Alice Clarke, my father's mother, was born in 1910 in Alsager, Cheshire, England to John Henry and Sarah Clarke. She was the sixth of ten children, however three of her brothers died in infancy. Both of my
great-grandparents died in their early 40's, within 20 months of each other, leaving seven children between the ages of eight and eighteen to fend for themselves.
While the eldest sisters attempted to care for their youngest siblings for a while,
eventually the government, under the British Poor Laws in effect at the time, stepped in. In 1924, my grandmother, aged 13, and her younger brother Ralph, aged 11, were placed in the care of the state and housed in an orphanage. She was
placed in a girls' home, he in a boys' home under the guardianship of Dr. Barnardo's Homes. She remained there until the time, a year later, that she was placed on a ship (the MS Montclare) for emigration to Canada, as what became
known as a British Home Child.
Upon arrival in Canada in the spring of 1925, Alice began her work "in service" as a domestic servant, with followup by Barnardo's. Her brother, who arrived two years later, worked as farm labour. As far
as we know, they faired quite well in comparison to many of the young children who were brought to Canada during this immigration scheme. Within the next few years, two of their older siblings also emigrated to Canada from England. These four maintained
close contact with each other, and with their siblings who remained in England, until their deaths.
In 1929, Alice married my grandfather, Bill, (who also had an interesting history that I will write about in a future post) and together
they raised six children who had 20 grandchildren and at the time of her death at age 88 in 1999, she had 36 great-grandchildren.
Having worked over 20 years in the child welfare field, I have often thought of my grandmother and her life and
how the system of protecting children has evolved over time. The British Home Children are part of the history of Canada's attempts (both successfully and not so) to provide a safety net for Society's vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
Background on the British Home Children: Starting in 1869, and continuing into the years following the Second World War, more than 100,000 orphaned, abandoned and pauper children
were sent to Canada by British churches and philanthropic organizations. They were welcomed by Canadian families as a source of farm labour, domestic help, and, in some cases, as children of their own. While some children benefited from their new life, others
were abused, neglected and overworked. The Government of Canada recognized the experiences of Canada’s Home Children by proclaiming 2010 the Year of the British Home Child.