Celebrating history: Ontario honours first British Home Child Day, Sept 28

British Home Child Day was celebrated for the first time on September 28th at Upper Canada Village (UCV) with a full day of activities, including presentations, skits, readings, displays, bagpipes and more.

An historical overview from the Canadian Citizenship & Immigration webstie outlines why this period of our history is important.

“Home Children quietly helped build our country and their many descendants continue to do so today. Yet the migration of British children to Canada is a little-known chapter of Canada’s immigration and social history.”

“Between 1869 and the late 1940s, British religious and philanthropic organizations transported about 100,000 children to Canada to live with Canadian families and work as farm labourers or domestic servants.” 

“In Canada, the children would become known as Home Children, as the institutions from which many of them came were known as Homes. The best-known, Barnardo’s Homes, sent approximately 30,000 children to Canada, 70 percent of them boys.”

A Native Red Maple tree and a plaque donated by Jim Brownell, MPP for Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry were unveiled in an afternoon ceremony at Aultsville Station complete with the sounds of bagpipes.

In a release by Brownell, he stated: “Over the years, we shall watch the growth of this tree, just as the descendents of these British Home Children have grown and multiplied, and have contributed, in countless and significant ways, to the social and economic fibre of Ontario’s communities.”

Carolyn Goddard, chairperson for the British Home Child Day Committee of SD&G, (BHCDC)got things underway with a short reading from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, where Rachel Lynde is discussing the horrors of orphan children to Marilla Cuthbert. Marilla’s brother Matthew was, at the time, on his way to the station to collect the new addition to their family.

Tom Brownell, secretary for the BHCDC, spoke next about his brother Jim’s efforts and eventual victory in making September 28th officially British Home Child Day in Ontario with the passing of Bill 185.

Brownell explained the significance of the September date: “Mary Scott Pearson (Brownell’s grandmother) stepped off the boat in Halifax 120 years ago today.”

Brownell also informed the crowd that Nova Scotia had just passed a bill making September 28 British Home Child Day there as well.

He told the crowd that an “important part of this story that deserves to be told” is how these children were “susceptible to mistreatment” because they weren’t closely monitored by the organizations that sent them.

He went on to say that while they did endure hardships, many also “went on to lead proud lives. Almost all who came to Canada remained in Canada.”

These children “helped to cultivate our country’s values” as well as fight for our country during the war. 

He concluded saying, the British Home Children are “part of our country’s history, they’re part of our past, and their descendents are part of our future.”

Chairman for the St. Lawrence Parks Commission Ron Eamer and South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds each took turns speaking before the introduction of Leeds and Grenville MPP Steve Clark.

Clark dedicated the tree and unveiled the plaque in place of Jim Brownell who was unable to attend the event. He  began by saying, “just the fact that we’re here deserves applause.”

He went on to detail the long road leading to this day saying that “private member’s bills rarely get passed.”

Most significantly, Clark is proud of the fact that he, Brownell and Parkdale-Highpark MPP Cheri DiNovo, “the three parties have gotten together to get this bill passed – putting politics aside and doing something good for the province of Ontario.”

Clark informed the crowd that Brockville was the “location of one of the receiving homes,” Fairknowe Home. This home, still standing in Brockville today, was originally built by William Quarrier of Scotland for the purpose of receiving “his” children from Scotland.

Clark went on to talk about the discovery that his wife’s paternal grandfather, Sidney Roberts, was a Home Child with “a story much the same as Mary Scott Pearson.”

Following the tree and plaque dedication, a vignette, “Arrival of British Home Children, Aultsville Train Station” was performed by Dave Hanson, Tyler Konick, Faith McCrae and Shannon McCrae.

There were eight other vignettes to follow at different locations throughout UCV detailing different time periods and experiences of British Home Children.

The British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa was set up in the Harvest Barn with an abundance of pictures, books, articles, and artifacts detailing the history of the British Home Children. Many were on hand to talk, educate, and share stories.

Sandra Joyce, whose father came to Canada from Scotland in 1925 as a Home Child, launched her new book “The Street Arab – A British Home Child Story” with two scheduled readings at the Village Store.

Rounding out the day was the Just Kiddin’ Theatre from Metcalfe who performed on the Cook’s Tavern verandah. “

According to their website: “Just Kiddin’ Theatre is a volunteer organization that delivers dramatic arts to students in Ottawa’s rural South.  The program is based on the belief that enrichment of the arts is not only a fun and enjoyable experience but presents opportunity to develop skills that will positively impact students for the rest of their lives.”

Immediately following the performance, guests with dinner reservations made their way to Willard’s Hotel, where they were welcomed with bagpipe melody.

Throughout the day it was said by many – time and again – that British Home Child Day will forever be an opportunity for Canadians to celebrate the courage and perseverance of the British Home Children who triumphed over adversity.

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