Life in Canada

Most Bristol children were taken to St John in New Brunswick. Waiting for them was Samuel Gardner the Canadian Immigration Agent for the port of St John also the agent for the Bristol Emigration Society. He would have lists of farmers who wanted children to work on their farms or in the farmhouses and it was his job to decide where the children would be sent.

Ch on Dockside 001

Bristol children who were taken out to Canada by Annie Macpherson are resting on the dockside before they are sent to the farmers waiting for them. Taken from the Canadian Illustrated News May 17 1873.

Marchmont Ontario

The Bristol children who went out with Annie Macpherson went to Marchmont, Belleville Ontario.


Without any rest, perhaps just time for a meal, the children might be given a ticket, put on a train and given the name of a station where they would meet the farmer. Other children may be collected by a cart and taken to the place where they would live.

Bristol Emigration Society did not have a Receiving Home, they tried to convince their critics that they used the St Johns Sailors Home, this was not true.




This was a difficult time for the child, brothers and sisters were separated, often not to meet again. They were taken away from friends they had made on the journey, not fully understanding what was happening. The children were expected to take on many of the tasks that needed to be done when running a farm. These were city children and most found the work hard. Some children were rejected because they were too small or not strong enough. A number changed placements two or three times in as many years usually because the farmer wasn’t happy with their work.


One room school 1#

This is very typical of a one classroom school where children of all ages would be taught. British children went to schools like this one.

The children were given food and lodging in exchange for their labour, wages were to be given to the children when they were 16 years but money was often withheld due to breakages or the cost of their clothes. It was also expected that children would attend school in the wintertime with the Canadian children, but many were kept working at the farm. Country schools ran one class for all ages.

The children were free to move on when they were 16 years of age.







Canadian small town church

Small churches, often built from wood, were an important part of life for the Canadian people. British children were expected to go to church with the family. Sometimes Catholic children were put into Protestant homes and sometimes Protestant children were put into Catholic homes. This was the cause of much trouble.

For many children life was very hard, they lost their childhood very early in their lives. Some were treated more kindly than others but they came with a label attached to them. An invisible label that said they were from the streets of the cities of Britain; they were the “Street Arabs” who had been sent to Canada because Britain did not want them. It gave rise to the feeling that there must be something not quite right with them.  It was a prejudice that took a long time to change and made life very difficult for the Bristol children.

It is also important to say that many prospered and fulfilled the hopes of those who sent them.

Supporters in Bristol felt that the chance for a stable family life far away from the streets and the poverty suffered by their families offered the best hope for their future. The question of whether the farmers who took on these children should be thought of as employers or foster parents caused some debate at the time. Visitors to Canada commented that hard work was part of the Canadian way of life and if the children were expected to work hard, well it was what everybody else was doing.

When at the start of the First World War a call was made asking for volunteers to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight on the side of the British people; many of the Bristol Home children willingly offered their services. Some were wounded and there were those who did not return.


Comments are closed.