05 April 2013

English Children in Canada

The following article was printed in The Ottawa Evening Journal 100 years ago today, 5 April 1913.

English Children in Canada
The Story of the Work of Mrs. Birt
Who Brought Thousands to Canada

During Her Forty-Three Years Work She "Mothered" no Fewer Than 14,000 Children, Whom She Settled in Canadian Homes

Canadians cannot fail to appreciate the book just published setting forth in a very lucid and interesting manner the work of Mrs. Burt, better known perhaps as Louisa McPherson, whose devotions to the settling of English children in Canadian homes has long ago proved an unbounded success, and the work in question will act as a permanent record of her life and that of her sisters, Miss Annie Macpherson and the Mrs. Merry.
The record is furnished by Ms. Lillian Birt, Mrs. Birt's daughter and bears the title of "The Children's Home Finder." Lord Strathcona has contributed an appreciative "forward" and the Hon. Lord Guthrie an introduction. It is published by James Nisbet and Co. Ltd, London, England at three shillings and sixpence net.

Mother of 14,000
The book states that during her 43 years work Mrs. Bert and her sisters "mothered" no less than 14,000 children, and found for each of them a welcome and a home in Canada. If we are not mistaken, Mrs. Bert was the pioneer of the emigration idea in England so far as destitute children are concerned. As long ago as 1870 she and her sister Annie opened their Home of Industry in Bethnal Green Road, in the East End of London.
Two years later their Sheltering Home in Liverpool was instituted. Those homes were called "Revival Homes,"from the fact that much of the money required for their support was obtained from readers of the religious weekly the "Revival," edited by Mr. R. C. Morgan.
The rough material with which the sisters had to deal, the orphaned and outcast children for whom they made themselves responsible, gave them at times a good deal of trouble.
"After having them washed, we had beds prepared for them, little thinking that we had to teach them to sleep in them – It was the same in everything. They had to be taught the most common ways of mortal life. But these early difficulties were overcome, and they learned to play, laugh and work, and sit still like ordinary children."
Young Citizens for Canada
The problems of what to do with the children after they had been transformed was forced upon Mrs. Birt and her coworkers by the acute labor troubles in London of the late sixties. In 1869 a circular was issued emphasizing emigration as a remedy, and in the following year Ms. Anne Macpherson accompanied by Ms. Bilborough made the bold resolve to go to Canada with a band of 100 boys who had been rescued from the perils of the London's slums. It was only natural that such an innovation should excite a little apprehension.
Rumors had come out that Miss. Macpherson was coming to Canada with 100 wild London street arabs, and the government ordered the immigration officer at Québec to make a strict inspection and send the whole lot back if they were unsuitable.
The agent, however, declared that they were a find, healthy, obedient set up boys, and that Canada could do with any number of that sort. He even offered to place the whole of them himself, but the offer was not accepted as Miss. Macpherson wished personally to place her boys and to know the families in whom they were to be entrusted.
Situations were found for 23 and 60 applications for boys came to hand from Hamilton alone. Miss. Macpherson adhered to the idea of distributing the boys as widely as possible so as to form a wider basis for future plans. At each point of her journey the immigration agents were ready to dispose of all the lads that remained.
Early Prejudices
In those early days there was understandably a prejudice against such material as that to whose welfare Mrs. Bert devoted herself. It affected both peoples and governments and it was not removed in a day. No one, probably, did more to overcome it than Miss. Macpherson and Mrs. Birt.
It was their persuasiveness and tactfulness, says Lord Guthrie, that induced the Canadians to allow the experiment to be made. Their careful selection of suitable boys and girls, the admirable training received in the London and Liverpool Homes, and the discrimination shown in planting them with suitable Canadian foster parents, secured results which made objection difficult, if not impossible.
In the end, as Ms. Birt shows, Canada passed from doubt to tolerance, and from tolerance to approval. At the outset the people and the government was disposed to ask "How many of these waifs must you send." Later the tendency was rather to demand "How many boys and girls can you possibly give us?"
That all but a small percentage of these young immigrants have turned out well is indicated by the records of the distributing house at Knowlton, Québec, which suffered from a fire last month while this book was passing through the press. During the past three years Mrs. Birt has been too feeble to take much part in the affairs of the homes, but the work of the Liverpool home is carried on under her daughter's supervision. This book is an interesting and worthy memorial to a noble woman and her great work.


Anonymous said...

thank you for this interesting history!

James said...

It is fascinating - but it's equally worth reading the take that Margaret Humphreys (Child Migrant Trust) had on this in her book, Empty Cradles.