Books reviews by Pegi Eyers
The Street Arab – The Story of a British Home Child+
Through various migration schemes fro 1830 to 1940 the influx of British Home Children was a major contribution to the historic rise of Canada and over ten percent of Canadians today are descended from this diaspora. Narratives of sacrifice and suffering as endured by these early Empire builders have been reclaimed in our time and we now have a modern perception of the Child Migrant programs as mercenary, opportunistic, traumatic and unfair.
Children in poverty were marginalized, homeless and orphaned due to the Industrial Revolution, wars and other displacements in the United Kingdom. They arrived on Canadian shores to years of servitude as domestics and labourers through an agenda akin to child slavery. Once taboo and unrecognized, there has been an explosion of research and fictional account in recent years that uncover the truth of our common heritage and begins to o reconcile this painful legacy.
Storytelling is a wonderful way to honour our ancestors, as we may know key dates and the places where they were living but not the most intimate details of their lives. For those who share a passion for genealogy, filling in the blanks with a fictional treatment or composite can inform, entertain and pay tribute.
One of the best accounts of the British Home Children era is Sandra Joyce’s The Street Arab – The Story of a British Home Child. It captures the reality and atmosphere of village life in Scotland and how an unlikely combination of events can lead to hard times. Based on the experiences of her own father after WWI, Joyce traces the journey of young Robbie James to a ‘new life in a new land’ in Canada, where he meets with condescension and mistreatment during a series of placements as a farm labourer. Not all British Home Children encountered hardship and when they were released from servitude at age 18, the majority went on to have productive lives.