Uncovering a buried history

British Home Child exhibition at the BWG Public library in May of this year 2017. Miriam King/Bradford Times/Postmedia Network

British Home Child exhibition at the BWG Public library in May of this year 2017. Miriam King/Bradford Times/Postmedia Network

On October 1, 75 “lost” British Home Children, buried in unmarked graves in Park Lawn Cemetery in Toronto, will have their lives – and deaths – honoured at last, when a new monument is unveiled.

The British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association (BHCARA) has conducted years of painstaking research into the lives of  “orphans” who were shipped from Great Britain during the British Home Child immigration scheme, that transported thousands of children to serve as indentured servants, farm workers and domestics in Canada and other countries.

The monument, created from a rough block of  Quebec granite, features a piece of steel plate and a brass porthole from the ship, MS JADRAN, symbolic of the type of vessel that would have carried British Home Children to their new lives in Canada.

A GoFundMe campaign headed by Lori Oschefski of BHCARA successfully raised over $16,000 to commission and complete the monument – which will pay tribute not only to the 75 children buried at the cemetery, but the more than 100,000 boys and girls who were sent to Canada between 1880 and 1946 as part of the immigration scheme.

Only an estimated 3% of the children sent overseas were actually orphaned; most were victims of poverty and the “workhouse” system of the UK. Today, an estimated 4 million Canadians are descended from British Home Children, Oschefski says.

“The graves and lives of the 75 children buried at Park Lawn Cemetery is a poignant reminder that although many children thrived in Canada, many did not,” she notes. “Our country is dotted with the graves of lost Home Children; sadly, many will never be found.  Every child who came to Canada deserves to be recognized. Every life is precious, valuable and worthy of recognition.”

She connected  with RJ Huggins of Orphan Boy Films in Ottawa,  who has been involved in the design and production of the monument, and is now  engaged in a new film project, about British Home Children.

On learning of the fundraising campaign, “I decided then and there to create a film of the story of my father, who was one of these children, and help tell the stories of the thousands of Home Children and their descendants. Two years, 15 hours of film and a journey that has taken us to England, Nova Scotia and throughout Ontario to document the stories both uplifting and tragic. It has been a cathartic and humbling journey that still has some miles to go,” Huggins says.

Also involved in the monument project are Park Lawn Corporation, the Barnardo offices in the U.K., and Marine Recycling, in Port Colborne, Ontario.
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