Edward Ambrose wants to be like his father ̵1; a mentor, a hard worker, a proud family man.
More than 60 years later, Ambrose receives shocking news. That man was not his father.
“When you come from a loving family and something like this happens, it destroys you,” says Ambrose from his home in Winnipeg.
Halfway across the country in Sechelt, B.C., Richard Beauvais also woke up to his sense of identity. After facing racism and being sent to a residential day school, Beauvais learns that she is not indigenous.
The 67-year-old man was switched at birth.
Ambrose and Beauvais were born on June 28, 1955, at a hospital in the community of Arbor, north of Winnipeg. Somehow both went home with each other’s relatives.
It was the piece of a puzzle that neither man was looking for, but one that unexpectedly and unexpectedly bound their past and future together. It will send one on a quest for indigenous culture and leave the other questioning what its loss means.
“How could something like this happen?” Ambrose asks.
Their lawyer, Bill Gange, said he has requested Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon meet with the two men “to find a way to respond to the loss”. He said provincial lawyers have said Manitoba has no legal obligation and will not pay any compensation.
Gordon’s office on Monday declined a request for an interview and released a statement detailing the state of health care prior to the start of the medical emergency. “In 1955 the Arborg Hospital was not under the control and direction of the Manitoba Department of Health.”
An online federal government list of health centers nationwide from that year lists the municipally-owned Arborg Medical Nursing Unit, which has eight beds and cribs and four bassinets.
The Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority said personal health information could not be discussed for privacy reasons.
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The search for truth began innocently enough. Beauvais built an ancestor kit on a house he received as a gift. Came back saying he was Ukrainian and Jewish. This was a blow to Beauvais, who was picked up by Matisse.
She called a cousin to ask what the chances were that she was adopted. But the cousin said she had him at the hospital just days after he was born. They came up with other theories about the consequences, then life went on. It slipped his thoughts, says Beauvais.
Back in Manitoba, Ambrose’s sister also made ancestral kits at home. Her results showed a brother living in British Columbia. She was confused but reached out. It was Beauvais.
Once Sister and Beauvais learned that both men were born on the same day in the same small hospital, things became more clear.
Ambrose says he couldn’t believe it at first. He accompanied his sister to Winnipeg to undergo further testing, thinking it would put her mind at ease. In the end, it was shown that they were not biological siblings.
“It actually made me really torn up. It tears something out of your body. It rips your heart out. It’s your family,” Ambrose says.
The switch as infants led both men down completely different life paths.
Beauvais says his father died young and his mother struggled to raise him and his siblings in St. Laurent, a historically Métis community on the shores of Lake Manitoba. It was a difficult childhood but “we seemed normal,” says Beauvais.
He says he has a scar on his leg after being cut with a beer bottle while scavenging for food at the dump. He remembers being picked on and bullied for being indigenous.
Eventually, Beauvais and his siblings were taken care of. He bounced between foster homes until he landed with the Pole family, who he calls his safe haven and support to this day.
He became a commercial fisherman and moved to British Columbia. He became a husband and father.
He was always proud of his Metis roots. Knowing the truth that he is not Metis brought with him a deep sense of loss.
“All of a sudden I realized I’m not a Native. It really bothered me.
It was also difficult to call his sisters, Leona Barker and Valerie Bowes, and tell them that they are not biologically related.
Beauvais says that when they were separated as children, the siblings stayed close via phone calls. He says his sisters had an even more difficult childhood, but their bond bound them together and gave them strength.
“I don’t break down and I don’t cry. But I did on both of those calls,” Beauvais says.
Ambrose says that he too experienced the loss. He has fond memories of growing up in Rembrandt, a farming community south of Aarborg. But his mother died in 1964 and his father three years later. Ambrose was 12 years old.
“He was my giant,” Ambrose says of his father.
Ambrose was shuffled between relatives, then placed with a foster family who adopted him. He also grew up, married, became a father and built a life.
He says, at first, to learn the truth about his parents was overwhelming. But now, he’s trying to figure out what good can come of it.
The men who learned they were switched at birth call on the federal government to get them screened.
He is learning about his Métis heritage and applying to become a citizen of the Manitoba Métis Federation.
Barker and Boice – his biological sisters whom he has come to know – are helping him on that journey. Barker lives only minutes away and Boise helped organize a family reunion.
“When I first saw Valeria, I saw myself,” says Ambrose. “There is so much of him in me… It is difficult to explain. Someone you don’t know about – it’s your sister.
This is the third known case of swapping at birth in Manitoba.
Norman Barkman and Luke Monias of Garden Hill First Nation, a fly-in community 400 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg, revealed in 2015 that DNA testing proved they were switched at birth in 1975 at Norway House Indian Hospital were done.
Later, DNA tests revealed that two men from the Norway House Cree Nation, Leon Swanson and David Tait, Jr., had been born at the same hospital earlier that year.
‘We want answers so bad’: 2 Manitoba men switched at birth and make emotional plea