The Current

Former British child migrants seek apology from Canadian government

In public hearings about Britain's child migrant program, former child migrants testify they were physically and sexually abused.
Fairbridge Farm, located on Vancouver Island, is one of the sites of abuse associated with the wave of British children taken to Canada. (courtesy of Marjorie Arnison)

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Children as young as four-years-old were shipped out in the tens-of-thousands from Britain to various parts of the Commonwealth, including Australia and New Zealand.

According to the Canadian Archives, Canada took in more than 100,000 of them.

Britian's Child Migrants Programme involved many institutions and programs. In Canada, the children were mainly used as cheap labour on farms, and girls worked as domestic labourers.

Many of the children were from poor families, broken homes or in the care of the state, used to populate and help build the colonies. 

Public hearings into the program ended last week with former "child migrants" testifying that they were physically and sexually abused. 

In 2009 and 2010, British and Australian governments issued formal apologies acknowledging this abuse, and recognizing most children were taken without their parents' consent. 

Anna Maria Tremonti speaks to the daughter of a former child migrant who provided testimony at those hearings.

Patricia Skidmore is the author of Marjorie Too Afraid Too Cry: A Homechild Experience, which details her mother's experience as being taken to Canada as a child.

Marjorie Arnison and Patricia Skidmore. ( courtesy of Marjorie Arnison)

Her mother, Marjorie Arnison, was well into her 70s before she was able to share her story with her daughter, and even then it was difficult for her to talk about.

"When I first asked her about her story she said she can't because she would get into trouble and to hear this seventy-year-old woman say this to me was mind-blowing. That she still felt she would get into such trouble to me was the indoctrination of fear that was put into her as a child," says Patricia.

This month, Canada's House of Commons offered an apology, but for some former child migrants to Canada that just isn't enough.

Roddy Mackay works at Fairbridge. (courtesy of Roddy Mackay )

Former child migrant Roddy Mackay, 83, tells Anna Maria Tremonti he wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to recognize the contributions that migrant children have made to Canada — and should begin by making a formal apology.

Roddy Mackay was seven when he was separated from his family and shipped to Canada. And although he understands it was not the Canadian government's design to bring children over, they still had a responsibility to them.

You know, there should have been some protection — a country that receives that many children.- Roddy Mackay

Many researchers into the British child migrant program say that 10-12 per cent of Canada's population are descendants of those children.

On The Current, we look at the history of Britain's child migrant program with former child migrants, their family members, and the ripple effects more than a century later. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin.