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Remembering Marjorie

Marjorie Skidmore, nee Arnison. September 21, 1926 – January 16, 2017. British Child Migrant sent to the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm on Vancouver Island, BC Canada in September 1937.

Click on the link: https://www.dundurn.com/news/Remembering-Marjorie-Skidmore

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British Child Migration: My 2 Cents

This is my 2 cents – I am not saying there aren’t other ways to look at it.

“Britain alone of the European Colonial powers seems to have made an industry of the export of its children.” Blackburn, Geoff. The Children’s Friend Society. 1993. Page ix.

Perhaps – because sending child migrants to the colonies began as early as 1619 – there was no need for this most powerful nation to look at other ways of taking care of its children. Former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown stated on February 24, 2010, “It is right that today we recognise the human cost associated with this shameful episode of history and this failure in the first duty of a nation, which is to protect its children.” (Transcript, House of Commons Debates, February 24, 2010, Volume No. 506, Part No. 44. U.K. Parliament. www.parliament.uk.)

No one can dispute that the conditions for the poor in England were for many, unbearable. However, they were not a lot better in Canada at the time. And can anyone really say that the best answer was to remove young children from their families, their communities and their country?

Maria Rye, in a letter titled, ‘Our Gutter Children,” printed in The Times, (London) on March 29, 1869 (Page 8), stated: “Can anything I introduce them to in Canada or America be worse than that to which they are doomed if we leave them where they are now?” Kershaw and Sacks (2002) suggest that, “The children’s response, could they have made it, would have been that at least it was familiar to them, and they had people around them whom they knew, even valued family ties.” Page 22.

“…by vilifying the children … and alleging that they were the paupers and criminals of the future, emigrationists in Birmingham and Manchester promoted themselves as offering a cost-effective alternative approach to child rescue that contributed to the gradual purification of society. (Rebecca Ward “An Alternative Approach to Child Rescue: child emigration societies in Birmingham and Manchester, 1870-1914,” (2010) page 37.)

Often children appeared to be coming from institutions and orphanages.

My mother and her three siblings were removed from their mother’s care – after a zealous interpretation of a letter from my grandfather – which stated, “…providing my wife and children are willing, I am quite agreeable to what you propose…” Written across the top of his letter is: “This is a consent.” He was head of the household. They did not need his wife or his children’s consent. (Marjorie Too Afraid To Cry, page 47.) It took my mother, Marjorie over 70 years to realize her mother’s grief may have matched her own, when we located a family letter in which it was stated that it was to her mother’s ‘…eternal distress that she lost her children to Canada.’

My mother and three siblings were placed in the Middlemore Emigration Home in Birmingham prior to being shipped to Canada. My mother’s Fairbridge records, housed in the BC Archives in Victoria, BC, are curious – in that one set states her parents whereabouts are unknown and that there are no known siblings other than her younger brother and sister with her at Fairbridge. Another set – now in the same folder, lists her parent’s address and her other ‘English’ siblings, including the sister who was left at the Middlemore Emigration Home.

Any Canadian officials looking at my mother’s file would believe that she was abandoned, orphaned.

Of the 329 children sent to the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School between 1935 and 1948, 95% were not orphans. Some of the children were just four-years-old when they arrived.

Throughout the 350-year history of British Child Migration (1619-1970s) child laws changed seemingly to further British Child Migration – children caught doing anything wrong could be placed in a reform school. Many of Britain’s reform schools were given the right to ‘transport’ the children to the colonies.

One example – in 1868 at the Wellington Reformatory Farm School of Midlothian, Scotland, James Watt, aged eleven years was admitted. James, with no previous convictions, had been sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment and five years detention at the Reformatory School for the “theft of a bottle of hair oil from off a barrow on the street.” And the Parkhurst Reformatory, located on the Isle of Wight, was established in 1836 as a result of an Act of Parliament. It was the British government’s first venture into child prison reform. Juvenile offenders, between 8 and 18, with a sentence that included transportation to the colonies were trained for 2 – 3 years at Parkhurst before being removed from the country.” Henry Barnard, LL. D. Reformatory Education: Papers on Preventive, Correctional and Reformatory Institutions and Agencies in Different Countries. Page 303. And Marjorie Kohli, The Golden Bridge. Pages 388-389.

I think it is important to look at how many of the children transported to the colonies found themselves in the institutions because of slight infractions, thus vulnerable to be transported to the colonies.

Doyle Report 1875: Andrew Doyle was sent out to bring back a report on how the children were faring in Canada.  Excerpts from the 1875 Doyle Report: As Doyle visited the children in their Canadian work placements, he observed that, “Some of the places indeed, are worse than a Board of Guardians would consent to place a child in England.” (Page 14) He criticized that the children were presented in Canada as objects of pity, “…it would surely be better to keep them at home, letting them take their chance of what Guardians can do for them amongst their own people.” (Page 21) He felt that the children, taken from the British streets and placed on Canadian farms without any training, “…will be less fit for service in Canada than they would be in England, and to send them as emigrants can be regarded not as a way of improving their position, but simply of getting rid of them at a cheap rate.” (Page 34) Doyle felt that the placements the children were put in were “…quite hard as, and in some respects more uninviting to the children, than the service in which at the same age they might be placed out in England. (Page 35) He reported that, “I was often painfully struck in speaking to children …with the sense of loneliness manifested by them.” (Page 35) Doyle concluded that the employer often, “…gets the child’s service merely for its maintenance. Employers may naturally feel that none but children the most destitute would in such a country as Canada be bound to serve upon such terms. No class of Canadians would consent to accept such terms of service for their own children.” (Page 36)

The Bondfield Report 1924.  In the spring of 1924, the British Overseas Settlement Department was asked to look into how the system of child migration was functioning for the children who had been placed in Canada. Margaret Bondfield was appointed as the head of the delegation. In the early autumn, the group toured Canada for just under 2 months. Their report was completed in November 1924. Overall the system met their approval, but recommended that no children should be transported until they had reached the age of fourteen, the school leaving age in Britain, as the children sent to Canada were mainly sent to work. They reported that younger children could also be vulnerable to abuse. As a result, the British government announced that it would no longer offer financial assistance for immigrants to Canada if they were under the age of fourteen. The Canadian government supported the decision and enacted regulations in April 1925 banning the entry of children under fourteen and unaccompanied by their parents or guardians. This ban was set in place for a three-year period. In 1928 the ban on unaccompanied children under the age of 14 was made permanent. Dunae said that, “The federal government’s directive of 1928 ostensibly marked the end of British child migration to Canada and the end of a tradition.” (Dunae. “Waifs.” Page 228; Marjorie Kohli. The Golden Bridge. Page 35-36; Parr. Labouring Children. Page 152-153.)

However, many children were still sent to Canada after this date – mainly by Barnardo’s and then the Fairbridge Society gained permission to open one of their Fairbridge Farm School in BC – it was opened in 1935 and ran until early 1950. Their Australian Fairbridge Farm Schools accepted children until the 1970s and were open until the 1980s.

Isobel Harvey Report, 1944: Excerpts from the August 1944 Report written by Isobel Harvey’s, BC’s Superintendent of Child Welfare, after spending several days at the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School on Vancouver Island:

Most or the children seem to feel cheated, and their allegiance is still to their own families back in England, poor though they may be.

Cottage mothers have too much power with the younger children, whom they discipline as they please, and no one is informed as far as I could gather. The continual shouting at the children is, I presume, a form of discipline.

A Child Welfare worker viewing Fairbridge is left with a feeling of helplessness. The basic idea, antagonistic to every concept of Canadian Child Welfare, that these children are poor English children and, therefore, different from the ordinary child, is rooted so firmly in practically every staff member’s mind that there is no use arguing against it. I was told over and over again by the Principal that I was incapable of understanding these children because they were English children. Anything they do, any trait they develop, is laid to the class from which they come. In fact, Fairbridge seems to be class conscious to an astonishing degree – even the Canadian cottage mothers get the same idea.

 British Child Migration has so many layers. It is not as simple as being right or wrong. And yes – for many it was a good decision. But for many it was not.

And the second generation – my generation, grew up without family stories, without grandparents, without a sense of community or country. And I was raised by a mother who hid her past, such was the extent of her shame at being rejected by her country, and she always thought she was rejected by her family too, as while growing up at Fairbridge her wretched cottage mothers told her over and over that she was unwanted, a worthless orphan, a British Guttersnipe, her family didn’t want her, her country didn’t want her and neither did Canada.

Patricia Skidmore, daughter of a British Child Migrant.

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Book Reading May 11th at Fairbridge Chapel

Book Reading – “Marjorie Too Afraid To Cry”
Place: Fairbridge Chapel – 4791 Fairbridge Drive, Duncan BC
Date: May 11, 2013
Time: from 1pm – 3pm

Everyone welcome.
For more information please contact: Patricia Skidmore: patskidmore@shaw.ca

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Book Launch for “Marjorie Too Afraid To Cry”

Book Launch for “Marjorie Too Afraid To Cry”
Place: University of Victoria’s Bookstore – 3800 Finnerty Road, Victoria BC V8W 3H6
Date: March 14, 2013
Time: from 7pm – 9pm

Marjorie, now 86½, will be at the launch.

Everyone welcome.
For more information please contact: Megan Gariepy, Event Coordinator: mgariepy@uvic.ca or 250-721-8318
Or Patricia Skidmore: patskidmore@shaw.ca

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Marjorie is delighted to see ‘her story’ in print

After years of research, Marjorie’s long forgotten past has been found and is now published. Marjorie is delighted to see ‘her story’ in print.