Cantley’s Home Children: An Introduction

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The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 35 no 10 May 2024. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.


Cantley 1889’s mission is to discover, document, protect and promote Cantley’s history and heritage including our pristine natural heritage. Lorne Mountain is Cantley’s natural treasure, our living nature museum.

Cantley’s Home Children: An Introduction

Mary Holmes

Between 1869 and 1939 more than 100,000 British Home Children were sent to Canada. These children were typically between the ages of seven and fourteen. Most were designated as orphans, but, in fact, two-thirds of them had a parent in Britain. They were from destitute families who were unable to care for their children. Many lived in workhouses where room and board were provided in return for work, essentially slave labour. To help with this devastating problem and to alleviate labour shortages in its colonies, Britain shipped these children to its colonies with the promise the children would have a better life abroad.

New Orpington Lodge was opened in 1895 in Ottawa’s Hintonburg. It was renamed St. George’s Home under the care of the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul. It closed in 1935.

British Home Children are generally defined as being 18 years and under. Depending on the agency that sent them to Canada, they could expect to be “adopted” or placed as indentured servants. In the latter case, their wages were often held back until adulthood providing them with a “nest egg” to start their new life. When an “adopted” child’s name appears on the Census record, it is likely a refl ection of the affection in which they were held rather than a legality. This may explain why the children continued to use their own names throughout their lives.

Our preliminary research used the census records and British Home Children records of Library and Archives Canada. Cantley 1889 has identified 23 likely home children in the 1911 Census. These six girls and 17 boys arrived in Canada between 1899 and 1911 to work on Cantley’s farms. They all came by ship, namely the Bavarian, Corsican, Tunisian or Mongolian. Most left from Liverpool, England, arriving in Quebec nine to ten days later.

The children underwent medical inspections before leaving Britain and again before leaving the ship when it arrived in Canada. Upon arrival, the children were brought to “receiving” or “distribution” homes. The Catholic children in the Cantley group were routed through St. George’s Home at 1153 Wellington Street, Ottawa. As a first stop, most of the Protestant children went to Knowlton Homes in Knowlton, QC. A few others were sent to Halifax, NS, Peterborough, ON, or Brockville, ON.

From there, they were taken to the homes of farmers in Cantley after the required applications and agreements were filled in and approved. The circumstances were as varied as the farmers. Sometimes they were sent to young families as mothers’ helpers. Often, they went to households where the farmers were elderly or widows/ widowers, or where there were only young daughters.

Most were accepted into the family and treated as family members. The children were taught skills or trades that could help them to make an honourable living as adults. For most boys, this meant learning agricultural skills, as it did for farm children born in Canada. Girls learned home domestic skills. Some stayed in Cantley and made their lives here. The rest moved on to other locales.

We have previously profiled Ernest Gobell (Echo, November 2020) and James (Jimmy) Smith (Echo, November 2018). If you can help put “flesh on the bones”, and pictures, of any of Cantley’s Home Children, please contact Cantley 1889 at info.cantley1889@gmail.com

Cantley’s Home Children

 

When Home Children first arrived in Canada, they stayed at receiving homes like Knowlton Home, Knowlton QC.

British Home Child, Jimmy Smith (right, age 97) lived with Cantley’s George and Catherine Burke. He later moved in with the Lola Burke / Ray Foley family. He was a World War I veteran so spent his later years in Ottawa’s Rideau Veterans Home shown here with Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn. The Ottawa Citizen, October 27, 1994.

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