Today I’m guest posting on Little Immigrants, an online memory project dedicated to the British Home Children sent to Canada between 1832 and 1940. It’s the first of 3 posts I’ll be writing about members of my family who arrived in Canada as Home Boys. It’s estimated that between 3 and 4 million Canadians are descended from the British Home Children migration scheme that saw around 100,000 children brought to Canada from the poorest parts of Britain.
The poor and their children have always been a challenge for the affluent and middle classes. In the 1800’s labourers were scarce in the British colonies while vagrancy, poverty, and pollution was at an all-time high in Britain. The workhouses in Britain overflowed, and it was thought that the best opportunity for these children to pull themselves out of the poverty they’d been born into was to send them to what was seen as a land of opportunity. These children were called orphans, but most had a living parent in Britain.
Up to 50 organizations stepped up to address the problem by rounding up poor children from Ireland, Scotland and England and shipped them to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa – some as young as 3, and many with no more provisions than a pair of shoes, a change of clothing, and a Bible. Some of these organizations continue today as reputable child agencies, others were nothing more than slave traders and profiteers. With little accountability, the reporting and tracking of these children once they arrived in Canada was spotty at best.
The children were to be placed in farming households to work while being schooled, attend church, and their wages set aside until they reached 18. Many of those children never attended school or church, got paid, and many were considered slave labour and given the worst of jobs. There were cases of abuse and neglect such as that of 15 year old George Everett Green, found dead in his room on a farm in Owen Sound in 1895. The following investigation attributed his death to starvation, abuse and neglect. No charges were laid.
But there are success stories of this policy, like my great great grandfather Isaac Foskett (pictured above before departing for Canada) who arrived in Canada at the age of 10 in 1894, and my great grandfather Joseph Cooper who arrived in Canada at 16 in 1924. They never spoke about their early childhoods or their time as Dr. Barnardo’s Boys – very few ever did. But the legacy of these men in my family – ‘orphans’ raised as labourers without the love and security of a caring family – has had far-reaching consequences. Read Isaac’s story here.
In Australia, the ‘Forgotten Australians’ as they’re called, include a group of what’s estimated to be 500,000 child migrants. This group and their families put enough pressure on the Australian government that a formal public apology was issued in 2009. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also issued a formal public apology in 2010 for the child migrant embarrassment.
The Canadian government has refused to issue an apology to the families of the British Home Children (BHC). Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said, “There’s no need for Canada to apologize for abuse and exploitation suffered by thousands of poor children shipped here from Britain starting in the nineteenth century…” Instead, 2010 was declared the Year Of The British Home Child and Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp. A number of memorials have been created, and Ontario declared September 28 British Home Child Day.
While most families of British Home Children would like to see a formal apology issued for the Canadian government’s 100+ year collusion in the child migrant schemes, many more would rather just receive the records of their loved ones. Many agencies, the Barnardo Agency being foremost among them, charge £100 to send the records of family members. A petition has been started to see a subsidy fund started for those seeking information about grandparents and great grandparents. Sign the petition here if you’d like to participate.
There is also a Facebook group dedicated to helping people research and find information about the BHC in their family tree.
Were you aware of this part of our history? Is there a BHC in your family? Do you know their story? Be part of the memory project at Little Immigrants.
I’m on Twitter and G+, but I hang out on Facebook – would love to chat. If you’re a writer, I post great writing links everyday on my Facebook page. Consider signing up for the monthly newsletter I write with my cowriter – Marcy Kennedy.