A Peek Into The Past: British Home Children

Brittany W.
Brittany W. Verge
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Canadians often enjoy chatting about their cultural backgrounds.

Whether we are First Nations members or we are first generation Canadians, it seems that we enjoy learning about where we came from and how we essentially got where we are now.

In having one of these conversations, I explained to some one that I am the descendent of a British Home Child.  My friend looked at me quite puzzled and the more I asked around, the more I realized, many don’t know what a British Home Child is. 

So here’s your history lesson and I hope you find it helpful and maybe you may even find you have one in your family too.

British Home Children were migrate children from Great Britain who were sent to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.  These children were poor, often orphaned children, and most never saw their families again.

The program that saw over 100,000 children sent around the world, started in 1869.  Annie MacPherson, the founder of the 1869 program, was attempting to find a solution to the child slavery that took place in the some industries. She opened homes for them to work and be educated.

The practice of sending poor children actually started in the 1600's but it didn’t become as much of a staple as it did in 1869. 

Eventually these children were sent to places like Canada to be distributed for work in homes, farms, and offices.  It seems MacPherson’s intentions were kind in that she wanted a better life for the children than what they had in Britain.

It became quite apparent over time that although some children were welcomed into loving homes and treated as adopted orphans, many more were mistreated, were used for heavy labour, often lacked education, and some were even denied proper shelter.

The program didn’t end entirely until the 1970's by which point over 150,000 children had been displaced.  In the 1980's attempts were made to reunite family members as some children had even been lied to and told their parents were dead so as to send them overseas. 

Because of their physical and emotional abuse, suicide ended up being very common among the children as they grew older.

It can be difficult to find information on British Home Children online but there are some great resources out there.  My family had been struggling to find my great grandmother’s records for years and we actually found out much more through a network of British Home Children descendants on Facebook.

Within five minutes of asking questions in that group, we found out what boat she was on and that was that she worked in two homes, one as a child and another one as a teen.  We even found the names of the families she lived with.

My grandmother came to Nova Scotia around 1911 when she was nine years old.  After working in a home in Wallace Bay, Nova Scotia, she eventually wound up working for a doctor and his family in Halifax.  She survived the Halifax Explosion when she was 15 years old. 

Great Britain and Australia issued apologies in 2009 for their roles in the program, however Immigration Minister Jason Kenney refused to issue an apology on Canada’s behalf.  The government did however declare 2010 the “year of the home child” in remembrance.

CBC’s program “Who Do You Think You Are” discovered Don Cherry is also descended from a home child and offered an explanation on that part during the show.  There are thousands of descendants out there.

So if you are a descendant of a home child and a resident of Queens County, Nova Scotia you should get in touch with me and I can help you find some groups for information.


Organizations: First Nations, British Home Children, CBC

Geographic location: Great Britain, Canada, Australia New Zealand South Africa Nova Scotia Wallace Bay

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Recent comments

  • C. Pomroy
    February 05, 2014 - 09:49

    Contact the National Archives in Ottawa. They have all the records of Canadian Home Children and a book has been published by them. They'll point you in the right direction. My husband volunteered in helping transfer this info.

  • Cecil Verge
    February 02, 2014 - 12:55

    Brittany: In 2000 my wife Marilyn and I formed the British Home Children and Descendants Association, ( NS). Marilyn 's father was a British Home Child who came from Middlemore Homes of Birmingham , England in 1920 to work on a farm in Cape Breton. On another topic I am interested in which Verge family line you are attached to. You may email me direct. Thank You, Cecil Verge, New Minas, NS

  • Catherine West
    February 02, 2014 - 02:00

    Thank you for this article, Brittany. I hope it sparks interest in the general public for more of the British Home Children story. I am chair of the British Home Children and Descendants Association.