by Ellen Scheinberg, historian, and Angèle Alain, Library
and Archives Canada
During the late 1800s, Britain suffered from rising levels of unemployment and severe housing shortages. As the crime rate increased, some British citizens blamed the poor. Many believed that pulling children out of undesirable environments would restore public order. The great cholera epidemic of London also pressed philanthropists to remove children from the urban chaos of Britain's cities and send them to what they thought would be a better, more moral life in rural Canada.
Philanthropic agencies made the arrangements to have child emigrants transported to Canada. They took on the role of rounding up prospective juvenile emigrants in Britain, training them in the domestic and agricultural sciences and organizing their passage to Canada. Many agencies had arrangements with orphanages and workhouses or ran their own homes in the old country. Maria Susan Rye and Annie Macpherson were two of the earliest philanthropists to bring young girls to Canada. They established distribution homes in Ontario to house the girls until they could be placed with suitable families. The homes were responsible for the girls from the time they arrived in Canada until they reached the legal age of 18.
Agents like Rye and Macpherson were therefore the legal guardians of the children they brought over and were accountable to the Government of Canada for their proper care and supervision. Other agents, such as Dr. Thomas John Barnardo and James Fegan, established homes in other parts of the country such as Quebec, Nova Scotia and Manitoba.
The juvenile emigration scheme offered Britain a means of decreasing its surplus population, while providing Canada with cheap labour
and desirable future citizens who would help settle the land and populate the country.
The Canadian Immigration Branch played a prominent role in this program, by offering agencies $2 for every child immigrant who arrived in Canada. It also subsidized shipping rates and provided free railway fares for the new arrivals.
The government also ensured, as of 1888, that every child received a medical examination before his or her arrival, and it cooperated with the English local government
boards in providing annual inspections for all children placed with families. After the death of a Barnardo home child, George Everitt Green, the federal and provincial governments introduced legislation in 1897 to help protect home children