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Home Children

For the week of Monday October 23, 2000

On October 28, 1869, a group of 76 pauper children from Britain arrived in Canada under the supervision of Maria Susan Rye. They were the first of over 100 000 Home Children sent to Canada by British charitable organizations, most before 1939.

Immigrant children at Landing Stage, St. John, NB

Immigrant children at Landing Stage, St. John, NB
© LAC / PA-041785

In the mid-19th century, British cities and industries were growing rapidly and technology was changing the way people worked. This created poverty, unemployment and unrest, yet there was no free education or social safety net in place. Many working-class families, often as a result of death, illness or job loss, became destitute. They could only let their children roam the city streets unsupervised or give them up to charitable "homes" or orphanages. Sometimes whole families went to the workhouse.

Authorities and "childsavers" felt that these youths would find a better life in new countries such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand, benefiting from Christian homes and a healthy farm setting. Many of these childsavers were evangelists; however, the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches also encouraged young children from British homes and workhouses to emigrate.

After arriving in Canada, most of the children were placed through receiving homes in southern Ontario and the Eastern townships of Quebec. A few went to the Atlantic provinces and the West. Although their labour was much in demand, many did not have a happy beginning. Despite the hopes of organizers, only a few of the younger ones were adopted. Most of the boys were apprenticed as agricultural labourers in farm families, while the girls became domestic servants.

Stratford Receiving Home

Stratford Receiving Home
© Courtesy of Stratford-Perth Archives

Uprooted from their homes and families at a young age, many experienced loneliness, prejudice and difficulty in adjusting to life on isolated farms. Some suffered maltreatment and not all received the pay and the education to which they were entitled. But others got a better start, and despite their hardships, Home Children contributed to the social, economic and political life in Canada. A great number served in the two world wars.

Attitudes toward children and child labour gradually began to change. In 1925, the British and Canadian governments agreed to a ban on the emigration of youths 14 or under. By the late 1930s, not even older children emigrated without their families. Designated as an event of national historic significance, Home Children will be commemorated with a plaque at a former receiving home in Stratford, Ontario.

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