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Montreal Families

Exhibit reveals forgotten stories of orphans in Canada

An exhibit opening this August at the Aultsville Train Station near Upper Canada Village will give visitors a glimpse into the lives of the more than 100,000 child orphans and paupers brought to Canada from Great Britain to work as indentured servants on farms in Quebec, Ontario and other provinces between 1869 and the late 1930s.

Created by volunteers involved with the Ontario East British Home Child Family group, Standing in the Light: Life Stories of British Home Children features period artifacts, photographs and stories, as well as genealogy resources for those who want to research a Home Child connection in their family tree.

According to group spokesperson Judy Neville, it is a chapter of our country’s history that remains largely unknown. Although it’s estimated that more than one in ten Canadians is descended from a Home Child, many people aren’t aware because many Home Children were reluctant to talk about their past. They had been made to feel ashamed of where they came from.

“The people in the community, even educated politicians and doctors and judges, called these children horrible names, saying that they were guttersnipes, gutter trash, lowlifes,” Neville said. “If they got to go to school they were taunted by their peers.”

While some Home Children were orphans, others still had a living parent who was too poor to take care of them. The adults responsible for sending these children away to Canada often believed they were giving the children a chance at a better life, but Neville said for the most part, no one considered the emotional trauma the children would experience. “These little children suffered on their own,” said Neville.

Most of the children in the Home Child immigration program were between the ages of two and 14, but even the youngest were not brought to Canada to be adopted into a family. Those who were too young to work in the fields or to help with domestic chores were put into training homes to learn these skills, and sent out to be labourers around the age of 10 or 11. While some children were fairly treated by the families they lived with, there were also many cases of abuse.

“Some children never got to live inside a house again,” said Neville. “In one case, the child had to sleep out in the barn. He would bring the vegetables, milk and eggs to the door of the house. He could see the family in the window having their meal and when they were finished they would bring out two dishes of scraps: one for the dog and one for the boy.”

Standing in the Light: Life Stories of British Home Children is on display from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from Aug. 19 and Sept. 17 at the Aultsville Train Station on British Home Child’s Lane, located west of the main Upper Canada Village site at. 13740 County Rd 2, Morrisburg, Ontario, about two hours south of Montreal.

Admission to the exhibit and parking are free, however entrance fees apply to visit Upper Canada Village.

More information is available at uppercanadavillage.com/events/british-home-child-exhibit-and-information.

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