Canada October 01, 2020
New film grapples with ‘one of the biggest secrets’ in Canadian history
The B.C. Catholic continues a series on forced adoption in Canada with part 2. This week, a Senate report that called for an apology, a new documentary, and a sister’s perspective. See links to additional stories at the end.
It is “one of the biggest secrets” of Canadian history, according to Toronto filmmaker Colin Scheyen.
In Canada, after the Second World War, an estimated 350,000 unwed mothers were forced, by government agencies, social workers, churches, and their families to give up their children for adoption.
“It’s something in our society that we haven’t really grappled with and taken a deep and sincere look at.”
So Scheyen has. Earlier this year he released Mum’s the Word, a documentary that reveals the sincere and heartbreaking stories of women who were coerced into giving up their children in secret and the adoptees who struggled for a sense of self and fought to learn who their birth parents were.
“Unwed mothers were forced to lose their children not because they were bad people or because they would be bad parents, but because they were unmarried,” Scheyen told The B.C. Catholic. “That was the only reason.”
For every one of those 350,000 mothers who were isolated, deceived, given no option to parent their children, and left with lifelong emotional scars, there was one child and one father also impacted, said Scheyen. “Then, if we think about it from the standpoint of brothers, sisters, cousins, we’re talking about the story of millions of people.”
Scheyen travelled across the country, from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island, interviewing mothers, adoptees, and counsellors for the documentary. He took an educational approach, dividing up the complex issue into interactive segments that could be watched one at a time or all at once.
“The user can go as deep as you want to go,” he said. “These are not easy stories to listen to or to watch – they can be very heavy – but people will come to these stories if they see value in honouring what was lost.”
At least three North American film festivals are honouring what was lost in the form of praise for Mum’s the Word. Scheyen’s documentary took first place in the mental health category at Yorkton Film Festival’s Golden Sheaf Awards and won Best New Media at the Houston Film Festival’s World Fest this summer.
Mum’s the Word was also nominated for Best Documentary Series and Best Canadian Series at T.O. Webfest in Toronto.
“I am so delighted, I am still prancing with pride,” said Bernadette Dumas-Rymer, a mother featured in the documentary who was 19 years old when her parents dropped her off at a Lower Mainland home for unwed mothers to deliver and give away her child.
“I am relieved that finally people outside our adoption loss community are starting to recognize that our history is real, factual, and very well documented – thanks to a cast of brave advocates who continue to raise their voices and encourage us to raise our voices.”
Scheyen hopes the documentary puts flesh on a little-known piece of Canadian history and highlights the precious role of motherhood.
“The fact that hundreds of thousands of mothers in Canada, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, were denied the right to motherhood, it speaks greatly to how we value the role of mothers in society,” he said.
Motherhood is “without question the most important relationship we can have on this planet. But if our social services and churches are telling us (women) are inadequate to it because they don’t fit into the mould those in power want it to be, it shows how far we still have to go.”
Scheyen has a background in social work and focuses on community, identity, and social issues in his films. He has also produced Nuclear Hope, a documentary on the impact of nuclear waste in rural Ontario.
“A lot of filmmakers come into communities, capture the story, and then run away. That’s not the type of filmmaking I do,” he said.
“There’s a reason [Mum’s the Word] took four years and that’s because from day one we wanted to work with people from the community and we wanted them to teach us.”
The full documentary project can be viewed at www.mumsthewordthefilm.com.