CORNWALL — It was on September 28 that 13-year-old orphan Mary Scott Pearson arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1891 — among the more than 100,000 ‘British Home Children’ sent to this country between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries.
The date is commemorated provincially as British Home Child Day in Ontario — and now nationally across Canada, following unanimous passage of local MP Guy Lauzon’s private member’s motion M-133 in the House of Commons on Feb. 7.
The Stormont-Dundas-South-Glengarry (S-D-SG) MP is delighted with the end result — the culmination of a process that began well over a year ago. “We owe a great deal to these children for their contributions to our country. So far we have been failing them,” said Lauzon. “I encourage everyone to learn more about the story of the British Home Children, to share that knowledge, and to do all they can to ensure that this chapter of our collective story is never forgotten.”
Filmmaker Eleanor McGrath, an Apple Hill resident who directed the award winning documentary Forgotten highlighting the story of the British Home Children, was thrilled with the outcome. “As a Canadian, and a mother, last night’s unanimous vote was not only a joyous occasion, it was the right thing to do for these children. Everyone will now know the stories of the many farmers, armed forces veterans and homemakers that contributed so much to Canada. We need to thank them and remember them and now we can do that annually.”
Especially thrilled are two of Pearson’s grandchildren — Judy Neville of Finch and Jim Brownell of Ingleside.
Neville — who first approached Lauzon over a year ago with the idea of having a national day of recognition for the thousands of immigrant children sent to Canada from the British Isles — said: “On behalf of the small number of British Home Children still with us across Canada, for all British Home Children who went before them and to the descendants and friends of British Home Children, I extend a huge thank you to MP Lauzon for bringing the voice of the British Home Children to the House of Commons. This was definitely a nonpartisan issue as all parties supported the motion voting unanimously to pass it.”
Lauzon “did not need to be persuaded to take this on,” she said. “He knew the importance of this almost lost history. We will keep this torch lit. I believe plans are already being made to celebrate in many communities across Canada on British Home Child Day in Canada this September 28th.”
Neville’s brother, former S-D-SG MPP Jim Brownell, a vocal advocate for British Home Children who successfully spearheaded provincial recognition in the Ontario Legislature several years ago, added, “The untold stories and unheard voices of our loved ones were front and centre to the vote held in the House of Commons … proclaiming a national British Home Child Day for September 28th of each year.
“Just as Ontario did in 2011, when Ontario’s British Home Child Day was enacted, the untold stories of our British Home Child ancestors, from across our great country, will stand as a testament to their determination and perseverance. Canada has given these ancestors a voice!”
The official text of the approved federal Motion reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should recognize the contributions made by the over 100,000 British Home Children to Canadian Society, their service to our armed forces throughout the twentieth century, the hardships and stigmas that many of them endured, the importance of educating and reflecting upon the story of the British Home Children for future generations by declaring September 28, every year, British Home Child Day in Canada.
It’s perhaps the greatest achievement yet in British Home Child commemorations to arise out of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, a hotbed of advocacy on the subject in recent years. In addition to Brownell’s precursor effort at Queen’s Park, the local riding has recently produced a “British Home Child Lane” on St. Lawrence Parks Commission property, as well as a small British Home Child museum at the old train station outside Crysler Marina, east of Morrisburg.