Story of home children part of our history
Published On Mon Feb 22 2010. By Jim Coyle, Queen’s Park
Thursday afternoons at the Ontario Legislature, when private members’ business is dealt with, and most MPPs are already on the road back to their ridings, are not your high-profile time of week. And Jim Brownell is no one’s idea of the flashiest MPP.
Still, the Liberal from Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry out in eastern Ontario might just be one of the more interesting.
The retired teacher has quietly carved out a niche for himself as a history buff among legislators. And last week, he added another instalment to his passion for the past.
Brownell moved second reading of his bill to proclaim Sept. 28 each year as British Home Child Day. And if you wonder, at first blush, what the Dickens that’s all about, you’re not alone.
As Liberal Wayne Arthurs put it, British home children were something he’d known nothing of and, but for Brownell’s efforts, probably never would have.
As Brownell told the Legislature, about 100,000 children were sent to Canada from Britain between 1869 and 1939, many to work as soon as they were old enough, and in those days it wasn’t very old, as farm labourers and domestics in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada.
This province was growing. The impoverished orphanages and other institutions of Victorian Britain were overflowing. Supply met demand.
“Officials believed these children would be better off in a new land with fresh air and wide open spaces,” Brownell said.
Most of the children were transported, he said, by British religious and charitable organizations who believed they were doing “a good and noble thing” for the children.
Brownell’s grandmother, Mary Scott Pearson, was just shy of her 14th birthday when she arrived as an orphan in Halifax in 1891, before travelling to the Fairknowe Home in Brockville, Ont., a receiving house for orphans sent to Canada from Scotland.
Her story, like most who shared her journey, was one of challenge and adversity, he said. There was little monitoring of living circumstances or fate after arrival.
“Arriving in Ontario with their worldly possessions tucked into little wooden trunks, siblings were often separated upon their arrival and many never saw each other again.”
New Democrat Cheri DiNovo was aghast.
“Can you even begin to imagine a 4-year-old getting on a boat and arriving in a stranger’s house? One of them described being put with the dogs in a shed and having to eat with the dogs … The fact that there was abuse goes without saying … Think `slavery.’ That happened here, and it happened with British children.”
Yet, many endured and went on to live productive lives, Brownell said, and more than 10,000 fought for Canada in World War I and II.
Brownell said it’s estimated more than 10 per cent of Canada’s population is made up of descendants of British home children, yet many Canadians don’t know their story.
“They are not aware of the hardships that they suffered and the sacrifices that were made. They are not aware of the tremendous contributions that British home children made to the social and economic fibre of our great province.”
This year, Canada Post is to issue a stamp commemorating home children. And Brownell’s initiative gives Ontarians “an opportunity to learn about their past.”
Almost all MPPs who spoke to the bill before it passed second reading said they’d known nothing about this part of the province’s history.
As for the date?
Well, Sept. 28 was the day more than 100 years ago that Jim Brownell’s grandmother stepped off the SS Hibernian and set foot in Canada.
< http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/article/769317–coyle-story-of-home-children-part-of-our-history >