Are you a descendant of a British child immigrant? Is there a ‘home child’ in your family background? How would you know?
Join historian and author Art Joyce at Nelson’s Touchstones Museum of Art and History, Shawn Lamb Archives, Thursday, Nov. 3 at 7 pm for his presentation Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Honouring Canada’s Child Immigrants.
Between 1869 and 1939, 100,000 poor children were emigrated from Britain to Canada as means of providing indentured labourers for newly developing farms or – in the case of girls – domestic servants for households.
Tens of thousands more children were sent to Australia and New Zealand. Siblings were often separated and in most cases never saw one another or their parents again. Only a minority were actual ‘orphans.’ Even fewer were adopted by the families for whom they worked so hard.
It was seen as an expedient solution to the growing poverty problem created by the Industrial Revolution in Britain, while at the same time helping develop the colonies.
Joyce discovered that he was the grandson of just such a ‘home child’ about five years ago while doing genealogical research into his Joyce ancestors.
Since then he has been expanding his interest to include research on the history of Canada’s child immigrants, and in particular, its impact on families in the Columbia Basin.
He plans to compile a book based on both his own family’s experience and the experiences of other Basin families who have ‘home children’ in their background. This project is supported by funds from the Columbia Basin Trust.
Joyce is the author of two books of West Kootenay history, A Perfect Childhood and Hanging Fire & Heavy Horses, on the heritage homes and public transit of the historic city of Nelson.
A passage from A Perfect Childhood is quoted in the Knowledge Network’s BC Moments series and he was a popular heritage columnist for the Nelson Daily News from 1996-2000.
For the past seven years he has worked as reporter and arts and culture editor for the Valley Voice newspaper in the Slocan Valley. Joyce is also the author of two recent books of poetry.
Photo: These girls from the Barnardo's homes in England were among the 100,000 British poor children who were emigrated to Canada between 1869-1939. The families of the children often had no choice in their emigration and they were forced to work on farms or as household servants until legal age for little or no money. This group is arriving at St. John, New Brunswick in the 1920s. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.