More than 30,000 boys and girls were sent to Canada, most of them to Ontario, between 1882 and 1939. Before Barnardo’s cancelled the program, Canadian farmers could apply to have a child sent to work for them. In return, they were to take care of feeding, dressing, schooling and paying the child. Mr. Howard Vennell said he was forced to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week performing typical farm chores such as milking cows, feeding the animals and taking the manure out, all by himself. He said he suffered physical abuse “kicked in the butt and belted” at the hands of his employers. “The first six months, I remember, I rocked myself to sleep crying. There was nothing I could do because that’s the way the home wasin England, too.”
Mr. Strosberg estimates 3,000 to 5,000 people are eligible to join the Ontario class action. The Trustee Act prevents the lawsuit from covering those who died before June 13, 2000. The lawsuit could be expanded later to include those sent to other parts of Canada. Mr. Strosberg said neither he nor anyone in his office knew anything about “Dr. Barnardo’s Children,” as they were commonly known, when Mr. Vennell approached them.
“What he says is that he was mistreated and that Barnardo’s didn’t have a system in place capable of achieving what it is supposed to, and that is supervision to ensure that these children were properly supervised and educated.” In a written statement yesterday, Barnardo’s said: “We take any complaint of this nature extremely seriously, but as our legal representatives are now handling the matter we feel unable to comment further at this stage.” Mr. Vennell said yesterday months of negotiations with the charity proved fruitless. It offered him $100,000, which he found inadequate. “We didn’t ask for this,” Mr. Vennell said yesterday.
“Barnardo’s Homes asked for it. They didn’t think we’d go this far. Well, they know now we are going this far. We aren’t kidding.” Dr. Thomas Barnardo founded the charity in 1867, setting up homes for destitute and homeless children in and around London, England. The emigration program aimed to relieve overcrowded cities in England, provide Canada with cheap labour and increase its English-speaking population, and provide more opportunities for the children. Mr. Vennell said yesterday he only realized he was a “Barnardo boy” after he saw a program on television that revealed many children were similarly sent to Canada to work.
“I thought: ‘My God, that’s what happened to me.’ They were practically slaves.” When Mr. Vennell was six years old and ill with rickets, his destitute mother admitted him to one of Barnardo’s charitable homes in England. When he was 14, in March, 1932, Mr. Vennell was sent to Canada even though he says his mother refused to sign a special contract that would allow him to be sent to Canada. “It took five days to come across. We were down in the hold…. It was rough. I was seasick all the way over. They fed us old, dry buns ’cause you wouldn’t be throwing up as bad.”
Mr. Vennell stayed briefly at a Toronto home before being sent to a farm in Pakenham, Ont. A Barnardo’s representative visited the farm once, but failed to do anything despite Mr. Vennell’s “obvious neglect, abuse and unhappiness ,” the lawsuit says. Mr. Vennell was moved to another farm in Uxbridge, north of Toronto.
When he was released from Barnardo’s care at 18, the organization failed to give him accounting of the money he should have earned, says the lawsuit. According to the statement of claim, Mr. Vennell still suffers physical and psychological damage from this abuse. “It was tough, but I managed. I’m a survivor,” he said. Mr. Vennell is married and has one child.
In 1957, Mr. Vennell and his then-future wife had a child out of wedlock. He said the infant was taken away from them. After 42 years of trying to find his son, he finally got to meet him and they are now close. “We talk every day. He calls us, we call them. My granddaughter calls me ‘Grandpa.’ It’s nice to hear. It’s a wonderful thing,” he said. Similar emigration programs were run by the Catholic Church and the Church of England, and more than 100,000 “home children” were sent to Canada in total.
British Home Children – Quebec Assoc click
Ontario East British Home Child Family click
British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association click