Manitoba

Winnipeg presentation to tell the little-known story of Canada's British Home Children

From 1867 to 1949 nearly 120,000 children were shipped across the sea to Canada without their parents. These were the British Home Children who were brought over to work on farms or as servants once they arrived.

From 1867 to 1949 around 120,000 children were shipped from Great Britain to work as indentured servants

A picture from the British Home Children in Canada Advocacy and Research Association shows young migrants in Canada. (British Home Children in Canada Advocacy and Research Association/Website )

From 1867 to 1949 nearly 120,000 children were shipped across the sea to Canada without their parents. These were the British Home Children who were brought over to work on farms or as servants once they arrived.

Author and genealogy expert Lori Oschefski will be talking about this often unknown part of Canadian history at the Millennium Library in Winnipeg next week.

"I think what really impacted these children the most is that they weren't only ill-equipped for society and for the work world, but they were also ill-equipped to handle families," Oschefski said.

"They were not raised in family, they were not loved, they were not given affection. They didn't know how to behave as a family member."

In this photo a girls party arrives at a Canadian home. (British Home Children in Canada/Website )

At the time Britain had problems with too many children in need and no system to help them, Oschefski said. Parents who couldn't take care of their children or didn't have money to feed them were encouraged to admit the kids into institutions, Oschefski explained.

Through her presentation called Breaking the Silence, Oschefski shares how many Canadians are descended from these children, though they may not have a clue about it.

"But what they didn't tell them was that as soon as they did that they forfeited their parental rights and therefore these organizations had the right to immigrate their child out of the country without any further notice to the parent," she said.

The children were then shipped to Canada although only two per cent were considered orphans by today's standards, Oschefski said.

From 1867 to 1949 nearly 120,000 children were shipped across the sea to Canada without their parents. (British Home Children in Canada Advocacy and Research Association/Website )

The families who used the children for work signed contracts saying they would feed the kids and educate them, but Oschefski said that wasn't often the case.

"The vast majority of them were wanted as workers and they weren't accepted into the families. A lot of them were made to sleep in barns or in old attics," she said.

When they were old enough the British Home Children had difficulty finding employment and often couldn't adapt when they had their own families.

"A lot were able to go on and make productive lives and do good in this country," Ochefski added. 

The free presentation is on Aug. 4 at 7 p.m.

With files from CBC's Weekend Morning Show