Crossroads of Culture 200 Years of Canadian Immigration (1800-2000)
Introduction Objects Photos & Papers Themes Kids & Teachers


The history of youth immigration to Canada is poignant, particularly the stories of individuals who arrived in assisted emigration schemes. These began in the 1830s and continued for almost a century. These programs attempted to relocate " the surplus of orphaned, deserted, neglected and delinquent in British cities " to Canada and other dominions Over 77,000 children came to this country in that manner. Essentially a movement aimed at satisfying a mutual coincidence of needs - labour and livelihood - it removed children from destitution overseas and shipped them here to join rural families as indentured farm hands or domestics.

Children who were born here or part of immigrant families spent very few years in school. In 1851, less than 25% of working-class youth and less than 45% of middle-class youth had any schooling. It took another half century for elementary school to become mandatory.

Piecing together the history of childhood in Canada requires the use of many sources. Foremost are government records at every level. Churches maintain registries of baptisms, schools have yearbooks, and families retain and cherish their photographs, letters or other personal memorabilia.

Not so easy to locate are objects young Canadians themselves possessed. Unless parents made a special effort to preserve a child's clothes, such items were worn out or ruined, and simply did not survive. Old schoolbooks, sports equipment, toys, souvenirs, comic books - there must be a special heaven for these things, for Canadians rarely see examples of them today, even those from only a generation ago.

Admittedly, antiquarians, connoisseurs, faddists and museum curators have holdings of children's articles, sometimes extensive and very well catalogued. Examination of all these kinds of evidence can lead to good pictures of what childhood in Canada has been like at different times, but surely imagination will be as useful as research in such a quest.

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