on December 11, 2014
It was through the reading of this book, when it was first published, that I learned of this little known era in Canadian and my own history. It opened the doors into my research about my grandmother, whom we knew came to Canada at the age of 10, without her family, to be a mother's helper.
The history of these children, most of whom we now know were not orphans or living on the streets, but came from poor families, should be an integral part of Canadian history curriculum in our schools across the country. It has been estimated that about 10 to 11%, or, close to 4 million Canadians today are descended from these children of whom Bagnell writes! Perhaps it will spark the interest of students and their families to begin researching their own family histories. They may find they have "a little immigrant" in their ancestry.
on September 22, 2014
The author was a former United Church Minister in the community I now reside, during my toddler years. Many of my neighbours spoke about their parernts who were the children mentioned in this book, who were brought to Canada to work on small farms in the rural community. Very well written, and historical. By reading this, I learned a lot about my local history and the history of Canada as a nation.
on June 29, 2013
I love History so enjoyed this book. Even though not a fairytale it is a part of history that should have been told and also read. Wrenched from their homes, or homeless and shipped to Canada to labour on farms, sometimes with crewel taskmasters, these children grew up to be make great contributing members of society.
on August 2, 2009
One hundred thousand British Home Children (alleged orphans) were sent to Canada by over 50 British Child Care organizations between 1870 and 1930. These 4 - 15 year old children worked as indentured farm labourers and domestic servants until they were 18 years old. The Child Care organizations professed a dominant motive of providing these children with a better life than they would have had in Britain. But, they rid themselves of an unwanted segment of society and profited when they sold these children to Canadian farmers. Siblings were separated in British care and again when they were sent to Canada. Most never saw each other again.
Many spent their lives trying to find relatives with most being unsuccessful. An unknown number ran away to start new lives on their own. Four to five million descendants of the British Home Children have or had 20 million British Grandparents, Uncles and Aunts. How could that many people not know they were related to one another? Their searches have been hampered by childcare organizations who won't readily release personal information.
The most famous Child Care organization was that founded by Dr. Thomas Bernardo, an Irish immigrant to London, England who founded a string of homes to house the orphans he found living on the roof tops and in the gutters of the city itself.
In 1867 a boy was turned away from one of his homes because there was no room. The boy was found two days later dead of hypothermia. After that horrible event all Barnardo Homes had the sign 'No Child in Desperation shall be turned away'.
This poem was written by Phila Chase in 1867 and sums up the time.
Alone, in the dreary, pitiless street,
With my torn old dress and bare cold feet,
All day I wandered to and fro,
Hungry and shivering and nowhere to go;
The night's coming on in darkness and dread,
And the chill sleet beating upon my bare head;
Oh! Why does the wind blow upon me so wild?
It is because I'm nobody's child?
Oh! What shall I do when the night comes down
In its terrible blackness all over town?
Shall I lay me down 'neath the angry sky,
On the cold hard pavements alone to die?
When the beautiful children their prayers have said,
And mothers have tucked them up snugly in bed,
No dear mother ever upon me smiled -
Why is it, I wonder, that I'm nobody's child?
His homes promised that the children he sent would be sound and healthy with no physical or mental defect and would have a deep respect for the Bible as the word of God. He even gave a guarantee that anyone he sent would be returned to Britain if any defect was found.
Once they passed the medical each child received their 'Canada Outfit'. This was a trunk made at the Barnardo Technical School made from hardwood and covered in imitation alligator skin. It contained a Bible, with the date of emigration, a Sankey Hymn Book, Pilgrims Progress, and the Traveller's Guide. Clothing was given them which was made with British excellence so that they were among the best dressed emigrants to enter Canada (see my comments in my greeting).
The Littlest Immigrants chronicles the organizations in Britain and Scotland, how the Canadian part of the organizations worked and has the stories of some of the actual children who came so far to a strange new place where they knew no one and had little or no resources to help them survive. This book tells more of the system in which they lived
Another related read is Nation Builders: Barnardo Children in Canada. This is full of the first hand stories of those children and their descendants who arrived in the Promised Land. In the orphanages of Britain they were taught this rhyme:
Through the night of doubt and sorrow,
Onward goes the pilgrim band
Singing songs of expectation,
Marching to the Promised Land.
Despite the long odds many did survive and had long and interesting lives. The testimony to this is the families they have left behind and the service which they performed to take this country from a sparsely populated, somewhat backward, undeveloped farmland to the bustling, world-respected country we live in today.
I'm sure this will be an interesting read for those who are interested in Canadian history and want to know how and why we got to be the country we are. These are the stories of one segment.