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Year of the Home Child

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Barnardo Boys

A group of Barnardo boys from Miss Macpherson's Home, London, England, who arrived at the Marchmont Home in April 1922
Library and Archives Canada / C-034840

Canadian Parliament has declared that 2010 is the year of the Home Child. An official stamp will be issued in October to commemorate Home Children in Canada.

Approximately 100,000 children were sent to Canada from Great Britain between 1869 and 1938. It is believed that the descendents of these children make up about 12% of the population of Canada. It is interesting that many people do not know about this chapter of Canada’s immigration history.

The children who were a part of this scheme were supposed to be orphans or from families too poor to support them. They would be sent to Canada to work as farm labourers or domestic servants. A number of agencies, such as the Barnardo Homes and the Middlemore Homes, were involved in identifying and transporting the children. The premise behind this was that Canada was seen as a land of opportunity that could provide these children with a more promising future that what they would have had back home. Sometimes this was the case. We did some research a while back for a society who is working on a database of home children and found information about a young boy who was sent as a home child to a farm family in Saskatchewan. The family treated him like one of their children and eventually he went to medical school.

There were, of course, the other stories. Some children were abused and neglected and treated as slaves but it is a testament to their strength and persistence that many remained in Canada and became the foundation of families and communities. Some four million of us are descended from them but we often come across the fact that our ancestor was a home child by accident. The experiences of some were so traumatic or they were so embarrassed by their early circumstances that they never spoke of their history. We find out about it only when we start our research and hit the brick wall of a child immigrant with no family background.

There are a number of resources available to genealogists who have a home child in their family tree. Library and Archives Canada is a good place to start:

From this link, click on Immigration and Citizenship, and then on Home Children. The site provides information and a link to the Home Children Database, created by another organization that has done a lot of work on documenting the experiences of home children in Canada, the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO). The direct link to their site is:

Pier 21 also has a site where the stories of home children have been collected. You can find those here:

And finally there is the site for the descendents of British Home Children:

If you are interested in reading about home children in Canada, there are a number of very good books available at the Calgary Public Library. Some of the titles are Uprooted: the Shipment of Poor Children to Canada 1867-1917, Nation Builders: Barnardo Children in Canada and Neither Waif nor Stray: the Search for a Stolen Identity . You can find others in the catalogue by searching for the subject Home Children (Canadian Immigrants)


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