In this era of politics characterized by brazen corruption and the naked pursuit of power at any cost, it’s refreshing to know we have people like Alex Atamanenko, MP for BC Southern Interior. Alex and I have conferred on a motion he recently tabled in Parliament, calling for an apology to the families of the British Home Children in Canada. It’s important to note that this motion is not designed to solicit financial compensation but an acknowledgement that has too long been missing. An acknowledgement that these boys and girls who were shipped from the slums and orphanages of Britain during the period 1869–1948 were the ones who built the backbone of Canada’s agricultural sector. Many of them did so in harsh conditions and many of them suffered neglect or abuse. Many were not paid for their efforts. All of them suffered the terrible loneliness of being sundered from their families of origin in Britain and having few allies to champion their needs in Canada. Some also suffered the loss of their identity and many of them lost contact with their families. This has led to an isolation that many BHC descendants feel to this day.
The motion also calls upon the Canadian government to act as advocate for BHC families who have still been unable to retrieve their ancestors’ records from the agencies that sent them here. So far Barnardo’s has been the most exemplary in opening up its records and for a modest fee one can get an astonishing amount of information. But only if your ancestor was sent or sponsored by Barnardo’s, which also has some of the Annie Macpherson records. Other agencies, like the Church of England, have been less forthcoming. And naturally, some agencies did not keep close watch on their records, so some of the material has been lost over time.
At a time when we as Canadians are facing grave dangers to our democracy and civil rights in the form of the Conservatives’ Bill C-51, I realize this motion may seem less significant. However, it is anything but insignificant to the descendants of BHCs who still—after a century—do not know exactly what happened to their ancestors. Not all have been as lucky as I’ve been and been able to reconnect with their British relatives. We owe those people a chance to have such family reunions if there’s any way we can help make that happen.
Here’s the full text of the press release from Alex Atamanenko’s office:
February 23rd, 2015 – 2:38pm
“Ottawa ON – NDP MP Alex Atamanenko introduced a motion in the House of Commons today urging the government to follow Australia and the UK’s lead and formally apologize to Canada’s British Home Children and Child Migrants as well as their families and descendants. It is estimated that over 11 percent of Canada’s current population are descended from British home children and child migrants.
“According to the BC MP, between the years 1869 and 1948 the Canadian government was complicit in a huge injustice when it allowed an estimated 100,000 orphaned or impoverished British children to be imported into Canada, often without their parents’ consent or knowledge, to provide what amounted to indentured servitude for Canadian farms and households. “Torn from family, friends and country, these children were met with severe discrimination and often placed with no further monitoring in harsh or abusive situations where they were exploited,” noted Atamanenko.
““Never should defenseless, lonely, loveless children be treated in such a way anywhere in the world.” declared Tom Isherwood, a Child Migrant brought to Canada at the age of 8. “When asked to be heard nobody listened – not even God, as we were to be seen and not heard.”
““Canadians have largely forgotten this fundamental aspect of their history,” says author Sean Arthur Joyce, who last year published a history of the British Home Children in western Canada. “Yet in a very real sense this country was built on the backs of these children at a time when the Canadian agricultural industry was just beginning. We’re willing to thank our war veterans for their sacrifices but we need to do the same for the families of these children. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to come clean and apologize for past wrongs.”
“Atamanenko hopes that Canadians in their numbers will get behind the idea of the motion and begin to exert pressure on the government until it is moved to act. “Facilitating access to locked files being held by relevant British agencies that continue to hinder survivors and descendants of these officially sanctioned programs in their efforts to track down family members would be a helpful step,” notes Atamanenko.
““I believe it is long overdue for our government to honour this important part of our nation’s story in a way that makes certain it is not forgotten by present or future generations,” concluded the BC MP. “We have a moral duty to apologize for our role in the suffering of so many to whom we owe such an enormous national debt.”
Here’s the link to Alex’s page so you can read the text of the motion itself: http://alexatamanenko.ndp.ca/atamanenko-motion-urges-feds-to-honour-home-children-with-formal-apology-and-help-to-find-lost-families
And if you’re still ready to roll up your sleeves and fight for democracy, I urge you to consider joining with the many civil rights organizations across Canada who are fighting Bill C-51, which will effectively end your right to protest or engage in civil disobedience of any kind.