Friday, 11 November 2016

Book Review: Great Canadian Expectations, The Middlemore Experience

Great Canadian Expectations, The Middlemore Experience
By Patricia Roberts-Pichette
Published by Global Heritage Press, Ottawa, November 2016
332 Pages
8.25" X 10.75"
ISBN 978-1-77240-046-5 (Softcover)

Emigration and settlement of young immigrants, known as home children, from the UK to Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries was and remains controversial. Some Canadians, especially those who are descendants of an immigrant who was exploited, harbour resentment against the whole movement, to the extent of seeking a formal government apology. Others take the positive view that in the long run these young immigrants were generally much better off on the farms of Canada than they would have been on the streets of Great Britain.

Patricia Robert-Pichette holds that tarring the whole home child movement with the same brush is a mistake. This book, the culmination of her 15-year study of the agency founded by John Throgmorton Middlemore in Birmingham, presents evidence that sets his agency apart from some others.

Using a chronological approach the book starts with an exploration of the 19th century social situation in Birmingham and of Middlemore’s origins. From the founding of a Birmingham home in 1872, the book covers the period of immigration to Ontario, the switch to the Maritime provinces starting in 1886 and the last group's arrival in 1932, subsequent cooperation with the Fairbridge Society and on to the present day. The history of the organization is interwoven with the stories of the children and others involved with the agency as well as the positions on child immigration of politicians, senior public servants and social activists.

Each chapter has extensive end notes, sometimes running to five pages. End material includes 12 appendices, 10 pages of references, and a 15-page index.

It would be ideal if a comprehensive database giving the long view of the young immigrants and their paths through life were available to assess Middlemore’s success. That’s not so. Many records have been lost or destroyed in the course of events including the Halifax Explosion of 1917. Moreover, once the immigrant attained an age where they passed out of guardianship, contact was commonly lost. The book draws on children’s letters, letters written later in life, Middlemore agency and government reports and files, newspaper articles and oral history, recognizing that each originator has a perspective and agenda.

What’s the measure of success? The book’s estimate is that of the 5,156 children Middlemore settled in Ontario and the Maritime provinces over 92 percent had chosen to remain in Canada at age 21; another four percent had left for the US or voluntarily returned to the UK.

If you descend from a Middlemore home child this book is an essential resource for understanding their experience. If there are other books on home children on your bookshelves this is one that should be added, and that includes the shelves of Canadian academic and public libraries. Social historians will appreciate the treatment of the conditions that resulted in the rise and fall of the home child movement at large, both in Canada and Britain.

Find the table of contents, information on the author, access to the index and details on availability at http://globalgenealogy.com/countries/canada/home-children/resources/1012045.htm

Note that this review is based on a pdf copy provided by Global Genealogy. Also that I have known and appreciated the work of Patricia Roberts-Pichette even before her involvement with genealogy and home children.


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