Home Children: The British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association

One of the more controversial chapters in Canada\’s history is that of the Home Children. Between the late 1860\’s and the late 1930\’s, over 100,000 children from the UK were sent to Canada. It was part of an emigration scheme to combat the horrible poverty and conditions children were living in at the time.

It was started with I\’m sure was the best of intentions, but through the years it became more of a profitable venture for a chosen few, and less about the welfare of these children. The official plan was to send orphaned or abandoned children to Canada. Unfortunately, due to Victorian attitudes of the time regarding the poor, children in poor houses whose parents had neither died nor abandoned them were also sent. It was believed that the farms and great homes of Canada would give these children a better life than they otherwise would have had. In many cases it was true. Some children ended up living much better lives than they would have on the streets and/or in the poor houses. Remember this was a time before the social welfare system that we know today was put in place. Sadly though, most of these children were abused, and were basically indentured servants. The lure of free labour brought just as many unscrupulous farmers and wealthy house holders as it did people who were honestly trying to give these children a better life. Though only children between 8 and 16 years of age were supposed to be sent, some records show they sent children as young as 4 years old.

Children were sent from any of the UK countries. I have 2 great uncles that were sent from the Quarriers home in Scotland in 1919. In a strange twist of fate that I\’m still trying to figure out, they ended up being reunited with their mother in Canada by the 1921 census.

Children arrived in large groups from the UK, and then sent to one of several receiving homes. It was from these receiving homes that the children were placed onto farms or into wealthy houses. Boys were almost always farm labourers. Girls were mainly sent to service positions in large homes, but some girls were also sent to farms.

If you suspect you have a BHC ancestor, then you should check out the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association. It is a one-stop site to help you research and learn the history of the Home Children.


Park Lawn Monument
There is sadly not one, but two mass graves of Home Children at Park Lawn Cemetery in Etobicoke, Ontario. A monument to them was built just this year, and by clicking on the link you can find out about it. Also included is as much information as they could find on the 75 children buried here. There\’s short biographical sketches, as well as photos. Some children also have snippets from the Bernardo Home\’s quarterly publication Ups and Downs. Have tissues handy looking at these, for it is sad reading.

BHCARA Research Site
This link will take you to the British Home Children in Canada research page. Here you can look at videos, photos, and text guiding you through anything and everything to do with Home Children. They even have a page detailing the trunks that were sent with each child. I have a friend whose grandfather was a Home Child. Incredibly, we realized after looking at this page that the little trunk they have in their house was the trunk her grandfather was sent to Canada with. That trunk is now over 100 years old.

Fact Sheet
Here you can get quick answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Teachers Packages
If you are a teacher, especially for grades 6, 8, or 10, then you\’ll want to look at this. They give you links to videos and books, and activity ideas to help you bring the BHC experience to your class.

Here you can find links to both videos and articles from both sides of the Atlantic.

Here you can look at the Events calendar for the Association. I\’ve never attended one of their presentations myself, but I hear they are very good. Check to see if they are coming near you. Just about all the ones listed take place around Ontario. However, they do say that they are willing to travel.

This amazing database is a work in progress, entering information on over 60,000 known home children. According to the registry home page, the site will be updated at least weekly, and they are entering the children in alphabetically. As of today (24 Nov/17), they presently have surnames from AA to HASK entered in and avaialable to view online.

They have set up each child\’s sheet with thought to the future. Since they are still in the initial phase of the database, the only information you can get from the registry at the moment is:

  • Name
  • Adopted Name (if applicable)
  • Birth date  (some of these entries will be an approximation)
  • Birth place
  • Gender
  • Sending Organization (i.e. Bernardo\’s)
  • Name and location of the Receiving Home in Canada
  • Age at emigration
  • Ship\’s name
  • Departure Port and Date
  • Arrival Port and Date

Information that they plan to add in the future include:

  • Death information (including cemetery and Find A Grave information)
  • Placement information
  • Census documentation
  • Marriage information (spouse\’s name, birth and death, and details of the marriage)
  • Birth, Marriage and Death Information of the biological parents 
  • Names of siblings and half siblings
  • Military Service 

At the top right of each child\’s page is the child\’s BHC registry number, and whether this child has been \”claimed\”. By that they means that at least one person (who is most likely a relative) has provided their name and email for other researchers to contact them. They are not actively looking for people to claim a BHC as of yet. If you come across your ancestor and would like to claim them though, you can contact the registry with the form here.

Here you can track the Association\’s progress on getting an official apology from the federal Government of Canada to the Home Children. Apologies have come from Australia (another BHC destination) and Britain. The House of Commons has issued an apology. At the bottom of the page you can sign the open letter urging Prime Minister Trudeau to make an official apology. They are also urging that September 28th be recognized across Canada as British Home Child Day. The governments of Ontario and Nova Scotia have already recognized it in their respective provinces.

BHC Film
You can watch a You Tube video called British Home Children in Canada: Born of Good Intentions. Posted by Lori Oschefski (the CEO of the Association), it runs about 40 minutes.

Research Tips
This page is an absolute goldmine. Among the different links are:

  • Sending Organizations Websites
  • Facebook Groups
  • Links to records that can help you follow your Home Child in Canada (directories, land grants, miltary, etc.)
  • Contact information for some of the top researchers of Home Children 
  • Issues of Bernardo\’s Ups and Downs magazine
  • Mailing Lists and Socieites
  • Inspection Reports of Children once they were placed in their new homes. Sadly this wasn\’t done with any regularity if at all.
  • Receiving Homes in Canada indexes

You can find out more about Home Children at these sites:

The Canadian Encyclopedia

Library and Archives Canada

Canada\’s History Magazine

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