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Little Wanderers: A Literary History of the British Home Children in Canada

May 25, 2021 @ 7:00 pm

Presented by Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives

Between 1863 and 1939 as many as 118,000 children came to Canada under a British program of child migration. These “Home Children” journeyed to Canada from the UK in search of a better life. Following the advice and help of Victorian social reformers, these little migrants hoped to leave behind a life of poverty and/or class discrimination limiting their opportunities and happiness in the Old World. In Canada, the children were often sent to work on farms or in domestic service. They would have a profound role in shaping the future of their adopted countries. Many went on to have their own farms or businesses; some dedicated themselves to defense of their country in war; a majority stayed in Canada and had families of their own. Indeed, some estimate that as many as one in ten Ontarians are descendant from Home Children. Sadly, this history is not always happy; many of the children were abused, neglected, and exploited by appalling working conditions and poor wages.

But why was migration viewed as a reasonable solution to poverty in the first place, and why was Canada the selected destination for these displaced youth? Our presentation on the “Little Wanderers” seeks to answer these questions by looking at some of the influential literature from the period. We will discuss works by prominent social reformers documenting the dire situation of the working-class and poor people in the Victorian city. We will also consider how the idea of child migration might have been normalized by Victorian children’s adventure fiction – with their tales celebrating colonialism as a means to self-reform and social belonging. Our talk on the “Little Wanderers” will conclude with a selection of texts specifically depicting the experiences and reception of the Home Children in Canada, including the legacy of these young migrants in their adoptive country.

About the Presenter:

Brooke Cameron is Associate Professor of English at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She is the author of Critical Alliances: Economics and Feminism in English Women’s Writing, 1880-1914 (University of Toronto Press, 2020), as well as multiple peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on gender and economic themes in Victorian literature. Her current research on the British Home Children in Canada is supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant (SSHRC). She and her graduate student, Alicia Alves, recently developed a virtual archive of the library history surrounding the Home Children (also titled, “Little Wanderers”). Cameron is at work writing a book project on Victorian social reformers and child migrants.

Alicia Alves is a PhD Candidate at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Her work focuses on Victorian and Edwardian children’s literature, but she is also interested in children’s literature more broadly. She has published an article and a book chapter on this topic, and is currently completing a dissertation on “A Child’s Best Friend: Human-Animal Hybridity in Late-Victorian and Edwardian Children’s Literature.” Alves was co-creator with Dr. Brooke Cameron of a SSHRC-funded virtual library display focusing on children’s literature and the Home Children for the W. D. Jordan Special Collections at Queen’s University Library.




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