Shattered Lives: British Home Children in Prince Albert

Before being shipped to Canada: An impoverished mother and three of her children in London's East End, 1900. Source: Old London, Facebook

This is the sixteenth in a series of columns about the 70 British Home Children sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. While all orphanage records were destroyed in the terrible fire of 1947, every attempt has been made to trace the life stories of these dispossessed children through genealogy websites and newspaper databases

Time to Reflect

With Christmas just days away, I don’t have the heart to write another sad story about the British Home Children in the Prince Albert orphanage. My husband suggested that I write about Christmas at the orphanage, but, due to the 1947 fire, no such memories survive in the written record. I will be bringing you more of the children’s stories, whether devastating or hopeful, in the new year, but I thought perhaps now would be a good time for some reflection and a bit of a progress report.

Out of the 70 children, ages 3 to 14, who arrived at St. Patrick’s between 1901 and 1907, I have so far written about 28 of them in this column. That leaves 42 more to go! I must confess that there are a good number of the remaining children for whom I have not yet been able to find much information. Some of their names, for example, are too common to narrow down the searches on genealogical or newspaper websites. Others just seem to have disappeared. Nevertheless, I will persevere. In the end, I may combine several briefer stories into one or two columns.

After arriving in Canada: Were these children better off? Detail from a group photo taken at St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in 1902. Source: Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, R-B11654

At this festive time of year, I am brimming with gratitude to the Prince Albert Daily Herald for publishing “Shattered Lives.” Most of us were not taught in school about the more than 100,000 impoverished British Home Children shipped to Canada between 1869 and 1939 to work as farm hands or domestic servants. With the support of the Herald, this column has aimed to bring the story of this child migration scheme from the shadows into the light. My main goals in telling these stories are 1) to give readers a sense of the conditions in the United Kingdom that led to these children being sent to Canada; and 2) to reveal how their lives unfolded after they arrived. I hope I am on my way to achieving these goals.

If reader’s comments are any indication, I think I am on the right track. More than one teacher has asked me for copies of the “Shattered Lives” columns for use in their classrooms. For example, a professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan wrote to me this past June saying, “I read with interest your series of articles. Is there a way I could have the complete series for including in required readings for my global health class? We cover a lot of issues at local, national and international levels, these articles expose another hidden secret for which there are lasting consequences.”

I have been sharing these columns on social media. Here are a few comments I have received
on Facebook:
• I admire the work you have done on this, Joan. These people deserve to have their story told. ⁃ Lori, 4 August 2022
• “Been following these stories in the Herald and am amazed at the amount of time and research that goes into each article! While many of the stories are so sad and tragic for those Children, it’s good to know their histories and remember them.” – Vicki, 4 November 2022
• “WOW! This is amazing information. Where can we go to read all of the columns? … Looks like an amazing amount of research was done. Wonder if anyone has ever considered doing a book or print out for old grannies like me.” ⁃ Pat, 24 November 2022
• “Your investigative work is very valuable, Joan. Thank you for telling these children’s stories.” ⁃ Rocky, December 8, 2022
As you can see, some readers have requested copies, or a compilation, of this series of columns. I do not have the resources to self-publish a book, but it is my hope to create a blog or website that includes all of this series as published in the Herald plus more information as it becomes available.

In the meantime, thank you for reading “Shattered Lives.” I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year!