British home kids — indentured servants?
The Orillia Museum of Art and History Speakers Evening featured the topic “British Home Children” during its gathering this week. The speakers, Lori Oschefski and Sandra Joyce, delved into the background of these British children who were sent to Canada to join Canadian families. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Did a British-Canadian project motivated largely by charitable impulses turn into a system that led to a form of servitude for children shipped to this country from Britain?
The Orillia Museum of Art and History Speakers Evening featured the topic “British Home Children” during its gathering this week.
The speakers, Lori Oschefski and Sandra Joyce, delved into the background of the British children, many of them orphans, who were sent to Canada to join Canadian families.
Oschefski is a genealogical researcher and advocate who grew up in Orillia and became interested in the Home Children when she discovered her mother was a Home Child. Recently, she has focused exclusively on the British Home Children, trying to bring to light their stories and cementing their places in Canadian history.
Joyce became interested in British Home Children when she found out her father was one. Since then, she has given more than 90 presentations on the topic as well as written a book, The Street Arab — The Story of a British Home Child.
Born of good intentions, the original emigration scheme was to find orphan children and waifs on the streets of England’s industrial cities and to ship them to families in Canada, where they could have a new life. The program largely overlooked the rights of poor families to keep their children.
Sent from England as a Home Child, Oschefski’s mother was taken in by the Elder family of Fair Valley and, while well treated by the family, she still suffered from not knowing who she really was. She was “haunted by the little girl she didn’t know” and overcome by feelings of being abandoned by her real parents. While her mother suffered psychological wounds, many of the 118,000 Home Children, who were often taken in as farm labour or domestics, endured exploitation and physical mistreatment as well as abandonment issues.
While growing up in Canadian society, the children were often stigmatized as degenerates, somehow “tainted and corrupt,” who lowered the level of the general population. Successive Canadian governments took no sustained interest in the plight of these children. Despite the hurdles in their lives, many Home Children overcame their background to become successful people. Oschefski's mother graduated as a nurse. Cecilia Jowett, a friend of Stephen Leacock’s, who spent time in the Orillia area, became a missionary nurse as well as a published author. However, it is clear the plan never fulfilled its objective and many of the children were treated as cheap labour, if not indentured labour.
The next Speakers Evening will take place April 16 at OMAH and will feature George Page, who will speak about Orillia’s Hydro Glen.