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Originally published 26 July 2011 - Reposted 28 September 2011
By: Rick Roberts, Biography & Archived Articles
Jim Brownell, Member of Provincial Parliament, for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry led a successful effort to declare an official British Home Child Day in Ontario through the passing of his Private member's Bill. The British Home Child Day Act 2011, received Royal Assent by the Chief Justice of the Province of Ontario, the Honourable Mr. Justice Warren K. Winkler, on June 1, 2011. Jim Brownell was in attendance for the ceremony in the Lieutenant-Governor's suite at Queen's Park, where Chief Justice Winkler signed his name to Mr Brownell's bill.
September 28 of each year will now be known as British Home Child Day. MPP Brownell and his fellow members of the Ontario Legislature are to be commended for proposing, and passing legislation that recognizes the contributions of this often ignored group.
The pre-amble to Bill 12 states that
The British home children were sent to Canada on the belief that the children would have a better chance to live a healthy and moral life. The organizations that sent these children believed that Canadian families in rural Canada would welcome them as a source of farm labour and domestic help. "
The industrial revolution caused extreme hardship for many British "working class" families when they fell on hard times. The social safety net that is relied on today didn't exist. Those who lost a parent or both parents to industrial accidents or diseases caused by urban over-crowding, poor municipal sanitation and unaffordable medical treatment had few options. Many heart-broken families turned children over to philanthropists such as the Barnardo Home to save them from starvation, and to give them a chance at better opportunities overseas.
My wife's grandfather Walter Darnbrough and two of his brothers were Home Children. Both parents died young. The father, a tanner, died at 38 from consumption (tuberculosis). The disease spread easily in the crowded streets of Leeds and had an especially high infection rate in those who worked in the city's tanneries. Their mother carried on for another eight years, working as a "char-woman". She died at 46 of a "tumour". She raised the children on her own for those eight years and provided shelter and support for her widowed mother too. When the boys' mother died, their elderly grandmother's only option was the workhouse. The boys "survived by their wits" until a close but equally poor relative took them to Barnardo's, hoping to give them an opportunity at a better life. Their grandmother signed the Canada Clause which provided approval for Walter and his brothers to be placed with farm families in Canada. Walter was assigned to a farm near Humberstone, Ontario. He was 13 years old.
The Corsican, the ship that Walter Darnbrough and his Barnardo's Home group emigrated to Canada on in 1907.
The Darnbrough family stayed in touch. They were poor, but they were close. The boys served their indentures in Canada, and grew to be productive and successful adults. The older Darnbrough siblings in England eventually improved their lots in life too, but not until after the widowed grandmother passed away while still an inmate at the workhouse.
During World War One, Walter joined the Canadian Army where he earned the Military Medal for bravery under fire. Thousands of Home Children served with distinction in Canada's military. Not all returned from Flanders Fields. Walter spent much time with his Leeds family during training in England prior to going to fight in France. After the war he returned to Leeds, married a local girl and then returned to Canada with his regiment, his English bride, baby daughter Mary, and newborn son Harry. Harry grew up to serve in The Governor General's Horse Guards during and after World War Two.
We Canadians have much to be thankful for. On September 28, let's take a moment and be thankful for the many blessings that have come our way as a result of the the contributions and sacrifices of the British Home Children.
In the words of MPP Jim Brownell, "May we long remember and honour the courage, strength and determination of our British Home Child ancestors, and celebrate their wonderful legacies."
Canadian Genealogy & History Resources from GlobalGenealogy.com: