Wee Robert's Song

This song by The Kilts is dedicated to young Robert Sidey, a boy with Down’s syndrome who was institutionalized at the Huronia Institution in 1956 at the age of three. He died there of untreated pneumonia in 1961.

Text by Nelle Oosterom

October 10, 2013

In September 2013 former residents of the Huronia institution in Orillia, Ontario, reached an out of court settlement with the Ontario government.

This song, by The Kilts, is dedicated to young Robert Sidey, a boy with Down’s syndrome who was institutionalized at Huronia in 1956 at the age of three. He died there of untreated pneumonia in 1961.

Robert’s death had a profound impact on his sister, Marilyn Sidey (now Dolmage), who went on to work for the rights of people labelled with intellectual disabilities and helped two former Huronia residents launch the class action suit that led to a $35 million settlement for former residents of Huronia.

The song is entitled “Surrounded by this Whole Huge World” and is performed by Thom Kilts (vocals, banjo, percussion, guitars) Sarah Kilts ( vocals, bass), Francois Ouellette (melodeon) and Jim Dolmage (fiddle).

Wee Robert music and lyrics composed by Jim Dolmage to tell the story of the brother-in-law he never met. This song is on the band's CD Surrounded by This Whole Huge World:

Well Robert as a wee lad you never knew home
Cast out as a baby and left all alone
Your brother and sister forever to roam
And cope with those parents who should have known

Well the parents were Christians believed you might say
Went to church and at night yeah they prayed every day
Yet had no room in their hearts to find a way
For the lovely dark eyed Robert with them to stay

Oh the brother and sister wanted a new baby boy
But in that sad house there was no baby joy
No one talked of him no pictures on display
Lovely little Robert was shipped far away.

Well he was passed from place to place you see
Until he was left for all eternity
In a place they called a Hospital School
Just a dumping ground so heartless and cruel

Oh where was the love oh where was the love
Oh where was the love where was the love

Only eight years old and coughing so bad
The doctors refused to treat the wee lad
I hope someone held his lovely hand
As he was sent off to some god promised land

Well you see he was loved and has left behind
People who care and still bring him to mind
And it’s a lovely lad they see in their thoughts
Remembering Robert who’ll not be forgot.

Instrumental break

At birth parents hear - you’ve children at home
Focus on them and leave this one alone
This leads to a life of loss and regret
Foregoing love and choosing neglect

Well the baby would have laughed and certainly smiled
Kissed them goodnight as a wee loving child
But that was a dream never to be
Bad advice is cheap - but it’s never free.

Oh where was the love Oh where was the love
Oh where was the love where was the love.

A story about the institution by Heather Robertson entitled  “Heartbreak in Huronia” appeared in Canada’s History magazine October-November 2013.

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