[Home page] [Who is Past Forward ] [Contact Us] [Publications]

Past Forward is now on Facebook "LIKE" us to keep in touch


March 12, 2010

British Home Children Finally Recognized in 2010

There are many stories of now unbelievable behavior by the government of Canada in the past. In a relatively conservative and religious country the use and abuse of slaves, the relocation of Inuit communities, the removal of native children to residential schools and the suspicious handling of ethnic groups has been well recorded. One story that has not been well recorded is the sending of thousands of children to Commonwealth countries by the British government. Between 1869 & 1948 over 100,000 children under the age of 18 were sent to Canada with little effort to maintain family connections and little supervision. Various groups including the Salvation Army and other humanitarian groups like the Bernardo Society organized the travel and distribution of the children.

A group of Home Children arriving in Canada. Photo from the collectionscanada.gc.ca archives.

This heartless experiment in social engineering had some stated and unstated explanations. Canada needed laborers and England had too many children and too much poverty. There was undoubtedly a motivation to anglicize the colony. Estimates suggest that this worked and that there are some 4 million Canadians as descendents. About 10,000 of the Home Children are still alive according to estimates. Many of the children later admitted that in spite of the pain and the lack of information about their past they had a good life. Many were abused, called “trash”, were underfed and under clothed and were kept home while other farm children were sent to school. Many of the girls were sexually abused and like many of the old rape cases were accused of seduction. Many ran away and some committed suicide.

With some resolution through apologies and in some cases the opening of archives some issues have been dealt with. Only recently have the descendants of home children got tough after years of run around. Our Federal Government has named 2010 the Year of the Home Child and a stamp will be issued in October.

The Australian Prime Minister recently apologized as did Gordon Brown in Britain. Stephen Harper has not apologized. Many home children descendants have begun to tell their stories as access to records has been made after considerable resistance. The Globe & Mail recently had a feature article on an 83 year old woman from B.C. with a photo of her arriving in Canada shortly after her 11^th birthday with a box holding some of her birthday cake. She went to England with a group recently to hear the Prime Minister apologize. In her research she found that her mother was not aware of her and her siblings being removed from a temporary home in England.

North Bay resident Linda Thompson has written about her connection back to the 1880s when her grandfather was sent to Canada. After serving his indenture he went to Englehart and married and had eleven children. One, Linda’s mother, had 7 children. Linda has done a lot of genealogical and other family history on her family. She has written about the home children in the local papers. She informed me that the Clarke House Museum in Powassan will be featuring the Home Children in their festival this summer.

Linda has several of the books on the Home Children and recommends a movie Heaven and Earth which profiles four home children from one family, one of whom committed suicide.

Powassan resident Arlene Brandes is also a home child descendant. She told me her story recently. Her grandmother Florence Elizabeth Dickinson was the oldest of 4 children in a family of 4 whose parents were killed in a carriage accident in England. Three of the children including Florence ended up in Canada. Arlene did a genealogical search. A database in the Canadian Archives showed her grandmother arriving at age 9 in Canada in 1883. Maria Rye, one of the socially conscious people facilitating the movement brought 38 children to Canada including Florence. Many of the children spent a year in a Rye facility in England prior to their trip to Canada . Florence lived in a refurbished abandoned jail and courthouse in Niagara.

Florence was “adopted” by a family in New York State, learned to play the piano, and trained as a nurse. When she married she moved to Alberta and their son is Arlene’s father. All in all it appears to be one of the successful home child experiences.

I remembered a home child reference in an old Hartley Trussler “Reflections” column from years ago about his Uncle Thomas and home children. Thomas had 2 children and the article states that they “adopted” a number of children from the Bernardo Agency.” (One of the main agencies sending the children). Harley goes on to say that one boy stayed for 15 years and when he left Uncle Thomas went to Toronto to get a replacement. He came back with a boy Davey and his sister Lilly. Aunt Nancy went temporarily ballistic over the girl. Uncle Thomas said he couldn’t separate them. They stayed until they were grown up. One of the stories with a happy ending.

Most libraries have books on the subject and the internet has many excellent references. When you see the stamp in October you will know something about it.

Heritage Perspective Home Page

Past Forward Heritage Limited: 

330 Sumach St. #41, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3K7   Tel. (416)-925-8412


Copyright © Past Forward Heritage Limited