On 7 February 2018, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion reading:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should recognize the contributions made by the over 100,000 British Home Children to Canadian society, their service to our armed forces throughout the twentieth century, the hardships and stigmas that many of them endured, and the importance of educating and reflecting upon the story of the British Home Children for future generations by declaring September 28 of every year, British Home Child Day in Canada.
For the few not familiar with their story, as explained by the OGS British Home Children Special Interest Group — “From 1869 to 1939 various workhouses, sheltering homes, orphanages and child care organizations in Great Britain immigrated over 100,000 orphaned, abandoned, pauper children ages 1 to 18 to Canada. Known as the British Home Children (BHC), life for these children coming alone to Canada to work as domestics and farm labourers forging ahead in a new land was not always easy.”
Some would have you believe agencies, notably Barnardo’s, tore children away from a loving but impoverished British home, knowing there was a high likelihood they would be abused in Canada, so that the agency could benefit from a government subsidy.
Following the death of his father in 1899, my grandfather was placed in the care of the Edmonton Board of Guardians. He was in the orphanage at Chase Farm School, Enfield. His mother died in 1903. On reaching school leaving age, about 13 he would have left the orphanage. At the time of the 1911 census, age 18, he was working as a coal hewer in South Wales.
Was he better off in the mines of Wales than he would have been on a farm in Canada? Like many, my grandfather never mentioned his experience.
Perhaps you remember the late Ryan Taylor, a highly respected Canadian genealogist. He made no secret that his grandfather was a British Home Child. It tuned out we had something in common — origins in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Ryan told me his fisherman grandfather’s father was drowned, mother was convicted of abusing her children. Ryan told me the family would get down on their knees to thank Dr. Barnardo for rescuing the children from that awful situation.
There were certainly many difficult situations for children in Canada, and in the UK. Despite claims that many in Canada were abused, and one is too many, I’ve seen no evidence the children were worse off in Canada than they would have been in the UK. Is that one of the myths perpetrated by “advocates”? Is it another myth that 12% of Canadians have a British Home Child ancestor? Where did that figure come from? Perhaps it’s an example of “lies, damn lies, and statistics”!
Let’s celebrate British Home Child Day 2023, remembering them as builders of Canada, like so many other British immigrants over the years.