The Sisters of Providence received “Home Children” brought from England by Mrs. Lacy of the Catholic Protection Society of Liverpool from May 1888 to September 1891.

Between 1869 and the late 1930s over 100,000 “Home Children” were sent to Canada from Great Britain. As many as 50 British charitable and religious agencies arranged for orphaned, abandoned and impoverished children to be sent to Canada where they were received by distributing centres and from there placed in foster and adoptive homes and often used as domestics or farm labourers. In some cases special distributing centres were built by the sending agencies to receive Home Children. In other cases already existing institutions were approached to receive the young migrants.

In the summer of 1887 the Sisters of Providence were asked by the Catholic Protection Society of Liverpool, England to receive “English Orphans” and to place them in good homes in Canada. The congregation, which had been looking after local orphans since it was founded in 1861, agreed. The annals, a written chronicle of the life of the congregation, for 1887 state that “For several months negotiations had been in progress between the Community and the Catholic Protection Society of Liverpool, Eng. for the reception of Orphans sent to Canada by said Society.”

The arrival of the first group of children in May, 1888 was recorded in the annals:

    “On May 23rd…Mrs. Lacy, Matron of the Catholic Protection Society of Liverpool England arrived bringing to us one hundred and thirty children, ranging in ages from 3 to 15 years. Many persons were already in the house prepared to adopt these poor little strangers. It was a touching sight to see these poor little creatures clinging to each other, brother fearing to be parted from sister and sisters dreading a separation from each other. In all cases where it was possible members of the same family were placed as near each other as they could be.”

From May 1888 to September 1891, the Sisters of Providence received 8 groups of English Orphans, totalling approximately 400 children aged 3 to 18 years old. They were received at the House of Providence, Kingston where their stay ranged from a few days to several months, before being placed with an adoptive or foster family. Most children were placed with families in Eastern Ontario, many in the Kingston area, while others were placed as far away as Windsor and Montreal. Most were placed once and remained with their guardians; however, in some instances children were returned to the House of Providence and were placed with new guardians.

The Sisters ended their contract with the Catholic Protection Society of Liverpool in 1891 because the Society had begun sending children with developmental and physical disabilities in spite of previous agreements to the contrary. The Sisters had great difficulty placing these children with adoptive or foster families. During the years the Sisters received British Home Children they also continued to run their orphanage for local orphans.

The Archives of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul has an English Orphans register that lists the names of the children, their ages, their guardians in Canada and their new addresses. For more information regarding Home Children who arrived in Kingston from 1888-1891 please contact the Archivist.

by Veronica Stienburg

There are no known photographs of Sr. Mary Angelica. Another home child to enter the Congregation was Sr. Mary Benita (Matilda Marsh), picture here.

Lillian Blanchfield, her two sisters and her two brothers were “rescued” from the Shaw Street Workhouse in Liverpool, England by the Catholic Children’s Protection Society of Liverpool. They crossed the Atlantic in 11 days aboard the Parisian steamship in the company of Mrs. Lacey and 60 other home children.

On June 11, 1889, Mrs. Lacey delivered the children to the House of Providence in Kingston. Lillian stayed at the House of Providence for 17 days before leaving her siblings behind when she left with her new guardian, Mr. J. Black, a butcher in the town of Hastings. It was 18 years before she saw her sisters again. Unlike the experience of many home children Lillian was adopted into her new family and given the name Veronica Black.

On January 3, 1898 Lillian entered the Sisters of Providence as a Tertiary and was given the name Sr. Nora. Tertiaries were auxiliaries who performed domestic labour and were part of the Congregation from 1895 to 1907, when they were allowed to enter the novitiate.
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by Veronica Stienburg

Members of the Kingston branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society Kingston undertook the significant job of transcribing the Congregation’s records of the home children. Here, OGS representatives present Sisters of Providence archivist Veronica Steinburg (left) with the published copy of the records

Between 1870 and the late 1930s over 100,000 “home children” were sent to Canada from Great Britain. Due to the industrial revolution, cities in England in the mid-19th century were overcrowded and living conditions for many poor and destitute adults and children were terrible. Over 50 different charitable and religious agencies participated in what was considered rescuing impoverished children by sending them to Canada where they were received by distributing centres and then placed in homes. Unfortunately, many children were permanently separated from their families and were exploited as domestic servants and farm labour in Canada. View full article »

The orphanage registers of the House of Providence are the main source of information about the British Home Children in the Archives of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. The registers document the names of the children, their ages, and the name and addresses of their guardians in Canada. Apart from the orphanage registers the Archives does not have a lot of documentation about the English Orphans. What documentation does exist consists of a few mentions in the Council Minutes, Congregational Annals and three pieces of correspondence.
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