Sunday, 4 February 2018

Were Canada's Home Children Orphans?

I was surprised to read the following in a speech in the House of Commons on home children on Thursday, 1 February by Linda Duncan (Edmonton Strathcona).

Canadians were falsely led to believe these children were orphans who had been living on the streets of British cities, but in truth only 2% were. Most of the children came from intact families that had fallen on hard times. 
Where did that information come from?

Of the 39 cases in British Home Children: Their Stories 14 are situations where both parents were deceased prior to the emigration. That's over one-third.

In many of the other cases one parent had died and for whatever reason the single parent was unable to cope. A broken home, alcoholism, father dead and mother a prostitute, illegitimacy where the father was not know, and remarriage where the child was not accepted by the step-parent are among the causes. While some situations are unclear and cases where "intact families that had fallen on hard times" are documented it is not "most."

Statistics for 1910-12 from English Life Tables No. 15 (pdf)from the UK Office of National Statistics indicate that 11 per cent of men and 9 per cent of women at age 25 would be dead by the time a child born at that time was age 15. That's for the whole of England and Wales—the expectation of life was shorter for earlier periods and for those living in the deprived areas of the cities where many of the young immigrants were raised.

With only the workhouse system for support it's unsurprising many turned to charitable agencies for the chance of a better life for their children or wards in Canada than they could realistically expect in Britain.

The bright side of the picture is the young immigrants who, judging by the admittedly small but unbiased sample in British Home Children: Their Stories, went on to lead a long and fulfilled life as contributing members of society. They overcame prejudice toward them, just as it existed toward other minorities—Asians, Irish, Indigenous, and today Jews and Muslims.


Dianne Nolin said...

Just for information...
In the
Sessional Papers of Canada 1910
, Auditor General's Report for the Department of the Interior, there is a list of organizations that were paid Bonuses of $2 a head for children. In the next one down, Christine Swanson, the sister-in-law of my 2x great aunt, was paid for bringing in domestics.

Skocan said...

As an amatuer genelogost the first thing that comes to is the old adage, "Cite your sources" I too would like to see where the 2% comes from. My g-grandfather would have qualified under both her statement and your breakdown of the 39 respondents. The letter getting him into Barnardos as a poor orphan is a wonderful piece of fictional writing. I don't think we can blame those involved, they were trying to do a "Good Thing". Truth was the family probably couldn't support all of the children at the time but we may never know. I just know he came over, was placed twice, the second time for a very long time with one family and when he first settled down, stayed near them. He also had contact with the family at home and some where able to visit (over there) The history of Home children will never be a black and white notation on our past but it makes it so much easier to get a sound bite or quick quote. For us it's incumbent to look at each part of what's put forward and look for whatever information we may currently have to support or not support the information.

Gail B said...

It's complicated. I began research into this in 1990 when the Home Children information was just beginning. Attended conferences, read everything written to date. Spoke to the Somerset/Dorset Family History Society in the early 90's who had No Idea of what The Barnardos and many other 'waif and strays' organizations had done. The law of child immigration from Britain was on the books well into the 20th century, even if unused.

In my family, the children shipped to Canada had living, but indigent parents in South London. They were found "sleeping rough." The worrisome part for many was not that the children may have been given a better life in another country, but that all subsequent contact with the living parents was denied by the organization that took them in. At least, that is to the best of my understanding after lengthy study. Thus the apologies from Britain some years ago.

I am no expert, just a researcher. I can stand to be corrected.

Linda Blake Hurtubise said...

Both of my maternal great-grandparents were BHC. My great-grandfather was an orphan taken in by Barnardo, after a missionary present at the inquest where my great-grandfather's testified at his alcoholic, widowed father death. He truly was an orphan as no other family was found for him. But on the other hand, my great-grandmother's father was still living when she was taken in by Annie MacPherson. Her widowed father's female friend left her with Annie MacPherson saying her father was unable to care for her due to illness. (I sure would like to know more about this female friend!) My great-grandmother did have contact, until her death, with her extended English family after coming to Canada.

Susan Gail Roger said...

It may be helpful to remember who was considered to be an orphan in Victorian/Edwardian times. My great-grandfather was educated at the Wolverhampton Orphan Asylum (later the Royal Orphanage of Wolverhampton), even though his mother was still living with the remainder of his siblings a mile or so away. He qualified as an orphan because his father had died.