Re­mem­ber­ing the Bri­tish Home Chil­dren

The Victoria Standard - - Front Page - CAROLYN BAR­BER

Chap­ter in Cana­dian story gets na­tional day of recog­ni­tion; one in nine Cana­di­ans thought to be de­scen­dents of child mi­grants; Rankin teacher re­mem­bers grand­fa­ther as one

In 1915, John Wil­liam El­lis, age nine, boarded the SS Carthaginian in Eng­land and made his way across the At­lantic Ocean to Canada. In his life­time, he con­trib­uted greatly to his adop­tive com­mu­nity and coun­try.

On Sept. 28, 2018, his con­tri­bu­tions were for­mally rec­og­nized for the first time by the Cana­dian Gov­ern­ment. Ear­lier this year, mo­tion M-133 was passed in the House of Com­mons that Sept. 28 be known as Bri­tish Home Child Day across the coun­try.

“My grand­fa­ther was a great man - kind gen­er­ous, hard­work­ing and very tol­er­ant of oth­ers,” says Char­lene El­lis of Lit­tle Nar­rows, NS. “He loved fam­ily, loved to laugh and loved mu­sic. He em­braced the cul­ture he was placed in and was a ter­rific Gaelic speaker. He passed his love of the cul­ture off to his chil­dren, hav­ing a very mu­si­cal fam­ily.”

Char­lene cur­rently teaches the Coop / Op­tions and Op­por­tu­ni­ties course at Rankin School of the Nar­rows. In the past, as an English and So­cial Stud­ies teacher, and Bri­tish Home Child (BHC) de­scen­dent, she ed­u­cated stu­dents about this lit­tle-known piece of Cana­dian his­tory.

El­lis was one of ap­prox­i­mately 100,000 Bri­tish boys and girls brought to Canada be­tween 1869 and 1948 as in­den­tured labour­ers. Af­ter his mother died, his fa­ther placed him in an em­i­gra­tion home in Birm­ing­ham, Eng­land, founded by John Throg­mor­ton Mid­dle­more. Mid­dle­more was one of sev­eral in­sti­tu­tions set up across the United King­dom to take in chil­dren who had fallen on hard times. The in­ten­tion of the Home Chil­dren pro­gram was to send these chil­dren to Canada to en­joy health­ier lives. Like many of his peers, El­lis ar­rived at Pier 2 in Hal­i­fax and resided briefly at a re­ceiv­ing home (Fairview Home) in Hal­i­fax be­fore be­ing placed with a fam­ily.

Boys worked as labour­ers on farms, girls be­came do­mes­tic labour­ers. Many Bri­tish Home Chil­dren were mis­treated. El­lis was lucky. He was placed with Mal­colm and Cather­ine Ross of Ju­bilee, NS.

“Grampy al­ways said that his host fam­ily was good to him and that he was lucky and had a good life.”

He mar­ried Flora Northen on Feb. 14, 1930 and the cou­ple had 10 chil­dren, two died in in­fancy. El­lis worked at the Lit­tle Nar­rows Gyp­sum Com­pany, earn­ing a 25-year ser­vice award (see in­sert photo).

Bri­tish Home Chil­dren were of­ten forced to em­i­grate with­out their par­ents’ knowl­edge. Like El­lis, most chil­dren never saw or heard from their par­ents again. Sib­lings ar­riv­ing to­gether in Canada were of­ten sep­a­rated, only to re­unite decades later, if at all.

Most es­ti­mates put the num­ber of BHC de­scen­dants at four mil­lion, or one in nine Cana­di­ans. Many are now rais­ing aware­ness about this buried chap­ter of Cana­dian his­tory and un­cov­er­ing the in­cal­cu­la­ble con­tri­bu­tions made to Cana­dian so­ci­ety. BHC de­scen­dant groups have formed in ev­ery prov­ince.

On Re­mem­brance Day this year, Char­lene El­lis will lay a wreath in Why­co­co­magh to re­mem­ber all the Bri­tish Home Chil­dren that served Canada in times of war.

Fol­low Bri­tish Home Chil­dren and De­scen­dants As­so­ci­a­tion (Nova Sco­tia) on Face­book for more in­for­ma­tion.

On Sept. 28, Rankin School of the Nar­rows rec­og­nized the First Na­tional Bri­tish Home Chil­dren Day. Stu­dents in the photo are BHC de­scen­dants. Stand­ing (L-R): Kalen Bon­a­parte, Cody Mac­neil, Morgan Macin­nis, Con­nor Macin­nis. Kneel­ing (L-R): Sarah Mac­neil, Olivia Mac­neil, De­clan Bon­a­parte, Gaven Bon­a­parte, Kather­ine Mac­don­ald, Ethan Bon­a­parte. Sub­mit­ted Photo.

El­lis re­ceives a 25-year ser­vice award from Lit­tle Nar­rows Gyp­sum Com­pany.

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