Lanark Steam Threshing Machine, about 1900. Photo by Robert J Stead
“He Fired the Barn” was the Ottawa Jourmal Headline in 1895.
In October of 1895 the Children’s Aid Society was making inquiries in town about a lad with the last name of Allan. It seems the boy in a mindless minute of youth set fire to the outbuildings belonging to William Powell of Nepean. Last heard the boy had gone home to his father in Carleton Place.
A few weeks later young Frederick C. Allen, age 12, was arrested by County Constable McLaughlin for setting fire to a barn containing 86 tons of hay. Mr William Powell’s barn and contents were destroyed to a tune of over $600. Frederick pleaded guilty with his father from Carleton Place standing by his side. His Mother had passed, but he still had a brother and sister living.
The young boy had been working with a farmer in North Gower until recently and only been working for Mr. Powell for a few days. He would not give any reason for doing the deed. The boy was a bright intelligent fellow, but could not say anything about his religion. Magistrate Dawson remanded him in order to procure evidence after which he will be committed to stand trial.
Ontario society in those days depended upon religious or charitable organizations and volunteer community groups to care for neglected or abandoned children. Some children who had been neglected or abandoned entered apprenticeships, some were given a temporary or permanent home in return for their labour/domestic service, while others were placed in orphanages or shelters staffed by volunteers. Children who turned to crimes for survival were until the end of the 19th century placed with adults in the same prison.
Nineteenth century Canada was seen as a land of opportunity to many in Britain and Europe. New immigrant families who were unable to flourish in Canada faced harsh realities riddled with draught, disease and periods of economic depression. Children were abandoned to the streets, placed as apprentices or expected to work long hours in unsanitary factory conditions. Orphanages, infant homes and shelters provided some residential placements for homeless children who remained there until 12 or 13 with guardianship transferred by indenture or through apprenticeships.