Thunder Bay·Superior Morning

Thunder Bay, Ont., filmmaker profiles Canada's British Home Children

A Thunder Bay, Ont., filmmaker says the subject of a multi-part series he's produced about a little-known but dark part of Canada's history hits close to home.

Alan Auld's grandfather was taken from his parents at age 4 and subsequently shipped to Canada

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 )

A Thunder Bay, Ont., filmmaker says the subject of a multi-part series he's produced about a little-known but dark part of Canada's history hits close to home.

Alan Auld's web-based series British Home Children: The Search for a Stolen Identity looks at the practice – prevalent from the late-1800s to the mid-20th century – of taking British children from their homes and shipping them overseas to the colonies, including Canada, mainly to work as farm labourers or as servants.

Over 100,000 children came to Canada this way, Auld said, and one of them was his grandfather.

"His name was taken away ... at four years old, he was given a number. 'Here, you are number 14,'" Auld told CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning. "They had this rule of silence. They were caned if they fell out of place."

"So they were really just put into this corner and then shipped away to Canada."
In this photo, a party of girls arrives at a Canadian home. (British Home Children in Canada/Website )

When they were taken from their families, many children were told things like their parents were dead or didn't want or love them anymore, Auld said. When they came to Canada, many were subsequently abused.

"There's many varied stories with the over-hundred-thousand British children that came to Canada," Auld said. "Some were treated well. Many of them weren't."

"My grandfather slept in the barn with animals and [was] not given clothes," he continued. "His toes were actually ...deformed because he was given women's shoes, and he had to wear those for several years until he could get his own."

'It's another embarrassment in our history'

The seven-part series is designed to shed light on what Auld said is an often-overlooked part of Canada's history and help put pressure on the federal government to issue a formal apology.

Canada has not yet done so; Great Britain and Australia have apologized.

"Our government supported this back then, and it's another embarrassment in our history," Auld said. "They've come clean with other historical events, and this is another one that deals with a hundred thousand children."

Researchers into the British child migrant program say that 10 to12 per cent of Canada's population is descended from those children.

Click here to listen to CBC Superior Morning host Gord Ellis' interview with Alan Auld about the issue of British Home Children in Canada.