Between 1869 and 1948, 100,000 children from poor neighbourhoods in Britain were relocated without parental support (or consent in some cases) to work as indentured labourers in Canada.
A further 30,000-plus were emigrated to other British colonies—mainly Australia and New Zealand. Known as the ‘Home Children,’ the promise of a new and better life in Canada was often betrayed by long hours of grueling labour and the social stigma of being an underclass. Though some of the children did well, many were exploited and abused, their new lives hardly an improvement on the ones they lived in British slums and orphanages.
Vernon has two strong connections to this history. One of its early prominent citizens, Joe Harwood, was sent to Canada by Barnardo’s, one of the largest of the child immigration agencies in Britain. And Fairbridge Farm Schools operated a summer training school at Fintry Farm, now a provincial park.
Author Sean Arthur Joyce will be presenting at the Vernon Museum this weekend to discuss this little known part of history.
Joyce has two events scheduled in Vernon the first weekend of May. The first is a film screening and lecture at the Caetani Centre’s Studio Gallery on May 4, 7:30 p.m. The film, Dead Crow: Prologue, is a short film that captures a live performance poetry event that has been toured throughout southeastern B.C. As both author and performer of the role, Joyce will introduce the film with an exploration of the literary and mythological themes that went into the making of the piece.
The second is a presentation at the Vernon Museum on May 5 at 2 p.m., as part of its newly-launched Exploring Social Justice exhibit. Joyce will be speaking on the theme Not Forgotten: Canada’s British Home Children, discussing the research that resulted in his book, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest, which was toured to 25 cities across Canada during its release in 2014.
Joyce will also provide an update as to current advocacy efforts to have their story honoured. The story is personal for Joyce. About 12 years ago, while researching his family tree, he discovered immigration records that showed his paternal grandfather came to Canada with three other boys and a chaperone, but no parents. After consulting a local genealogist he was introduced to the term ‘Home Children.’ His journalistic curiosity was sparked and he decided to investigate.
Joyce’s book explores what happened to some of these children in Western Canada, combining exhaustive research with creative nonfiction storytelling techniques to paint a vivid picture of life for a Canadian Home Child
“The wider story interested me because I realized if this happened in my family, it must have happened in many other Canadian families,” he said. “An estimated four million people in Canada can trace their roots to Home Children, approximately one in eight Canadians.”
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