That, in the opinion of the House, the government should recognize the contributions made by the over 100,000 British Home Children to Canadian society, their service to our armed forces throughout the twentieth century, the hardships and stigmas that many of them endured, and the importance of educating and reflecting upon the story of the British Home Children for future generations by declaring September 28 of every year, British Home Child Day in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am extremely honoured today to rise to speak about my private member's motion, Motion No. 133, to establish a British home child day in Canada, which would be recognized on September 28 of every year. Despite writing a vital chapter in the story of Canada, many Canadians have never heard a whisper of these children's stories. It is my hope that with this motion, this can change.
Over 100,000 children, from infancy to 18 years of age, were sent to Canada from Great Britain, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales between 1869 and 1948 as home children. Most of these children were needed as farm labourers and domestic workers in homes across Canada. They were part of the child emigration movement. A large majority of these children were from orphanages and institutions, while others were children from streets of the cities in Great Britain. They were the British home children.
Until recent years, very few Canadians knew about the British home children. Their stories of hardship, courage, determination, and perseverance were not part of Canadian history books, nor were they mentioned by most of Canada's home children. Of special note, the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies was established as a direct result of the British home child migration scheme.
While the industrial revolution created many positive outcomes for Great Britain, it did create massive pressure on the social networks of the larger cities. Many families found themselves destitute, with thousands of children falling through the cracks. Many children began living on the streets, while others were placed in orphanages. For every child, there was a different circumstance that put him or her in need of care and support.
With so many children living on the streets or in orphanages, a movement emerged in which individuals, philanthropists, faith-based groups, and charitable organizations sought to care for these unfortunate children. For the most part, these people and organizations, often referred to as “child savers”, felt they were doing a good and noble thing for the children. Maria Rye brought the first group of British children to Canada in 1869, housing the children in a refurbished jail in Niagara-on-the-Lake until she was able to find families that would take them in.
Following Maria Rye's lead, approximately 50 individuals or organizations over the next eight decades brought or sent children to Canada. They believed these children had a better chance for a healthy, moral life in the vastness of rural Canada, where food, fresh air, land, and opportunities flourished. It is also common knowledge that healthy, strong children could be of great benefit as labourers in a very young and expanding country.
With everything they owned packed in small boxes, trunks, or bags, these children started their new lives in Canada. Canada was seen as the country of milk and honey and a new life seemed like a huge adventure to many of these children. Upon arrival from Great Britain by ship, these children were then put on trains and sent to communities that had receiving and distribution homes. Children stayed in these homes until they were distributed out to families that had applied for them. A contract or indenture would be drawn up for a set number of years between the organization and the applicant.
Often the children went to rural areas, where they were seen by many as cheap labour, working from before sunrise to after sunset. Although many of the home children were treated very poorly, neglected, and mentally and physically abused, many others did experience better lives. Some were welcomed as one of the family, loved and nurtured. Most of these children drew on their outstanding courage, strength, and perseverance and went on to lead healthy and productive lives. They contributed to the growth and development of this wonderful country called Canada, with many British home children enlisting in World War I and World War II.
Why are we just learning about them now? Many British home children carried a stigma of neglect, abuse, torment, and isolation that endured until adulthood. This weighed heavy on their hearts and souls, and they did not wish to talk about their early lives and, therefore, a piece of our country's history was buried.
In recent years, many descendants believed that these children had nothing to be ashamed of and should not have to hide the truth about their childhoods. They also believed that the British home children deserved to have their stories collected, preserved, and told. One of these descendants is Dave Lorente, son of Joseph Arthur Lorente.
Following his father's death, he spent countless hours at the Library and Archives Canada searching through ships' records for his father's arrival in Canada. He discovered that he was an orphan and that he was a British home child. Dave and Kay Lorente founded Home Child Canada in 1991, assisting descendants with research and understanding their heritage. In 1998, the were invited by the British House of Commons to address its all-party committee looking into the welfare of former child migrants. In 2011, Jim Brownell, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry in the legislature of Ontario, presented a private member's bill to have September 28 declared as British Home Child Day in Ontario, with the bill co-sponsored by MPP Cheri DiNovo and Steve Clark. It passed unanimously and received royal assent on June 1, 2011. Since 2010, the Year of the British Home Child in Canada, thousands of Canadians have discovered that they are among the estimated 12% to 14% of Canadians who are descendants of British home children.
I would like to share a few local stories that illustrate the rich history of this chapter of Canada's story that is currently missing from many history books. The first is a story by Ron Baker, a constituent of mine from Cornwall. He said:
For decades, I and my brothers and sisters believed that our father Edwin was an American born in Boston, USA....
That all changed on August 15, 2008, when I came across an old torn envelope addressed to my late father at the Gibbs Home in Sherbrooke, Que, sent from India. I googled 'Gibbs Home' and a couple of emails later, I discovered a whole new chapter of my father's life that was previously unknown to me and to the rest of my family.
Yes, my father was born in Boston, but it was actually the Boston in Lincolnshire, on the east coast of England.
What I discovered was the quintessential story of the British home child. At the age of ten his mother, Rebecca, died in a Workhouse, probably of tuberculosis, according to a file sent to me from the Church of England Children's Society, formerly Waifs and Strays. My father was placed into care by his grandfather Charles, aged 60.
At the age of almost 15, my father was given the choice of coming to Canada or going to Australia. He chose Canada because some of his friends were going there. After farming training at Stoneygate Farm School he was sent to Canada on the SS DORIC along with 32 other boys. He arrived at Quebec City on July 7 1928 and from there went to the Gibbs Home in Sherbrooke, under the watchful eye of Thomas Keeley. He worked at several Quebec farms in Bulwer, Eaton, Ayerscliff ,Bromptonville and Lennoxville.
My father, like many of the Home Children, did everything they could to distance themselves from their past to eliminate the bullying. They disposed of their trunks and their English accents....
After marrying and serving in the military, my father worked at a munitions factory in Valleyfield before moving to Deep River to work at the newly established Atomic Energy plant, where he worked in the Chemical Extraction Division.
My father successfully shed his English accent and never spoke of his native country, even in spite of the fact that we had English neighbours in Deep River. It amazes me to this day that there were no slip-ups when speaking with the neighbours.
I would also like to share a few other brief stories from my riding that also highlight the story and accomplishments of British home children. There is the story of Charles Conroy, who was the grandfather of a local constituent and friend of mine, Carolyn Goddard. He was born in London, England in 1889 to Robert and Julia Conroy, who lived in St. George Hanover Square. After the death of his parents, he and his siblings lived in a workhouse. It was from there that Charles was sent to Canada by the Catholic Emigration Society in 1905, arriving in Quebec before being sent to St. George's Home in Ottawa, where he was indentured to a farmer near Stittsville, Ontario. He later worked as a chef at Boston Lunch in Ottawa and was conscripted during World War I. Conroy had three children, two of which, June and William, lived to adulthood.
Carol also shared with me another story, about Claude Nunney. Claude was born in Hastings, England, and came under the care of the Catholic emigration service, which sent him to Canada as a British home child in 1905. He spent some time at St. George's Home in Ottawa before being sent to Glengarry County, in Ontario, where he worked on farms before enlisting in World War I and serving with the 38th Battalion, CEF. Nunney died as a result of wounds on September 18, 1918. During his wartime service, he received the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and the Military Medal. At the legion in Lancaster, Ontario, there is an Ontario historic sites plaque, and earlier in 2017, a blue plaque was unveiled at his childhood home in Hastings, U.K. I thank Carol for those two stories.
To help illustrate the passion and dedication many of my constituents have for the need to enshrine the stories of the British home children as part of the national story, I would like to speak a little about a brother and sister who have dedicated countless hours to this cause, Jim Brownell and Judy Neville. I mentioned earlier that Jim was a former MPP from my riding. His sister, Judy, shared the following story with me. In 2010, she found out that her grandmother was an orphan from Scotland who became a British home child. Her name was Mary Scott Pearson.
On May 19, 2011, I, along with many people from eastern Ontario, boarded chartered buses and travelled to Toronto to witness the second and third reading of Bill 185 in the legislature of Ontario and to see it sent to the Lieutenant-Governor's office for royal assent. This private member's bill was initiated by then MPP Jim Brownell, of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. I would like to thank Judy and Jim.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the recent work of Eleanor McGrath, whose documentary focusing on the story of British home children, entitled Forgotten, has travelled worldwide to film festivals and has received several awards.
I would like to end with a personal connection to the British home children. Sophia Titterington came to Canada aboard the SS Corinthian in July 1905, when she was nine years old. I know this because she was a neighbour of mine when I was just a child. She came with her sister Sarah, who was only seven years old. The year before, her brother John had made the crossing and had been sent out to western Canada to work, and unfortunately, he was never seen again.
Upon arrival, they were sent to a receiving home, in Brockville, known as Fairknowe, where the sisters were split up. The younger Sarah was sent to the farming community of Finch, in my riding, where she worked as a domestic. Years later, she made her way to Trenton, where she died at the young age of 23.
Sophia was sent out as a domestic to Belleville and later married William Pelkey, at the age of 21. They relocated to Cornwall and had seven children. Sophia never revealed to her children or grandchildren her past as a home child. Sophia, like so many of the home children, was shamed into staying silent due to social stigma.
Sophia lived to be 74 years old, before passing in Cornwall. It was much later on, around 2001, when my sister Claire and her husband, Bill Pelkey, who was Sophia's grandson, began looking into the family history and the information emerged about her true past.
This story is similar to those of tens of thousands of other British home children, throughout the country, who kept their stories buried deep inside. That is the reason I urge each of my colleagues in this chamber, from both sides of the House, to lend their support to my motion to ensure that the stories and names of the British home children are forever ingrained in the history and story of Canada.