McColeman's motion wins Parliament's support
Michael-Allan Marion (December 8, 2009)
A little-known immigration phenomenon of British emigration that accounts for 12 per cent of Canada's population today is finally beginning to get national exposure.
Brant Member of Parliament Phil McColeman won rare unanimous support from all sides in the House of Commons on Monday for a private member's motion asking Parliament to declare 2010 the Year of the British Home Child.
"It's a chapter in Canada's history that is far too little known," McColeman said in an interview before the vote.
Between 1869 and 1930, the young Canada was marked by the emigration from Great Britain of about 100,000 children aged six months to 18 years. They were orphans or children whose families were so poor they had no ability to care for them.
They were brought to Canada by religious organizations of several dominations, and then ended up as farm labourers or domestic help.
Today, their descendants in Canada number around four million. Many of those descendants have established organizations across the county, such as the better known Middlemore Society, to advocate for the recognition of the original immigrants, the trauma of dislocation in their home country and later hardship when they arrived.
"A lot of those people never told their stories," said McColeman. "Often they were stories of tremendous hardship and amazing perseverance to make it through. Can you imagine being a child, and being put onto a boat to go somewhere where you don't know anyone, and what might happen to you?"
In a 10-minute speech, McColeman also related a personal anecdote of how his late uncle, Kenneth Bickerton, came to Canada as a British Home Child at 14, along with two dozen other boys.
The MP has copies of his ancestor's landing papers.
As soon as the vote was done, McColeman crossed the floor to thank the representative of each party who spoke in favour of the motion. He said later it was especially poignant to shake the hand of Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who related how his maternal grandfather was also a British Home Child.
"It's not often that Mr. Duceppe does that kind of thing," he said, adding that he offered to get more information to him about his ancestor through the Home Child movement.
The passage of a private member's motion is as rare an instance in the House of Commons as private member's bills. McColeman received kudos from colleagues in all parties for his first successful legislative foray. McColeman's motion is similar to one passed in the New Brunswick legislative assembly making 2009 the year of the British Home Child in that province.
Canada Post also is expected to release a commemorative stamp in the new year. [Canada Post issued a Home Children stamp
in September 2010.]