A Heritage Lottery Funded Project
In 1873, twenty-six waifs and strays, from the poorest backgrounds imaginable, set sail for Toronto, Canada, some 4000 miles from the industrial heart of Birmingham City. Many left parents and siblings behind.
These were the first of c.6000 children to be emigrated from the Birmingham Children’s Emigration Homes, to live and work on remote farms in the backwoods of Canada. Toronto was the favoured destination and the city of London, Ontario, provided a permanent Receiving Home from where the children were distributed. Later, there was a move to the Maritimes and then British Columbia.
The scheme was supported by UK and Canadian philanthropists of the day, including the then HRH The Prince of Wales, who established The Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School. The aim was to rescue these ‘gutter children’ from a life of grime, crime and poverty while simultaneously providing ‘good British stock’ for the Canadian colony.
The average age of a child migrant was eight but some as young as two were sent. There are stories of great sadness but also stories of great success.
The Current Situation
In 2018 the Canadian Government voted unanimously 294-0 for a National British Home Child Day each September 28th to recognise the enormous contribution these child migrants and their descendants have made to Canada.
It is estimated that around 13% of Canada’s population is descended from British ‘Home Children’, 130,000 of which were sent in total from all over the UK.
In 2010 the UK Government issued an official Apology to child migrants sent to the colonies. In February 2019 the Government announced a Financial Redress scheme.
The Birmingham Children’s Emigration Homes, aka The Middlemore Homes, were founded by Sir John Middlemore and supported by various philanthropists and dignitaries of the day, including the Chamberlain and Cadbury families.
The children would spend a few months at the Homes being prepared for the journey and learning basic farming and domestic skills before setting sail. After 1932 all Middlemore children were emigrated via The Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School in British Columbia. Fairbridge still exists today as part of The Prince’s Trust, although in a very different form.
Through collaboration with key Canadian BHC organisations, this two-year project has unearthed fascinating stories, connected families internationally and raised awareness of this hugely important aspect of Commonwealth history.
Volunteers have meticulously researched the vast Middlemore Archives held by Birmingham Library Special Collections. Working with individuals and organisations across the UK and Canada, we have pieced together intricate family stories through archive documentation, personal correspondence, descendants’ knowledge and interviews with living migrants.
Many families were separated, with some children remaining in the UK while their siblings were sent to Canada. Where siblings sailed together, most of them were separated once in Canada. We have connected families both in the UK and Canada, many of whom had no knowledge of their living relatives across the Atlantic
In September 2019 a special exhibition will be held at the Birmingham Midland Institute to commemorate these Home Children. Sept 14th to 23rd
This free, interactive event will take place from September 14th to 21st, 2019 as part of Birmingham’s contribution to National Heritage Week. Visitors will be able to ‘Select a Child’ from in-depth case studies and follow their individual story in detail via a series of scanner codes. The exhibition will be divided between two rooms – one featuring life in England prior to emigration and the other featuring life in Canada and following the children’s outcomes.
On Sept 14th there will also be a ‘Dramatic Lecture’ involving pop-up music, drama and film contributions from The Balsall Heath Youth Theatre Group, who have worked with local professional art directors.
There will be a further event on Canada’s British Home Child Day, Saturday September 28th.
The opening event is scheduled for Friday September 13th 2019 at 5.30 pm and is pencilled in The Lord Mayor’s diary. There will be living migrants and descendants attending from both the UK and Canada.
Patricia Roberts-Pichette, President of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa will be flying in for the event. Patricia is the leading expert on the Homes and has spent several years compiling an index of all Middlemore children’s archive records. It is an invaluable resource to descendants of Home Children wishing to research their ancestry.
Patricia Skidmore, Canadian Author and daughter of child migrant Marjorie Skidmore, will also be coming to Birmingham. Marjorie was one of only two Canadian child migrants invited to attend the Government Apology in 2010. Patricia is highly respected among the Canadian Home Child organisations and has worked tirelessly to help living migrants and descendants trace their roots, records and connect with family in the UK.