Home Children

Group of boys working in a field at the Philanthropic Society Farm School

Between 1869 and the late 1930’s approximately 100,000 children were brought to Canada from Great Britain. Predominantly motivated by social and economic forces, a number of religious and philanthropic organizations encouraged the child migration movement for many abandoned and poor children to begin a new life in Canada.  In this episode, Library and Archives Canada’s Marthe Séguin-Muntz and John Sayers of BIFHSGO, join us to discuss the lives of Home Children and to share the wealth of resources available at LAC.

Duration: 27:05

File size: 21.7 MB Download MP3

Publish Date: February 13, 2013

  • Transcript of podcast episode 6
    Angele Alain: Welcome to Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage. I’m your host, Angele Alain. Join us as we showcase treasures from our digital collections; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada’s documentary heritage.

    Between 1869 and the late 1930s, approximately 100,000 children between the ages of two and 14 were brought to Canada from Great Britain. Predominantly motivated by social and economic forces, a number of religious and philanthropic organizations encouraged the child migration movement, believing it to be providing an opportunity for many of the orphaned, abandoned and poor children to begin a new life in Canada.

    After the long voyage to Canada, many children were welcomed into families across Canada as a source of affordable farm labour and domestic help. While some endured hardships in their new lives, many thrived in their new surroundings making Canada home.

    Today, nearly eleven percent of Canadians can find a home child in their lineage; constituting a significant contribution to the growth and development of Canada.

    In this episode, we are talking with John Sayers of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa, also known as BIFHSGO, about the lives these children lived, the difficulties they faced, and some of the incredible stories of those who thrived in early Canada.
    In addition, genealogist Marthe Seguin-Muntz joins us to speak about the wealth of resources available at Library and Archives Canada for those wishing to learn more about this important migration and will show us how to use these resources to trace the lives of Home Children, as well as provide insider tips on how to use research tools to discover more about your family history.

    Hi John, thanks for speaking with us today. Can you tell us what BIFHSGO is?

    John Sayers: Well the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa was formed probably in 1993, 1994 when it got its papers, to encourage, facilitate, preserve and disseminate research into people who came originally from the British Isles.

    AA: Well, I understand the British Isles Family History Society is working with Library and Archives Canada in partnership on a number of projects. Can you tell us about those projects?

    JS: Well, originally on the Home Children's major database, which was from the ships' lists, back in 1994. It may have been [at] the very first conference of BIFHSGO, or at least the second one, [that] Dave Lorente and his wife Kay gave a talk on Home Children. Now most of us had no idea who Home Children were, had never heard of them, and during that talk he said there was a desperate need for a database of the names of as many Home Children as we could gather. I sat in on that lecture and thought well, BIFHSGO is new, we didn’t have a major reason for being, and we didn’t have a major project, like OGS [Ontario Genealogical Society] has the cemetery recording. So I thought well, that would be a good project for BIFHSGO because we live in Ottawa, we are close to Library and Archives Canada, and we have quite a large membership. Membership now is 500, so it is large for a family history organization, it’s a large membership.

    AA: And there’s a need for Home Children…

    JS: And there was a desperate need. So I suggested it at one of our meetings and they sort of said, "Fine, that sounds like a good idea,” and then they came to LAC. I’m not too sure who, but somebody came and made an agreement that if we provided the names and the database, LAC would host the database on the website.

    AA: So if you created the nominal index, and LAC would host it?

    JS: That’s right. And so we really wanted that because LAC is likely to be here forever, whereas most other organizations may be here for 10, 15, 20 years and then they disappear, so what happens to their database?

    AA: Right.

    JS: And so we were very pleased with that.

    AA: What are Home Children in Canada?

    JS: Home Children are children who were put into a philanthropic home in England, generally allied to some religious organization and then sent to a Home over here, a distribution home over here. Generally they only stayed one day, one week, maybe two weeks depending on how young they were, sometimes they may [have] stayed six months in the Home over here, but then they were sent out to work on farms or as domestics either working on a farm or in a home.

    AA: We sat down with Marthe Seguin-Muntz to talk about Home Children resources at LAC, and she provided some insight as to why so many children were sent to Canada.

    So, can you tell us why the Home Children were sent to Canada?

    Marthe Seguin-Muntz: It was the result of times that were difficult in families and in the cities. The parents were either sick, they were poor, they could not take care of the children, in some cases a widow had lost her husband and she had seven or eight children. I remember researching a particular case where she had lost her husband, and then she died herself, so consequently her seven children had to be placed in Homes in England.

    AA: So the houses were getting crowded in England?

    MS-M: The Homes for children were getting crowded, the Industrial Revolution, the shortage of work, people were having a very difficult time to provide for their families and consequently a lot of children were sent to Homes in England. And Canada needed manpower. There was acreage farming, they needed the help, and it was also thought that the children would benefit from clean country air as opposed to overcrowded cities in London or in the big cities, if you will.

    AA: It’s providing an opportunity. So once the children arrived in Canada, what happens then?

    JS: Most of them [the children] went to a receiving home in Canada, and once they were in that receiving home, farmers and farmers’ wives came and checked the children out. They all lined up and they said “I’ll take that one, or I’ll take this one”, this was a bit later on. The very first parties, people met them on the train as they went across from Quebec City to primarily the Toronto and Hamilton area. And people met the train and took so many children here and so many children there, [there was] very little control for those children.

    AA: Do we know how many children came to Canada as Home Children in total?

    JS: Well according to this, this is a sessional paper, one of those very lovely little records, and a 1936 sessional paper says that 97,872 [had come as of then] and it gives a list of the different Homes.

    AA: With the amount of children?

    JS: Except it says that there were minor agencies, and there were a lot of minor agencies. There are around 50 sending agencies over the years, some only last a short time, [and] some only brought 20 children.

    AA: And how many children today would be descendants of Home Children?

    JS: Well, of people in Canada, they say about eleven percent of the population has a Home Child in their background.

    AA: Eleven percent! I need to go look if I have a Home Child in my background.

    JS: Well it’s surprising who has! Gilles Duceppe has a Home Child in his background, a London lad. And he spoke very well when they [the Canadian Government] made the year of the Home Child [in] 2010, and it was passed as a private member's bill in the House of Commons, and they all spoke very well to the movement. It was excellent and Gilles Duceppe gave a very good speech.

    AA: What was the most difficult thing that Home Children faced living in Canada?

    JS: The main thing was loneliness, absolute loneliness.

    AA: I can imagine.

    JS: They came, and a lot of them had been in Homes with other children, I mean Barnardo’s had their Girls' Village [Home] where about 20 children were in each cottage with a mother looking after each group of 20. They always had friends around them or children with the same problems around them. All of a sudden they are stuck out on some very lonely farm, maybe being mistreated, particularly the girls. So loneliness was the big thing, the fact that they were away from all their friends and people they could talk to, and they never knew the reason why they were being shipped over. Most of them, Art Monk who I knew quite well (he died two years ago at 97 years old), that was his question all the time, “why, why was I sent?” His parents were still alive, he and his two brothers, his brothers were sent earlier than him, were shipped to Canada. Why?

    AA: Hmm.

    JS: You know, some of them landed on their feet, some of them did very well. They had an amazingly large number of them become Roman Catholic priests or Methodist ministers, Anglican priests, or missionaries. Quite a few became missionaries. And I’d say about 200 of the children were Jewish. One of the Jewish lads was “Two-Gun” Cohen, who came over to Saskatchewan supposedly with his uncle, to work for his uncle, from the Hayes Industrial School. He didn’t like working for his uncle, so he went to work for a Methodist rancher or farmer close by. And with that guy was a 19-year-old who was really good at cards, and the two of them learned to play cards very well, and they went around the Prairies playing in the bars and everywhere making money playing cards. But he eventually finished up as a General in the Chinese army, and that’s why he’s called “Two-Gun” Cohen. He is actually buried back in England in Manchester, and that is said to be the only time that the Communist Chinese and the Kuomintang, the Nationalist Chinese, were together at the same funeral, when he was buried. So he must have been quite a popular lad.

    AA: Interesting story for sure! So a lot of the Home Children who came to Canada and stayed… thrived as adults?

    JS: I mean in the main population you always get those that don’t, and I’d say, you know 5000, say five percent had a hard time, a really hard time and didn’t thrive. A fair number committed suicide unfortunately.

    AA: Well, you think of the experience…

    JS: Some died of disease, I mean they came from poor areas, there was a lot of TB, tuberculosis, around at that time at any rate, so a fair number died of TB. Some ran away, never heard of again, and went to the States [United States of America]. There are several actually, Wallace Ford is it? [He was] an actor in Hollywood who actually ran away and rode the rails with his friend, and his friend was killed in a railway accident so he took his friend’s name and finished up down in California, and did quite well as a bit actor and was very well respected. But he didn’t go under his real name, because he took the name of his friend. You know that’s the problem with Home Children, they seldom tell the truth. They didn’t know the truth. They had no idea about the truth. They didn’t know when they were born. They didn’t know who their parents were half of the time. They knew nothing really.

    AA: How long have you been researching Home Children?

    JS: Well, since Dave Lorente gave that little talk in 1994.

    AA: So you started there…

    JS: Now I have a sort of kindred spirit, I did come and work on a farm when I first came over here.

    AA: Did you?

    JS: And, so you know, the big thing I remember when I got to the farm… I was so happy to see they had tractors and not horses. I never worked with horses and I didn’t want to work with horses. They had three tractors and I was very happy with that!

    AA: So it gives you an idea of what it would have been like to be a Home Child, come here and work on a farm…

    JS: That’s right, they were a Presbyterian family, I wasn’t Presbyterian and I went to church with them, and you know, it was actually a very good period to learn about Canada. I didn’t stay there that long because I paid my own way over, so I didn’t have to stay the two years which would have been if Canada House had paid my fare.

    AA: So what kind of resources does Library and Archives Canada have about Home Children in Canada?

    MS-M: Home Children resources are typically found on the homepage of the Immigration [page], because essentially that is what groups of children were, groups of children brought in from England and the British Isles, some from Scotland and some even from Ireland. The Home Children page is found online on Library and Archives Canada’s website, and the lists of Home Children which are of substantial numbers are compiled from passenger lists that were indexed by people over the years, and a big project was done by the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa. The bulk of the Home Children database has been indexed nominally by that organization.

    AA: So by name?

    MS-M: By name.

    AA: So people can search these children by name in this database?

    MS-M: That will be your first stop. You will go (you will have the name of your ancestor or someone you know) and you will search the index by name. Keep in mind, however, that indexing has its limitations, as in the case of names that are less easy to pronounce or less common.

    AA: So they might be written differently than how you think the name is written?

    MS-M: Definitely. I have seen, in the case of a family, the last name is Stilgoe, S-T-I-L-G-O-E. There are five children altogether and I think there was maybe three or four different spellings:    S-T-E-L, S-T-I-L, and so on.

    AA: Ok, so we need to try different spellings.

    MS-M: Yes, we call it in genealogy… I like to refer to it as playing scrabble with names. So we play around with scrabble! So that being said, we are looking at passenger lists, and we find the child that we are looking for, and from that display you will have the surname, the given name, the age, the sex of the child, and the ship on which the child traveled, and the year of arrival.

    AA: Ok, so you mentioned passenger lists, but if I put the name of the child in the database, what other types of records could I find?

    MS-M: From the passenger lists, you can go to the Board of Guardians list that is on microfilm (that is held by Library and Archives Canada), and the nominal list has been digitized and the names are linked to the database. So you might find the child’s name on that second list, or it may not be there. So from there, you will see the Central Registry Files, also a great resource, although it is not indexed by name. You would have to go under the record group 76 [RG 76].

    AA: Which is what?

    MS-M: Which are immigration records, records of immigrations from Canadian authorities. And from there you would put the name of the house or the Home where they were housed once they arrived in Canada. So we are particularly interested in names such as Marchmont Home in Belleville, which was established by Annie Macpherson from England. You would put Hazelbrae, the Barnardo’s girls' home in Peterborough; [or] the Niagara-on-the-Lake [distributing home] established by Maria Rye who was the first person to bring a group of children to Canada. You would also put the names of the organization, as well as the name of where the place was. So that is Record Group 76, and the records are on microfilm.

    AA: And what types of records are in this Record Group, what do I find? So I put in the name of the house and then what do I get?

    MS-M: You will find a list of children, you will find their age, and sometimes you will even find the complete date of birth. You will also find the name of the organization where they were because we are looking at organizations in England, and so by putting in the name of the organizations you will get the list of the children, notes and correspondence between the agents who looked after bringing over the children. Sometimes they came over in groups of more than a hundred in one crossing.

    AA: So you’ll find this out while looking at the records?

    MS-M: While looking at the records. Once you have looked at the Central Registry Files and Boards of Guardians, which are from England, you would typically look at the census records. Imagine someone coming in 1904, you would look them up in the 1911 Census and see which family they are living with.

    AA: So you’re following this child, basically…

    MS-M: Following this child pretty well from the arrival, the departure in England because the date of departure is included on the passenger list… departure in England, they cross the Atlantic, they arrive in a group, then they are so-called "dispatched" to a home in Canada. In Canada you will find them in New Brunswick, Ontario, some of them are in Quebec, and some as far as Manitoba and I’ve even heard of Saskatchewan. So once you look in the census after their arrival, and the census is a wealth of information… and a little trick… you look for them under the family name, but they will have a different family name than the family they are living with because they are not adopted.

    AA: Like a foster family?

    MS-M: They are hired as labour help and farm hands. So I have a few examples here where the person arrives in Canada and you find him in the census, this particular case, Richard Palamountain, he arrives in Canada and is sent to Knowlton, Quebec, and we find him in the census, then we find him in the First World War records because he serves in the First World War. So we find his attestation paper, which tells us that he enlisted in Kingston, [Ontario]. We find him in the digitized microforms, the death cards, which is when Veteran’s Affairs were notified of a death of a soldier… there was a card made out for that solider with a registration number and so on. So from census records and immigration records this is one way that we follow them through history.

    AA: Their whole life!

    MS-M: Their whole life essentially. This Richard Ernest Palamountain is a good example of the variety of resources.

    AA: Throughout his extensive research at LAC, John Sayers has come across a number of helpful resources; he talks to us about one that has been most valuable to him.

    JS: Sessional papers are a wonderful, wonderful source. You know, a typical one is this one I have here for the 1872 Report, so it is for the year 1871, and it is almost three pages of actual ships that brought immigrating parties and where those parties came from and how many, and don’t forget at that time you became an adult at 12 years. So anybody under 12, 11 and under, was considered a child, and anybody over that was considered an adult. So it’s a little misleading.

    AA: Right, you have to know this.

    JS: When listing males and females, 150 male adults, a lot of them may be 12 to 18 years old.

    AA: Right. So these Sessional Papers are at Library and Archives Canada?

    JS: At the library section of Library and Archives, many shelves of them in French and English, and there are some very good photographs in there of Home Children in the 1904, '05 and '06 period. They have some very good photographs of Home Children, of the homes and parties of children.

    AA: So they are on the shelf, you don’t have to order the box? They’re in volumes?

    JS: They are on the shelf up until 1930 something, I think now, which covers the Home Children period for our purposes.

    AA: So Marthe, in a nutshell, where can people start their Home Children research?

    MS-M: When you start your research, first go to the Library and Archives Canada website, then the specific pages that you will want to look at are the Genealogy and Family History pages, and under those pages will be the immigration records where you have the Home Children page, and there is a whole page about Home Children that describes the records, both the ones available online, the ones that have been digitized, and the ones that are indexed. That page will also refer you to other organizations as well, that index, such as BIFHSGO. That page will also give a link to the Home Children database, the passenger lists. It will also give a link and a brief explanation on how to research Government of Canada files which are available on microfilm. If you come to Ottawa, you can come and look at the microfilm and get copies from the microfilm. The same goes for the Juvenile Inspection Reports. They are also on microfilm, organized alphabetically. Middlemore Homes records are also available. Look up the website. We are constantly updating our website with digitized records, new indexes and other resources. It’s what we do, it’s what we enjoy doing. Also, many books have been published about Home Children. Descendants choose to publish books and there is quite a wealth of them. Consult our AMICUS database for published books about Home Children.
    AA: Well, thank you very much Marthe for being here today.

    MS-M: You’re very welcome, it was a pleasure.

    AA: To learn more about Canada’s Home Children and to discover your ancestors visit Library and Archives Canada’s Genealogy and Family History pages, found on our homepage at: www.bac-lac.gc.ca.

    Thank you for joining us. I’m your host, Angèle Alain, and you’ve been listening to Discover Library and Archives Canada—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you. A special thanks to our guests today, John Sayers and Marthe Séguin-Muntz.

    For more information about our podcast, or if you have questions, comments or suggestions, please visit us at www.bac-lac.gc.ca/podcasts.


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