In 19th Century Birmingham, John Middlemore saw poor children living in overcrowded slums, in unhealthy conditions. Some children were suffering from neglect and at risk of falling into crime through a need to survive. His original mission in establishing the Middlemore Homes was to offer children a healthy upbringing, the chance to receive training and what he perceived as a better life through emigration to Canada. Children were often placed into the care of the homes by the local magistrates or were transferred to the homes from the cottage homes of the local poor law unions.
The surviving records of the homes reveal the mixed fortunes of these children once in Canada. Many child migrants, as John Middlemore had hoped, were better off in Canada than if they had remained in England. Others experienced ill-treatment from their employers.