I didn’t head to distant shores or chase the roads today. Rather, I did some research on a local who’s captured my interest: Sarah Corning—born in Chegoggin (Yarmouth County) in 1872. She’s in the centre of this photo, looking at the camera. The photo was taken with orphans in Greece.
Sarah saved thousands of Armenian orphans in the 1920s. It’s an extraordinary story, and one that was brought to my attention by Susie Sweeney, (the same friend who joined us for tea in Weymouth on Day 9, and who also gave me the lowdown on Yarmouth’s historic houses on Day 21.)
Back to Sarah Corning. After finishing high school in Yarmouth, Sarah did something unusual for a young woman of her time—she went to New Hampshire and became a registered nurse. Several years later, hearing about the Halifax Explosion, she came back to Nova Scotia to help the injured and those in need.
Shortly after that, Sarah joined the American Red Cross and eventually became part of the Near East Relief… an NGO that helped thousands of orphaned children. At one point, the city of Smyrna in Turkey was in flames and Sarah helped to lead thousands of children to the waterfront where they boarded American ships and were transported to Greece. There, Sarah helped establish orphanages on the island of Syra to care for the children.
In June 1923, Sarah was invited to Athens along with the office director for Near East Relief where King George II presented each one with a medal called “The Cross of the Order of St. Xavier.” Recounting this story in an alumni newsletter, Sarah added, “… [this] made me a Knight. I got a big thrill shaking hands with a King. A short time later Queen Elizabeth of Greece came out to my orphanage to see what we taught the orphans etc., so it was my privilege to entertain her.”
The following year, Sarah returned to Turkey where she continued to work and care for orphans. After she retired (in the 1940s?) Sarah returned to her childhood home in Chegoggin. She died in 1969 and is buried in the Chegoggin Cemetery, which is on my growing “must-visit” cemetery list.
The third photo may be tough to see, but it is a group photo of a large number of orphans. It was sent to Sarah signed “Armenian Orphans of Marvosava, April 23, 1923,” with the following inscription:
The Armenian orphans, who are called to form this new union, remember you at this occasion when they are being transferred from Pedi PSOS (?) To Kavala.
At the Orphanage in Karsovan you put forth unfailing efforts for the benefit of the Orphans which will be always appreciated and repaid by them wherever they may be.
I’ve enjoyed reading lots of material about Sarah and browsing through photos at the Yarmouth County Museum & Archives. The above three photos are from the museum; the one below is one I took downstairs where there’s a special exhibit with Sarah’s nursing uniform and cape and several personal items including her passport and the medal she was awarded from the King of Greece.
As well, thanks again to Susie Sweeney, I learned about the Sara Corning Centre for Genocide Education, which is located in Toronto. (Note how her name is spelled. Apparently both Sarah and Sara are on her headstone).
Point of interest: In 2004, the Canadian Government passed a bill recognizing the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks, and His Holiness Karekin II, the spiritual leader of the Armenian Church, issued an Encyclical which was delivered to Sarah’s relatives. It starts off, “MESSAGE OF BLESSING,” and pays tribute to the nurse/educator and her unwavering efforts to save the Armenian orphans. A copy is at the museum in Yarmouth.
As I said, it’s quite a story!
PS: Susie researched and wrote the content for an interpretive panel about Sarah Corning, which is destined to be installed in Frost Park. I’ve seen a draft and the design is stunning. Hope the town installs it before the next millennium.