Nova Scotia

Monument to British Home Children unveiled outside Pier 21

The monument is a tribute to more than 100,000 British Home Children, who were moved from Britain to Canada between 1869 and 1948. Several dozen descendants of those children were present at the ceremony, along with local politicians. 

Monument a tribute to 100,000 children brought to Canada as domestic servants, farm labourers

The monument to 100,000 British Home Children was unveiled Saturday near Pier 21 in Halifax. (Shaina Luck)

A monument to children who were brought to Canada to work as domestic servants and farm hands was unveiled in Halifax Saturday afternoon outside Pier 21. 

It is a tribute to more than 100,000 British Home Children, who were moved from Britain to Canada between 1869 and 1948.

Several dozen descendents of those children were present at the ceremony, along with local politicians. 

"It's a joyous time, and it's also a sad time when we think of our ancestors and what they went through after they came over to Canada to adapt to the new culture and the new way of life," said Cecil Verge, who founded the Nova Scotia chapter of the British Home Children and Descendants Association. 

Social conditions in Britain after the Industrial Revolution meant that many children lived in poverty. A movement supported by the British and Canadian governments began to relocate children to rural Canada to serve as labourers. 

Some of the children were orphans, but many were sent to workhouses or orphanages because their families were unable to support them. Some were as young as four years old. 

Some were treated well, but some were abused or treated as free labour and given no access to education.

Descendants of the British Home Children attended the unveiling of the monument. (Shaina Luck)

"This is the thing: they must have felt so terribly alone," said Carolyn Anne MacIsaac, who travelled to Halifax from Pictou County thinking of her father, Joseph Payne. He arrived in Nova Scotia in 1915 and rarely spoke to her about his childhood experiences.

"Coming to a strange country, he lived with a family that spoke Gaelic. It was hard," she said. 

The association estimates that roughly 12 per cent of the Canadian population has one of the children in their family tree. Since it was common for the children to keep silent about their experiences, many families are unaware of the connection. 

That was the case for Bruce Mairs and his daughter, Trudy Copp, who discovered about 12 years ago that Mairs's mother, Emily Towner, was one of the children.

They discovered that Towner emigrated to Canada at the age of 16, after a horrifying incident of domestic violence: her father murdered her mother and her youngest sibling.

The other children were sent to live in various institutions, and eventually Towner was sent to Canada.

Cecil Verge, right, helps unveil the monument. (Shaina Luck)

After rediscovering that history, Mairs and Copp were able to meet their extended family. 

"It was a lot of skeletons got out of the closet at that point in time," said Copp. "But we discovered relatives in Jersey, in the Channel Islands that we didn't know existed."

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