Saturday, 26 September 2015

Who should remember Roger Hall sent to Canada in 1914? ............ British Home Child Day September 28

Leaving Manchester for Canada 1897 on the Town Hall steps
Anniversaries according to one of my friends “are to be avoided at all costs ......... they are mean things which tempt you down half forgotten paths and are piled high with nostalgia which when you look more closely hide some pretty shabby goings on.”

Now I know what she means and sometimes when applied to the great events of the past they can trivialise the event and the experiences of those who were there.

But they also offer up an opportunity to reflect on what happened and in some cases even raise awareness.

And I think that is the importance of the activities surrounding Ontario’s British Home Child Day on September 28.

It is not the most zippy of titles but it does the business which is to both remember and raise awareness of the 100,000 or so British children migrated to Canada from 1870 to 1930 and by extension those others sent to all bits of the British Empire which in the case of Australia was still going on in the 1970s.

In Canada, 1907
Some were from orphanages, others were in the care of charities or the Poor Law authorities and some were even rescued off the streets.

The policy can be seen as either a well meaning desire to relocate young people to a new world where they could have a fresh start or a cynical move to shift a real social problem as far away from Britain as possible.

It is a subject I often write about because like about ten percent of the Canadian population I am descended from a British Home Child although strictly speaking he was my great uncle and not one of my grandparents.

I knew nothing about his story until I came across a letter from his sister describing how he had been migrated to Canada by the Poor Law Guardians in 1914.

And that chance discovery is often how most of us discover the connection which makes it all the more important that events which focus on that policy of migration and resettlement are brought out to a wider audience.

And yet over here in Britain I doubt that many are aware of what went on.  If pushed they may be aware of how our young people were still being sent to Australia just forty years ago and the uphill battle at first to get anyone to admit to the extent of the migration.*

But in the case of Canada that policy stopped over eighty years ago and sadly few of those who were sent are still alive while the children sent to other parts of the British Empire have by and large not been documented in any detail.

The farmhouse 2010 almost a century after Roger Hall lived there
Nor have there been that many books published in Britain and while  the story of British Home Children is becoming a serious area of study in Canada that is not so over here.

So I hope the day goes well in Ontario along with the others which will be rolled out during the year and more than a little bit of me will be thinking and writing about it again on the 28th, after all a big chunk of our family lives in Ontario.***

Not that they are from my great uncle, he was lost to us sometime around 1925.  Instead these are the children and greatgrand children of his sister who he helped go across to Canada on an “Empire assisted scheme” but that is another story for another time.

Pictures; outside Manchester Town Hall with a party of young people bound for Canada, 1897 and young people on a farm in Canada, 1907 courtesy of the Together Trust and one of the farmhouses where my great uncle worked and lived, 2010 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*British Home Children,

* A story of British Home Children in just 20 objects nu 16 .......... Australia and other parts of the Commonwealth, 

***Events this weekend, Film Forgotten- Saturday September 26 8.30 pm Rainbow Cinema Market Square Movie Theatre, 80 Front Street E, Toronto www.commffest,com & Sunday Seept 27 Black Creek Pioneer Village all day event, www,

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