Sad Memories of the Waifs and Strays Society

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Sad Memories of the Waifs and Strays Society

 

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In the Almonte, Ontario Gazette July 2, 1897 a news items caught my eye on the front page. 

Almonte, Ontario Gazette July 2, 1897

A party of young people from Mrs. Birt’s Sheltering Home, Liverpool, England, is expected to arrive in Knowlton, Que., about July 20th. The majority of  children are under 10 years of age; a few boys and girls from 12 to 16.

Photos of younger ones, can be sent to parties needing children: or adoption. Applications accompanied by railway fares and minister’s recommendations will be supplied first. If possible, notice will be sent when to meet the children. Address, Mrs. Louisa Birt, Knowlton, P. Q.

 

If you have no idea about one of Canada’s dirtiest little secrets, the British Home Children were placed in a foster home upon their arrival from the UK, usually a farm, where some were treated no better than slaves until they reached adulthood. From 1869 to 1948 more than 100,000 children were immigrated from Great Britain to work on farms in the rapidly growing rural communities across Canada.

Most of these children were generally forbidden to leave their new foster homes and were not paid for their labours. The program was created with good intentions and the promise of a better life, but its results were often tragic. A lot of children were abused and neglected, and some never spoke of what they had endured to their future children and grandchildren.

After I read the newspaper clipping I felt overwhelmed and I composed some fictional words that maybe would be have been written by a young boy living on a farm in Lanark County after someone had replied to the the Knowlton home ad.

 

 

The Story of George

Farm life in Ontario was dreariness in itself years ago when they began to train us little orphans to lead lives of usefulness. Other children weren’t as fortunate as myself from what my mate told me and some were beaten and treated like dogs. In 1897, my brother and I were placed at separate (but neighbouring) Lanark County farms after someone read an advert in the newspaper. In Knowlton they had placed a comment beside our names stating that my brother and I should be placed near each other. In actuality, however, we were not allowed the privilege of visiting–presumably, so we would learn to accept our new circumstances.

At that time neither of us saw anything outside of our own little neighbourhood from one year’s end to the other. Each morning’s sun showed us both the same stretch of woodland and meadow, and its dying rays in setting lit up the same hills and valleys. There was no change to the monotony, nothing to give fresh zest to life, or a new stimulus to ambition and ideas for the children that no one wanted.

My range of vision has been widened since I left my servitude. Improved roads, better facilities for travel by railway, the bicycle and an increase in wealth now enable me to see a great many miles from the side line on which I now live. Minds are made more active by a change of scene; fresh ideas are developed by experience of what others are doing: ambition is strengthened by the increase of knowledge. After completing my farm apprenticeship even the old home itself reveals new beauties to faculties quickened by observation of distant localities. I am finally learning to see how others live, and no one has a monopoly on me in either of the joys or sorrows of life.

I was told of letters from my Mother begging for her sons to be returned to her as she had only agreed to leave her boys for a short time at the Liverpool Sheltering Home on the advice of her doctor. It has been heartwarming to know my brother and I were not “abandoned” by our English family, but were, instead, the unfortunate victims of circumstances beyond our control.  My brother ended up dying at an early age, and today I mourn the loss of my family in England and my sibling. I still live with pain, a pain I will take to my grave. I would like to think that my Mother knew what her children went through all those years in a strange country–even if she didn’t see it for herself.

 

 

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historicalnotes

Please note that I did not make up this name “the Waifs and Strays Society” in the title. This is what the British Home Children were referred to in many newspaper articles I read yesterday.:(

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Louisa Birt with some of the Knowlton children–year and children unknown–Photo Canadian Home Children

 

Louisa Birt was the sister of Annie Macpherson, both of whom worked with destitute children. Mrs. Birt became the head of the Liverpool Sheltering Home in 1873, the same year in which she started sending children to Canada.

From 1873 to 1876, approximately 550 Birt children were placed in homes in Nova Scotia by Colonel James Wimburn Laurie.

Annie Macpherson no longer needed her receiving and distribution home in Knowlton, Quebec, so Mrs. Birt began using the Knowlton Home in 1877.  took in 4858 boys and girls between 1872 and 1912.

Mrs. Birt also brought children over from the Christ Church Homes, Claughton, Birkenhead, and various British Unions and industrial schools.

In 1910, Lilian Birt took over from her mother in Liverpool. Emigration decreased during the war years and the Knowlton Home was closed in 1915. After the war, the work of the Macpherson homes and the Liverpool Sheltering Home was combined. The Birt children were sent to the Macpherson homes in Stratford, Ontario, and after 1920 to the Marchmont Home in Belleville.

The Liverpool Sheltering Home continued with its emigration work until it was absorbed by Barnardo’s Homes in 1925. Library and Archives Canada

 

comments

Shanon wrote…
Linda, thanks for taking the time and doing the research for this post. My GGrandfather was a BHC from North Yorkshire who came to live/work on the farm of James & Sarah McElroy in Lanark County.
He and his siblings came to Canada in 1889 (possibly April) I have no information about his life before arriving here and very little about his time as an indentured farm laborer. I have no information on his siblings at all.
It was only after he became an adult that records exist. He became an electrician/laborer on the Rideau Canal at Andrewsville Locks ON, he served in WW1 with the 156th Batt, he returned to his job after the war at which time I lost track of him once again. I believe he is buried in Merrickville but have been unable to verify that information. Keep up the good work and please do more posts on this subject.
Joyce Murray My father was a home child he landed in Halifax 1930 from the orphanage he was youngest of seven children. His both parents died he lived with his grandmother on her death bed if they send you to Canada go you would have a better life. Forty years ago when we were burying my brother in Merrickville my father pointed out a farm that we passed by he said they were nice people to work for that they allowed you to sleep in the house and you could eat at the table and he got his first new pair of boots then. He had worked at another farm near by and was lucky that someone showed up in Feb. to check on him he was living in the barn with no heat and his toes of his boots were cut out because they were too small, and they transfer him to the new farm. My father went on to help build the Alaska highway and then became electrician and work for NRC until his retirement.

 

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)

 

relatedreading

The Wright Brothers– British Home Children

Canadians Just Wanted to Use me as a Scullery-Maid

Laundry Babies – Black Market Baby BMH 5-7-66

 

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About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

2 responses »

  1. Linda, thanks for taking the time and doing the research for this post. My GGrandfather was a BHC from North Yorkshire who came to live/work on the farm of James & Sarah McElroy in Lanark County. He and his siblings came to Canada in 1889 (possibly April) I have no information about his life before arriving here and very little about his time as an indentured farm laborer. I have no information on his siblings at all. It was only after he became an adult that records exist. He became an electrician/laborer on the Rideau Canal at Andrewsville Locks ON, he served in WW1 with the 156th Batt, he returned to his job after the war at which time I lost track of him once again. I believe he is buried in Merrickville but have been unable to verify that information. Keep up the good work and please do most posts on this subject.

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