Uncovering a Different Story of the Home Child Experience
Patricia Roberts-Pichette, Ph.D. explained that “home children” is a uniquely Canadian term applied to the nearly 100,000 juvenile immigrants from Britain who were settled in Canada between 1869 and 1948 by more than 50 British emigration agencies. At the time, the Canadian government was desperate to increase the population. Yet, of the $75 cost to bring over a child, the government provided only $2 per child; the rest was raised through private donations. One of the biggest benefactors was John Throgmorton Middlemore, who opened his children’s Emigration Homes in Birmingham, England in 1872.
Roberts-Pichette spent 15 years researching the extensive Middlemore files, including records of personal communications and meetings. What amazed her was how totally different the story was, compared to common negative perceptions about home children. She discovered that the movement was well run and that the great majority of children were very happy with their experience.
These children, who came from difficult circumstances, were often undernourished and small for their age. Two-thirds were boys and most were between 6 and 12 years old. They would first live in a group home in England and receive education and training in basic life skills. When it was time to immigrate to Canada, Middlemore and the matrons who cared for them would accompany them. Their first stop in Canada was a distributing home, a place to which they might return if anything went wrong after settlement. Ontario took most of the children, with a few going to the Maritimes, and to British Columbia.
Canadian families had to apply through a letter of interest, including two references, and Middlemore made efforts to ensure the children were paired with appropriate families. The families were visited yearly until the children reached 18 years of age, and they were under guardianship until age 21. When they reached age 14, the children were entitled to payment for any work they performed for these families, such as farm or household chores, and a trust would be set up for them. The children were expected to write quarterly to their families back home or to Middlemore, describing their situation. Almost all reported positive experiences. In letters on file, Roberts-Pichette found comments such as, “They say I am growing like a moose”, and “Canada is the land of milk and honey”.
Robert-Pichette’s book, Great Canadian Expectations: The Middlemore Experience, describes Middlemore’s work and that of the other agencies that organized the assisted juvenile emigration movement. During her presentation to the Media Club of Ottawa, she related the arduous and frustrating process which led eventually to the successful publication of her book.
About Patricia Robert-Pichette
Patricia Roberts-Pichette, Ph.D.
Patricia Roberts-Pichette was born in New Zealand where she received her early education before completing her graduate studies in the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship. She then taught for 10 years at the University of New Brunswick, following which she served 25 years in the Canadian federal and international public services.
Since retiring, Patricia has concentrated on social history research and writing. In 2001, with other volunteers of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO), she helped prepare a nominal index of the children mentioned in the microfilmed archives of Middlemore Homes records held by Library and Archives Canada. This work helped spark her interest in the juvenile emigration movement.
Her other published works include the edited and annotated memoirs of her grandmother, B.M. Johnstone, under the title Not a Pioneer! (2004) and three articles she subsequently contributed to A Waikato Settler’s Legacy (both privately published in New Zealand). She has written family history articles for the BIFHSGO journal, Anglo-Celtic Roots, including a series on John Throgmorton Middlemore and his child emigration program, which became the basis for her latest book Great Canadian Expectations: The Middlemore Experience.
Patricia has two sons and a grandson, all native-born Canadians.
Great Canadian Expectations: The Middlemore Experience
Over 100,000 neglected or homeless and often unwanted children from Britain were settled in Canada between 1869 and 1948 by more than 50 British juvenile emigration agencies. Because they came from an agency’s home in Britain to be settled from the agency’s distributing home in Canada, they were called home children.
Some emigration agencies have been accused of having acted more in their own interest than the children’s, leaving the latter open to abuse. A common belief has evolved that these children were exploited for economic gain by the Canadian families with whom they were placed and for the relief of the British public purse.
Dr. Patricia Roberts-Pichette has found that the history of John T. Middlemore’s Children’s Emigration Homes, which settled more than 5,000 children in Canada, mainly in Ontario and the Maritimes, is strikingly different from the usual negative accounts of the emigration agencies. The experiences of Middlemore children were mainly positive and most of them thrived. The Middlemore story became her passion to relate.
Great Canadian Expectations: The Middlemore Experience is the result of fifteen years of research by the author. Unlimited access to all extant Middlemore files up to 1936, to contemporary reports, and the personal communications and meetings with Middlemore family members and descendants of Middlemore home children have given Dr. Roberts-Pichette a unique perspective on the work of the Middlemore agency and its homes.
The author concludes that John T. Middlemore’s motivations were truly altruistic and that his organization’s procedures were in accord with the best contemporary social practice. Her book explores government policy changes over the whole period of juvenile immigration and reveals the influence of eugenicists in helping end the juvenile immigration movement in Canada. It is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the movement’s causes and evolution.
Remembrance of things past is not necessarily
the remembrance of things as they were.