Who were these children?
In Britain, children were taken into care by many groups, such as churches, workhouse unions and charitable organizations. Some children were orphans, but most were from destitute families who were unable to care for them due to poverty or because of the illness, death or workplace injury of a parent. Some children were paupers, which was a British term for a person who was living in or had lived in a workhouse.
Many of the organizations and agencies caring for these children were motivated by social, economic and charitable forces to look to Canada as a new home for the children. They believed that the children would have better opportunities and a chance for a healthy, moral life in the Canadian countryside. Rural families welcomed the children and agreed to send them to school according to provincial laws, as well as to bring them to church and Sunday school.
The children were also 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. Many settlement families paid for girls to take music, dressmaking and millinery lessons. Some families also paid for secondary and post-secondary education for the children.
Coming to Canada
Home children were under the age of 18. Some were toddlers, but most were aged between 7 and 14. Some children were sent to Canada without their parents’ consent. 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, such as Marchmont Home in Belleville, Ontario, and Gibbs' Home in Sherbrooke, Quebec. They were then taken to the homes of farmers in the area.
About 70 percent of home children were settled in Ontario. Others were settled in Quebec, Manitoba, the Maritime provinces and British Columbia. Between 1935 and 1948, the Fairbridge Society settled over 300 children at its farm school on Vancouver Island, where they lived in cottage homes rather than being placed with families.
The children’s lives in Canada
It is commonly known that some of the children were abused, and many were poorly treated by today’s standards. Many of those stories have been told and are heartbreaking to read.
What is less known is that most experienced a better life in Canada than if they had remained in the urban slums of Britain, trapped in poverty and held back by a rigid class system.
In Canada, many home children went on to own farms themselves. Others became teachers, carpenters, doctors, nurses, merchants, secretaries, clergy, tradespeople, politicians and a wide variety of other occupations. Many enlisted with the Canadian and British armed forces during the South African War and the two world wars.
As adults, some children from Barnardo’s Homes wrote to that organization’s magazines, telling about their life experiences. In the Guild Messenger, for example, there is a letter from Harold Green in 1970. He wrote that he was brought to Canada in 1901 and later worked in farming and lumbering. He served in the First World War, took an auto mechanics course and eventually worked for the Ontario Forestry Service, retiring at age 70 with a pension.
Read more about home children
You can also read the detailed article about home children (PDF) from the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa. Learn about:
- social and economic conditions in Britain at the time
- why children ended up in care
- what life was like for children in the care of homes and institutions
- why home children were sent to Canada
- what life in Canada was like for home children
- other background information
- Children of the State by Florence Davenport Hill, 1889.
- Great Canadian expectations: the Middlemore experience by Patricia Roberts-Pichette, 2016
- Pauper children (Canada): return to an order of the Honourable the House of Commons, dated 8 February 1875, for copy of a report to the Right Honourable the president of the Local Government Board, by Andrew Doyle, Esquire, local government inspector, as to the emigration of pauper children to Canada [PDF, 12.91 MB]
- The children's home-finder; the story of Annie MacPherson and Louisa Birt, by Lilian M. Birt, 1913.
- The Golden Bridge: Young Immigrants to Canada, 1833-1939, by Marjorie Kohli, 2003.
- The Little Immigrants: the Orphans Who Came to Canada (new edition), by Kenneth Bagnell, 2001.
- Uprooted: The Shipment of Poor Children to Canada, 1867-1917, by R. A. Parker, 2010.)
Records at Library and Archives Canada
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds unique and extensive records about British home children, such as:
- passenger lists
- Immigration Branch correspondence files and inspection reports
- non-government collections such as the Middlemore Home fonds
- indexes to some records held in the United Kingdom
The records also include names of older boys and girls who were recruited by immigration agents in Britain for farming and domestic work in Canada.
Please note that most documents have been created in English. Members of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa and other volunteers are indexing the names of juvenile migrants found in these records.
You can search indexed records in the following databases:
Other LAC records:
Immigration Branch: Central Registry Files (RG76 B1a)
These files contain correspondence from and to various sending organizations. They often include annual reports, information booklets and some lists of names of children. The files cover the years from 1892 to approximately 1946. Consult our Guide to Sending Organizations and Receiving Homes for relevant references and information about how to access those records.
Juvenile Inspection Reports (RG76 C4c)
Immigration officials created inspection report cards as they carried out regular inspections of children brought to Canada by various organizations. These records date from 1920 to 1932; however, there are a few from 1911 to 1917 and after 1932. There is usually one page per child, showing name, age or date of birth, year of arrival, ship, sending organization, the names and addresses of employers and final comments, e.g. "completed, gone west."
This series also includes inspection cards for some European children, including those brought to Canada by the Armenian Relief Association of Canada (1923-1932) and the Canadian Jewish War Orphans Committee (1920-1921).
The inspection reports are available on the following microfilm reels, which can be viewed on site. The records are arranged in alphabetical order, not by organization. Note that the original records have not survived, and the quality of the microfilm is poor.
These reels are digitized on the free website Héritage. Enter the reel number in the search box, then click on the reel title to see the images. The contents are not searchable by name, but you can skip ahead through the images to find the relevant section of surnames.
List of Juvenile Inspections Reports
|Microfilm reel number||First name on reel||Last name on reel|
|T-15420 ||ANDERSON, Newton and ABBOTT, Auber ||CARDNO, Leslie|
|T-15421||CARDWELL, Andrew ||EVANS, Arthur E.|
|T-15422||EVANS, Arthur L.||HENDERSON, Ann F.|
|T-15423||HENDERSON, Charles H.||LOCK, Annie|
|T-15424||LOCK, Herbert||O'BRIEN, Samuel|
|T-15425||O'BRIEN, Thomas||SHAW, Victor|
|T-15426||SHAW, Walter A.||WEALE, Walter|
|T-15427||WEALLS, Eric||ZYCZYNSKI, Leon|
Resources in other institutions and online
Besides the following websites, consult our Guide to Sending Organizations and Receiving Homes for resources in Canada and the British Isles relating to specific organizations.
For research in the United Kingdom, visit the following websites:
Ancestry (subscription required): Includes indexes and digitized records for England, including census and some church records. Ancestry is available free at many public libraries.
Familysearch: This free website includes indexes and some digitized images for many records from England, including census and some church records. Also use the Catalog to find out what records are available on microfilm.
Former Children's Homes: Information about Cottage Homes, orphanages, and other institutions.
FreeBMD: These indexes to British birth, marriage and death records indicate the quarter of the year in which the event was registered, not the date of the event. The references also provide the registration district, volume and page number for ordering copies. The actual records are not online; they must be ordered from the General Register Office (GRO) in England.
London Metropolitan Archives: The LMA holds registers of School Admissions and Discharges, 1840-1911, for the London area. Many of those records are indexed by name and digitized on ancestry (subscription required).
The Children's Homes: Information and resources about orphanages, homes, reformatories, industrial schools, and other institutions.
The National Archives: Use the Guides and the Discovery Catalogue to search for records relating to various organizations and workhouses held at the National Archives and other archives in the British Isles.
The Workhouse: Historical information about Union workhouses, schools and homes, including information about where to locate records. You can search the website by a place name or other keyword. You can also access relevant information by clicking on Workhouse Locations.
Library and Archives Canada has published the following blog articles:
Listen to a Library and Archives Canada podcast episode on home children.
See photographs of groups of Home Children on Flickr.