Children rescued from survival on the city streets and in the poorhouses of Great Britain became a part of the fabric of Virden, Hamiota, Melita, and in many communities throughout Canada and the USA.
The first arrivals of British Home Children to Canadian shores began 150 years ago. A celebration on Sept. 28 throughout Canada will recognize the important contribution that these growing boys and girls made to the fabric of our nation.
Lenore’s Holly Draper is passionate about the project. She’s going to be a guest speaker at a celebration being held in Russell, where a training farm received hundreds of boys and girls.
She says, “My first uncles came over in 1896. They were 11, 12 … the first two. The next two came in 1897. Then the last one in 1899 and he was nine years old.”
Through records and ship documents she knows that two of those boys were placed at the training farm in Russell. The farm was sold off in the 1920s Draper says.
“It’s just a very interesting part of Canadian history that I don’t think a lot of people know about,” says Draper.
Urban families became impoverished and children homeless in the early Industrial era in Great Britain. A turn of fate such as illness or the death of a parent could leave children starving. There were no social safety nets, but philanthropists and Christian agencies such as the Barnardo Home, Salvation Army, Quarrier’s and Fairbridge were starting to take in destitute children.
The new world, homesteaders needing labourers, looked like a new start for these youngsters. Over 100,000 were sent to Canada between 1869 right up until 1948.
Draper refers to some of the stories told on a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/groups/Britishhomechildren, and says, “People need to take a second look, if they think they’re hard done by. It’s amazing. Some children died at the hands of their adopted ‘keepers’. Some people were taken in as adopted children.”
She notes that one child in the Lenore area was listed on the census as an adopted son.
The training farm at Russell was started by British medical doctor. “Dr. Barnardo, before he started sending children to Canada, came over and bought a 10,000-acre farm and built a huge house… the house itself housed 100 boys. They used it as a training centre to teach them how to use farm equipment, work with the animals, garden, bring the crops in and that sort of thing.”
Draper hopes that others from this area will become involved, perhaps arranging to light up a local site with red, white and blue, as is being done across Canada. And to make the trip to the Saturday afternoon Russell celebration where there will be an opportunity to see the training farm site and to share your own story.
On Sept. 28 at the Russell Library the 2:00 p.m. meeting will afford opportunity for people to meet, share their stories and later visit the nearby Barnardo Home site.