Look Back at the Past: The British Home Children of North Dundas

William Shadbolt at the age of 9, when he was admitted to Barnardo’s. Photo
courtesy of Patti Shadbolt, William’s granddaughter. 

by Ashley Harper
Chesterville and District Historical Society

On September 28, people across Canada commemorated British Home Child Day. But who were the British Home Children?

In 1869, religious and philanthropic organizations in Britain began to send orphan and pauper children to Canada to give them a chance at a better life. Young children were to be adopted, and older children were to be indentured as domestic servants and farm labourers until they turned 18.

The emigration program operated until 1948, by which time over 100,000 children had been sent to Canada. While some found loving homes and fair employers, others suffered severe abuse and trauma.

Over 10% of Canadians are descended from Home Children. However, the stigma attached to these children led many to hide their pasts, meaning that descendants are often unaware of their family history.

British Home Child Day is an opportunity to recognize this history. It was first observed in Ontario in 2011 after a bill tabled by former Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP Jim Brownell was passed in the Ontario Legislature.

Brownell, a Home Child descendant, chose September 28 to commemorate the day that his grandmother arrived in Canada.
The late Judy Neville, Brownell’s sister, spearheaded the effort for a federal British Home Child Day. She and others worked with the office of former SDSG MP Guy Lauzon to put forth a motion in the House of Commons, which passed in 2018.

More than 300 British Home Children came to North Dundas, both as indentured children and as adults. Some were here for a short time, while others remained in the district for the rest of their lives. Regardless, they left their mark on this community and their legacy endures through their contributions and those of their descendants.

‘Look Back at the Past’ aims to highlight local history

WINCHESTER — Where we started shapes who we are today. 

North Dundas has a rich history, forged by the land and the people who farmed it. 

The township has launched a new initiative, called ‘Look Back at the Past.’ The goal is to highlight local history by publishing bi-weekly articles that touch on interesting subjects from the past. 

The township has partnered with Susan Peters, of the Dundas County Archives, and Ashley Harper, of the Chesterville and District Historical Society, on this exciting new project. They are volunteering their time to identify, research and write historical articles for the community’s benefit. 

The articles will be posted every other Wednesday on the North Dundas website and Facebook page. They will also be sent out to local media outlets. 

“Our history is very important and we’re committed to keeping it alive for years to come,” says Mayor Tony Fraser. “We want to ensure that some of the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation are captured for future residents to enjoy.”

‘Look Back at the Past’ is a pilot project that will run for six months and possibly longer, depending on interest from the community. The historical articles will feature notable locals, important events and even mysteries from the past. 

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