Advocate works to raise awareness of Home Children

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Home Children Canada, a charity founded by Lori Oschefski, works to reconnect families separated during a period in British and Canadian history that sent poor children overseas in order to use them for farm labour.

Four million Canadians are descendants of the migrant child work force. Between 1869 and 1948 more than 100,000 children were shipped to Canada, of which only a small percentage were true orphans. The children had been separated by one or both parents as a result of poverty or illness.

Sept. 28 marks the fifth National Day of Acknowledgement of the British Home Children in Canada and on that day there will be a special exhibit at Creemore Log Cabin, hosted by the Clearview Public Library.

Oschefski said British Home Children were made to feel ashamed of their poverty and were often reluctant to talk about their traumatic emigration. She has spent years, since the discovery that 18 members of her own family, including her mother, had been sent to Canada and had never talked about it.

Oschefski became involved with the Home Children after her mother, in 2007, revealed that she had been a child migrant, arriving in Canada at the age of two. She then discovered that all of her mother’s siblings and her father had all been Home Children.

“I grieve for my mother, and her brothers and sisters, for what they had to endure,” wrote Oschefski in her book, Bleating of the Lambs: Canada’s British Home Children. “For the years they spent in the horrible environment of the workhouse for the separation they endured from their mother, the loss of their father, the loss of each other and the resulting burdens they have carried in their hearts and souls all their loves. Yet it is only through knowledge and understanding that we can forgive and lay the suffering to rest.”

She has collected stories, photos, and some of the memorabilia that survivors have saved and will be included in the exhibit.

Families sometimes surrendered their children to homes and orphanages, believing it to be a temporary measure while they recovered and could claim them. Laws of the day stripped parents of their rights as guardians and forced separation as a way of cleansing England of poverty, and sending cheap labour to Canada.

Believed to have altruistic roots, with the intention of raising children out of poverty and taking them off the streets, the Home Children program ultimately traumatized children and parents due to forced separation. It also became a money making venture as more and more “sending agencies” got involved, taking payments from both the British and Canadian governments. The most well known of the agencies were the homes founded by Thomas Barnardo.

For the most part, the children served as farm labourers and domestic helpers. The children were in high demand, with at least seven applications filed for every available child shipped to Canada. They were sent under labour contracts and were to be housed, fed, clothed and educated at school until they were to be released from their indentured contracts at the age of 18. The program was billed as an alternative to life in the crowded city. In Canada there would be fresh air and wide open country. Some children were accepted into families and others were poorly treated labourers, who ended up going without an education. Children were often relocated, some died or were injured on the farm, and others died by suicide.

In 2012 Ms. Oschefski founded “British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association” which has more than 10,000 members.

The exhibit at Creemore Log Cabin, located beside the library, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28 and will include a quilt telling the stories of some of the home children that Oschefski has collected, with a special tribute to those who are veterans, along with some of the items that have been gifted to her from family members.

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