British Home Children


 "The shock of dislocation and severance from family, the shame of being identified as worthless and the general lack of nurturing in their new Canadian homes, scarred many of the children, says Sandra Joyce, author and executive director with the advocacy association. The home children then grew up to be adults, who, without having had a good experience of a loving home themselves, tried to be parents of their own families. Like soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, they had psychological baggage, but did not talk about it.

Her own father was a home child, which "did clear up some things about my dad." Joyce recounts a lack of love and connectedness with her father, which left her with "the feeling that I had done something wrong." After his death, she accidentally learned he had been a home child, not an adult immigrant, who had been left at an orphanage by his own father at age nine, and then shipped to Canada. Understanding that experience helped her deal with her own family life."


"Finding her father’s name and the fact he was only 15 at the time set her to wondering if everything she thought she knew about him was wrong, or at the very least, what little he had told her was misleading.

Her subsequent research led her into archives and to Scotland three times.

“Every time I went, the story got deeper and deeper,” she said. “I found out they were in a poor house before being put into an orphanage.”

As Joyce began unfolding her father’s past, she also began to understand how he became the man he was.

“There were peculiarities in his character,” she said, noting he would withdraw when faced with conflict. “He didn’t know how to handle adult relationships.”

The home children, she learned, were “all made to feel bad about the fact they were in a home.” Consequently, once they grew into adulthood, they seemed eager to push their past into the background, their humiliation forgotten.

Despite this awful treatment, Joyce said her father never blamed his adopted country. “He was a very proud Canadian.” In fact, her father did a variety of jobs, including hospital orderly and milk man, eventually working in a Toronto homeless shelter, where he seemed to thrive."

Breaking the Silence Tuesday at Barrie’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch.  

"Also speaking will be Sandra Joyce, author of The Street Arab, a story of one such child. The evening is one of a series of events at the Legion organized by branch historian Steve Glover to mark the anniversary of Canada’s role in the First World War.

It is estimated that all of the male British Home Children who were of military age in 1914 stepped forward to serve.

Canada’s contribution to the First World War consisted largely of British expatriates — as high as 85 per cent in some units — and it was not until conscription that native-born Canadians became the majority in their own army. The British Home Children made up a significant number of our soldiers and about 1,000 of them died."

" Barrie Advance by Tony Keene 


When Sandra Joyce discovered her father had been a British home child, it explained a lot of the holes in her relationship with him.

When the Toronto woman was a young child, father and daughter were best friends, she said. “We had a very strong bond” and would watch hockey games together. But as she reached puberty, an insurmountable chasm opened between them, and it confused her.

“Deep down inside I felt like I had done something wrong for him not to love me anymore, because he was very distant. Now I know it's because he didn't know (how to be) a family.”

After her father Robert died in 2002, Joyce dug further into the family history and found that her father and his brother were sent to Canada as young teenagers in 1925. They were part of a British home children migrant program, where the youngsters were usually put to work as farm or household labourers until they turned 18. More than 100,000 British children were sent to Canada between 1869 and 1939.

Joyce said her father's parents had divorced, and the father and two boys began living in the Poor House before the boys were sent to an orphanage. From there they came to Canada.

Joyce said her father never learned how to relate to young women.

“It explained a lot of my father's behaviour to me,” she said, and it's even shaped her own personality.

“That’s shaped me and my emotional stability, and that goes on and on, and if you don't understand that and deal with it, it's like closure, I guess. Now I understand my father, and I wish I could tell him that.”

Joyce has written a book about her father's life, called “The Street Arab.” She also discovered she has cousins in England, who she met recently for the first time.

Joyce wishes her father had shared more about his early life with her, but she's not surprised he didn't like to talk about it.

“There was a stigma attached to being a home boy,” she said. “You were considered a third class citizen, that there was something wrong with you. In those years, if you were poor, people didn't look at the reasons why you were poor. There was something wrong with you to be poor, you had bad blood and could never amount to anything good.”


“The history of the British home children, of the challenges they faced and the difficult obstacles they overcame, is my family's history. It is my history, as it is for the estimated 10% of Canadians who are descended in some way from British home children.”

The Hon. Eric Hoskins MPP, Ontario Minister for Health.

“When they arrived overseas, all alone in the world, many of our most vulnerable children endured the harshest of conditions, neglect and abuse…. Those children were robbed of their childhood, the most precious years of their life.…We cannot change history, but I believe that by confronting the failings of the past, we can show we are determined to do all we can to heal the wounds.”

The Rt. Hon. Dr. James Gordon Brown, MP, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britian and Northen Ireland.

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