Edward Ambrose recalls wanting to be like his father—a mentor, a diligent worker, and a proud family man. More than sixty years later, Ambrose was presented with shocking news: the man he thought was his father was not. “When something like this happens in a loving family, it destroys you,” says Ambrose from his Winnipeg home.
On the other side of the country in Sechelt, B.C., Richard Beauvais also had his sense of self challenged. After facing racism and being sent to a residential day school, Beauvais discovered he was not Indigenous. The 67-year-old men had been switched at birth.
Ambrose and Beauvais were both born on June 28, 1955, at a hospital in Arborg, north of Winnipeg. Somehow, they had gone home with each other’s families. This unexpected connection tied their pasts and futures together, leaving Ambrose to ponder, “How can something like this happen?”
Their lawyer, Bill Gange, has asked Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon to meet with the two men in order to “respond to the harm suffered.” However, the province’s lawyers have stated that Manitoba has no legal liability and will not offer compensation. Gordon’s office declined an interview request and issued a statement that alluded to the state of health care before the introduction of medicare.
The discovery of the truth began when Beauvais did an at-home ancestry kit as a gift. It revealed he was Ukrainian and Jewish, which came as a shock since he was raised Métis. After speaking to a cousin, they explored other theories, but life went on and the results were forgotten.
Back in Manitoba, Ambrose’s sister also did an at-home ancestry kit. Her results showed a brother living in British Columbia. She contacted him, and they soon realized they were both born on the same day in the same small hospital.
The switch as babies led both men down completely different life paths. Beauvais’ father died young and his mother struggled to raise him and his siblings in Saint Laurent, a historically Métis community. He experienced racism and poverty, and eventually was taken into care. He later became a commercial fisherman and moved to British Columbia. Learning that he was not Métis has brought a profound sense of loss.
Ambrose’s mother passed away in 1964 and his father died three years later. He was placed with a foster family who adopted him. At first, learning the truth was overwhelming, but now he is trying to explore the good that can come from it. He is learning about his Métis heritage and applying to become a citizen of the Manitoba Métis Federation. His biological sisters are helping him on that journey.
This is the third known case of babies switched at birth in Manitoba. Norman Barkman and Luke Monias of Garden Hill First Nation revealed in 2015 that DNA tests proved they were switched at birth at the Norway House Indian Hospital in 1975. Later, DNA tests showed two men from Norway House Cree Nation, Leon Swanson and David Tait, Jr., were switched at birth at the same hospital earlier that year.