by Edith Cody-Rice
In 2009, the Canadian Parliament passed a motion declaring 2010 the year of the British Home Child in Canada. The Home Child Memorial Quilt now on display at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte is a commemoration project for that year. The exhibit is the brain child of Gail Collins of St. Catharines Ontario who designed and created the quilt. She is the granddaughter of two home children and in January 2010 began to draw sketches for a quilt commemorating home children who were brought to Canada between 1869 and 1948. She was joined by Hazel Perrier of Claresholm Alberta and together with other sewers they attracted to the project, completed not one, but two historical quilts. One of them is now on display at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum.
The quilt has 56 photos sewn into it and is accompanied by a Memorial Quilt Book telling the story of each child. It is a fascinating look into a world about which many Canadians know little or nothing.
The term Home Children refers to a child migration scheme set up by British philanthropist Annie McPherson in 1869. Appalled by the slave like conditions of working children in east end London, she opened a home for children where they could be fed and clothed while being trained. In conjunction with this, she began a project to send children abroad, hopefully to a better future in the colonies where workers were scarce. More than 100,000 children were sent to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa until the program ended in the mid twentieth century. It was assumed that the children were orphans but it has emerged that many had living parents who had placed their children in homes for care. The children were told their parents were dead and were shipped out, ostensibly to a better life. Although some found loving homes, many were treated simply as cheap agricultural labour and denied proper food, shelter and affection.
Australia has apologized for its involvement in the scheme, and UK Prime Minister Gordon Broawn made a formal apology to the affected families in February 2010. Canada has decided not to apologize for its participation in the program.