Google Image Photo–Edward Norris – “”I worked hard – I was slapped” he recalls. “Sometimes I thought of my mother, in despair, and started to cry”.
When I grew up in the Eastern Townships I used to hear stories about the British Home children from my Grandparents that had arrived from England in the early 1900s and made Cowansville, Quebec their home. They never really stated anything was horribly wrong, but the looks on their faces made me understand all was not well. I just felt that the words Home Children was a dirty word.
To tell you the truth I never really thought about it much until I moved to Lanark County, Ontario where a large number of children had been also sent. Sometimes I heard stories that made me embarrassed to be a Canadian. After I watched a few documentaries about them I wondered if Canada had been in the same league as slave labour.
On Saturday at the Lanark County Genealogical Society meeting, Gloria F. Tubman told us about the 129,000 British Home Children (alleged orphans) were sent to Canada by over 50 British Child Care organizations from 1870-1957.
These 4-15 year old children worked as farm labourers and domestic servants until they were 18 years old. The organizations professed a dominant motive of providing these children with a better life than they would have had in Britain, but they had other ignoble and pecuniary motives.
Photo- Google Image-Edith Hutchinson – “My first assignment was at a ministers house. I did not like his wife. She told me all Barnardo Children came from the slums and I replied that I had as good a home as she. She did not send me back to Hazel Brae but sent me to a farmer down the road where I was happy”.
The UK organizations began to rid themselves of an unwanted segment of their society and profited when they “sold” these children to Canadian farmers. Siblings in care in Britain were suddenly separated from their families and each other when they were sent to Canada. Most never saw each other again. Many spent their lives trying to identify their parents and find their siblings and most were unsuccessful.
A letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen March 16 1928. B. Roberts Barnardo boy writes from Lanark, Ontario.
After arriving by steerage, the children (300-400 per boat) were sent to distributing and receiving homes, such as Fairknowe in Brockville, MacPherson sisters in Belleville, Dr. Bernado in Peterborough and Toronto and then sent on to farmers in the area. Although many of the children were poorly treated and abused, some did experience a better life here than if they had remained in the urban slums of England. Many served with the Canadian and British Forces during both World Wars.
A month ago I wrote a story about local Western migration and how young men 18 and up were offered land grants. It seems a lot of the male home children were offered the same deal in Russell, Manitoba, but were underwritten by Dr. Bernardo. They would give them what they needed as long as they paid it back in 5 years.
Doris Frayne – “Canadians just wanted to used me as a scullery-maid”.
Many believed that these children would have a better chance for a healthy, moral life in rural Canada, where families welcomed them as a source of cheap farm labour and domestic help. So did these agencies make money bringing these children to Canada? According to the site British Home Children & Child Migrants in Canada– the government began to provide a grant of $2 per child brought into Canada. This clearly expressed the governments approval of the importation of child labourers. Interesting also to note is that there was no bonus paid for children who came from the workhouses in England.
1894 Bonus Report
These children arrived in Canada with the usual kit given to child immigrants: a Bible, a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, writing materials, a brush and comb, a work bag with needles, thread and worsted for darning. All this was packed into a wooden trunk along with a nicely trimmed dress and hat for Sabbath wear and a wincey dress (made of a plain or twilled fabric), a dark hat for winter, a liberal supply of underclothing for summer and winter, three pairs of boots, four pairs of stockings, gloves, collars, aprons, pinafores and a warm hood.
They thought they were doing a favour to these children– but were they? Certainly a dark period of Canada’s history.
William Price – “To be a home boy—it’s so hard to explain—there’s a certain stigma. I know that for a fact. You’re just in a class. You’re an orphan. Years ago you counted as dirt. You were a nobody. That was only common sense. You were alone in the world.”
Julie–My grandmother Alice Anne Newby and her older sister Louise and younger sister Emily were also taken to the Bernardo home from England. The little one was adopted by a family in Toronto. My grandmother and older sister were sent out to families to work. At 17 my grandmother was given a new dress and told she was going to marry. She was sent off with my grandfather Ora Cooper who was in his 40s to be married. They lived in Knowlton, Quebec and had 6 children.
Sheila Perry-My grandmother, Elizabeth Cowley, came over on the SS Parisian in 1900 from a Liverpool home, connected with The Barnados Home. Her mother and father had died and she was passed around amongst her siblings , and then sent to the home as they could not keep her. She was 13 when she came over with other Barnados children. She landed in Halifax , then on to the Knowlton Home, in Knowlton, Quebec. From here she was sent to different farms to work. At one she was abused , and the keeper from the home rescued her and brought her back to the home in Knowlton.She had left 3 sisters and a brother back in England . There were letters sent back and forth between her sister and a friend Polly , but she never saw her siblings , or any of her family ever again. She met my grandfather, Arthur Perry, and married and had 8 children, one being my Dad, Lawrence Perry.
Photo-British Home Children in Canada—Knowlton Distributing Home, Quebec
Quebec Eastern Townships Information
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