The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the October 12, 2016 issue. Reprinted with permission.
GVHS sheds light on legacy of 100K displaced children
by Ben Bulmer
It was both a UK emigration initiative and a Canadian immigration initiative and it drastically changed the lives of over a 100,000 children. Between 1869 and the 1920s, 129,000 British children were shipped from the UK to Canada to work - with some of them ending up in the Hills.
Gloria Tubman is the granddaughter of one of those children and her talk, 'British Home Children in Western Quebec', is being presented by the Gatineau Valley Historical Society on Oct. 17. The presentation aims to cast a light on this relatively unknown era of history and its connection to the Hills. The focus will be on a prominent Hills figure buried at the Chelsea Cemetery, although she's keeping their identity under wraps until the talk.
"What they used to say was that they were orphans. [It's] not true," said Tubman.
The retired civil servant said the children were a product of the "social economic conditions" of the times and the extreme poverty they faced, as well as the morals and social norms of the time.
Huge unemployment in the U.K. in the latter part of the 1800s resulted in the creation of workhouse schools, set up for the poorest of the poor. Children lived, worked, and received minimal schooling at these institutions. Tubman said a surplus of poverty-stricken children in workhouses in Britain, high child mortality rates in Canada, plus a need for labour, along with the idea that children would assimilate, allowed the system of home children to emerge. What were known as 'sending homes' were set up in the U.K. to send youngsters to Canada, while Canadian families took out advertisements in local newspapers to announce their requests for children. Families would pay the children - although the money was held until they were 18 - with different fees paid depending on the child's age.
"The Canadian family... would fill in an application for a child...they'd usually want to know how close you were to a school, how close you were to a church, have you had another home child," said Tubman. "You also had to send along a reference, the preference was your local minister. Then it fell into the system and they would pull out names."
It was this very system that saw Tubman's grandmother shipped from London in 1912 to a farm outside Shawville when she was eight years of age. Although Tubman says the practice is often seen as slavery, she looks at it in another way, pointing to the extreme poverty and horrendous conditions of the workhouse schools.
"If she had stayed in England, if she had been lucky, she would have been a charwoman. If she'd been really lucky, she would have stayed at the same establishment or worked with the same family till she was 18. If she wasn't, she would have bounced around from home to home...[then] you get the First World War...the Spanish flu... mass unemployment...Second World War."
Tubman says she sees the issue from both sides of the fence.
"If she'd have stayed there, what would her profession have been? If she got married, great - otherwise she'd have probably been a member of the oldest profession in the world."
Instead, her grandmother married, had nine children, and farmed in the Pontiac.
"I don't look at all the negativity of British Home Children, because I figured the silent majority lived a life the same as our Canadian-born children. You have good homes...and you have bad homes."
Tubman reflects that the age of the British Home Child was one of "different times, different morals," and "different standards."
Information on Tubman's talk, which is being presented at Mill Road Community Space, 8 Ch. Mill in Chelsea, is posted at www.gvhs.ca.
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