That, in the opinion of the House, the government should designate 2010 as The Year of the British Home Child across Canada.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to share with my colleagues a story that few Canadians know anything about. It is the story about courage, strength and perseverance. It is a story of Canada's British home children.
Like almost four million Canadians, my family can relate to this story. My uncle, Kenneth Bickerton, was a British home child. Born in 1916, my uncle was orphaned by the time he was 11 years old. Like most children in Britain, who suffered this fate, he spent time in an orphanage before being shipped off to Canada.
He was 14 years old when he arrived in Quebec City. After being met by an immigration official, he and about two dozen other boys were transferred to Brantford, Ontario, to work on area farms.
Between 1869 and 1948, over 100,000 British children, like my uncle, were sent to Canada from Great Britain, many of them to work as farm labourers and domestic servants. These were the British home children: boys and girls, anywhere from 6 months to 18 years of age. They were a part of the child emigration movement. Most of them came from orphanages or other institutions that could no longer afford to look after them.
For a variety of reasons, the children were sent to Canada, as we were a growing economy and in need of labourers.
Most of the children were transported by British religious and charitable organizations. For the most part, these organizations believed that they were doing a good and noble thing for the children, who were worse off living in poverty in the UK. One such organization was the Fegan Homes of England.
One of my constituents is a descendant of a British home child who came to Canada through this organization. At the age of 11, Percival Victor Fry began working at an Ontario farm. His granddaughter, Adrienne Patterson told me that while her grandfather had to be moved several times due to inappropriate care he “was so grateful to have been afforded the chance at a life that he never would have had, back in that time, in England”.
Like Adrienne's grandfather, many home children faced adversity. Most were able to overcome it, but it was by no means easy. The British home children faced considerable challenges and some experienced tremendous hardship. They were susceptible to mistreatment because their living conditions in Canada were not closely monitored. Some where malnourished and others emotionally starved. There was loneliness and sadness. Siblings were often separated upon their arrival and many never saw each other again. This is an important part of their story that deserves to be told.
However, their story does not end there. Due to their remarkable courage, strength and perseverance, Canada's British home children did endure, and most of them went on to lead healthy and productive lives.
My uncle, for example, married and had 4 children and 12 grandchildren. He made a good living for himself, while contributing to Canada's economy. He worked, first, in manufacturing, and then later as a cookware and typewriter salesman.
Home child Percival Victor Fry was an air raid warden in Toronto during the second world war. He married and, together, he and his wife had six children.
In the online story collection of Canada's Immigration Museum Pier 21, Jane Bartlett has written of her grandmother, home child Alice Smith, “My grandmother worked as a domestic in Saint John, New Brunswick. Later she met my grandfather and was married. The two ran a plumbing business in the North End of Saint John for many years and raised seven children”.
There are thousands of stories like these.
In an email I recently received from Brighton, Ontario, Lynda Burke wrote, “Thank you for remembering the great contributions that approximately 100,000 child immigrants from the U.K. have given to Canada...my mother came from Scotland and despite adversity, became a nurse and a productive Canadian”.
This is the other half of the story. While the British home children were underprivileged and suffered from unfortunate circumstances, they endured, and almost all of them who came to Canada remained in Canada. They grew up to raise families of their own. They contributed to our country's economic growth and prosperity. They helped to cultivate our country's values and defend our country's freedom. More than 10,000 of them fought for Canada in the first world war and approximately 1,000 lost their lives.
Canada's British home children are an integral part of our country's history. They are a part of our heritage. They represent a part of our past and their descendants represent a part of our future. Their stories are ones that need to be taught in our schools.
Today, it is estimated that 12% of Canada's population is made up of British home children and their descendants. That represents more than four million Canadians and the number continues to grow. Yet, there are many Canadians who still do not know the story of the home children. They are not aware of the hardships that were suffered and the sacrifices that were made.
However, we as parliamentarians have the opportunity to change that. We can help tell the story. We can proclaim 2010 the year of the British home child across Canada. We can give Canadians an opportunity to learn about their past and to collectively recognize the contributions of Canada's British home children and their descendants.
I have received many emails and letters from across this country in support of this motion. Home child organizations, like the Middlemore Atlantic Society, have also received letters. In fact, it recently received one from the leader of the Bloc Québécois, who wrote:
As you know, many Quebeckers are the descendants of these children, who left the United Kingdom between 1869 and 1930, and went on to help build the society we know today. My maternal grandfather was a British Home Child. The Bloc Québécois members will recognize and show their respect for British Home Children by voting in favour of the motion to declare 2010 the Year of the British Home Child.
I am grateful for that support and the non-partisan approach that is apparent in the House. I want to thank all parties for their support of this motion and for their agreement to pass this motion by unanimous consent. I would also like to thank the seconder of this motion, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and member for St. Catharines.
Before I conclude today, I want to acknowledge the efforts and work of the many home child organizations across the country. In particular, I would like to thank the Middlemore Atlantic Society and the Nova Scotia Home Children and Descendants Association for their part in helping to bring this story forward.
I would also like to acknowledge the province of New Brunswick where 2009 was declared the year of the British home child and the province of Nova Scotia where the month of October was dedicated to the home child.
In 2010, Canada Post will issue a stamp commemorating home children and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism plans to include recognition of their story in citizenship ceremonies.
I encourage my fellow parliamentarians to add to these wonderful initiatives and to join me in officially recognizing 2010 as the year of the British home child across Canada.