failed to meet provincial standards: “Serious overcrowding . . . staff too limited . . . serious hazards of fire ... no nurse employed ... inadequate recreation ... no isolation facilities ... no library . . . Mrs.
Whyte does not possess the necessary experience or training.”
By July, Mrs. Whyte’s distaste for officialdom led her to a change of heart. An Ontario government official who visited her at that time reported that “Mrs. Whyte does not wish to come under the Charitable Institutions Act due to the fact that certain supervision and standards would be insisted on. She does not wish any outside interference.” It was at this time, too, that the Mom Whyte affair was lifted out of the legal sphere to be fought out before public opinion. Sympathetic stories about her blossomed in newspapers, radio and television. Gifts Hooded into the haven and, as a result, Mrs. Whyte was more determined than ever to run her own show.
It was an Oshawa reporter, Farley Faulkner, who was chiefly responsible for Mrs. Whyte’s rise to national and international prominence. Faulkner, now in his forties and known as an aggressive public-relations man, did more than write stories about Mrs. Whyte for his newspaper. In August 1956 he went to see Keith Ross, secretary-treasurer of the Oshawa District Labor Council, and
explained, correctly, that some of Mrs. Whyte's children might be removed unless she could provide larger accommodation. He gave Ross a glowing account of Mrs. Whyte’s work. As a result, the “Mom” Whyte Fund was established. The committee in charge was made up of ten members—five union members and five prominent Oshawa citizens. Some six thousand dollars was raised for materials, the labor was contributed by union members and the dormitory was completed. Mrs. Whyte was allowed to keep her children.
Faulkner has recently left his Oshawa newspaper job and now, apparently, spends a good deal of his time publicizing the Whyte haven. It was he who arranged for Mrs. Whyte’s appearance on the TV show I've Got a Secret. Faulkner is said now to be in Hollywood, trying to interest cowboy star Gene Autry in some scheme that would involve Mrs. Whyte and her children.
Mrs. Whyte is not averse to such promotion since every time she appears on radio or TV the public showers money and gifts on hcr. “I don’t like publicity,”
says Mrs. Whyte, “but if it weren’t for all the attention we got we wouldn't have had as much help to carry on our work. We have never approached anyone for publicity. It comes to us. We take it like anything else that comes from the Lord.” However, on at least a few occasions, Mrs. Whyte has taken the initiative. She once approached George James of the Bowmanville Statesman, asking him to publicize her work with a view to obtaining public support. On another occasion she visited the CBO-TV studios in Toronto, requesting a spot on the popular daily show, Tabloid. Mrs. Whyte has great respect for the power of television. After the I’ve Got a Secret show she observed, “It gave us the opportunity to show many people how God helps those who believe. It’s God’s plan that Christian people support my work, but many of them don’t. On the other hand, many worldly people do.”
Mrs. Whyte places the Christians of Bowmanvillc as probably the most uncooperative. “Once,” Mrs. Whyte recalls somewhat bitterly, “a committee of Bowmanville church ladies came to visit me,
presumably to inspect my haven. They came in their expensive furs, fine dresses and perfumes and earrings, and said there was no need for my haven because there was a Children’s Aid Society. None of them has as much as washed a diaper for me!”
Perhaps the most thoughtful comment I heard about Mrs. Whyte in Bowmanville was made by an elected official. He said, “I’m afraid of Mom Whyte’s dreams.” In the hassle over religious upbringing, poorly kept records and fire hazards, Mrs. Whyte’s grandiose plans
for the future have been all but overlooked. They are Messianic in proportion. She says, “Our place is a haven for all unwanted and troubled people—children, old people, entire families. We will have apartments, cottages and finally a whole village.” In time she foresees that people trained in Bowmanville will spread out and establish havens throughout Canada; later, throughout the world.
“This is the starting place,” says Reta McLean. “The Lord will show Mom where He wants the other havens. It’s whatever the Lord wants.” +