||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
||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
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
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.
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