My aunt and I went to “Fanshawe Pioneer Village”:http://fanshawepioneervillage.ca to see an exhibit about the “British Home Children”:http://britishhomechild.com/tag/british-home-child-group-international/. These were children who were sent from Britain from the late 1800s up to the mid-1900s to work on farms in Canada. They were usually poor and ended up separated from their families and placed in various social care systems of their time. Though many of them are no longer with us, their descendants are here and looking for answers as to their family histories. My aunt’s father was one such boy although he married here and returned to England before WWII and reconnected with some of his siblings so we have more information than most.
To step back a bit, Fanshawe Pioneer Village is located in the north east of London, Ontario within the Fanshawe Conservation Area. When you approach the village, you pass through the gate for the conservation area. Usually it costs $13 per vehicle to enter but as we were going to the village which also has an entrance fee, we were waved through. As it is a conservation area, watch for the crossing turtles sign and the sign asking you to stop for snakes; seriously. We followed the orange signs for the village and parked a little walk away from the entrance to the village. If you require disabled parking, you can park next to the entrance building. It costs $7 (including tax) each to enter. Children under three are free. The village is open all year round but the buildings are not open in the fall/winter season.
The village has 32 buildings that have been moved here from various sites within south western Ontario. It is laid out in four sections: 1820-1850 Fanshawe Settlement where you enter the village; 1850 – 1880 Fanshawe Corners; 1880 – 1910 Fanshawe Township; and 1910 – 1920 Town of Fanshawe. The Settlement consists mainly of log cabin construction. The Corners consists of a blacksmith shop, a Loyal Orange Lodge, a Presbyterian Church, a tavern, farmhouse, masonic lodge, stable and woodworking shop. The Township includes a farmhouse, school, barn and farm. The Town includes a weaving shed, barns and various houses, Trinity Church, print shop and a general store where you can purchase gifts appropriate to the time. My favourite house in the Town was Paul Peel’s boyhood home which displays many of his prints such as “Before the Bath” and ”After the Bath.” Another lesser known artist, Amos Jury from Lobo, is represented in the Jury House in the Township, including a mural he painted in the hallway and one on the easel in the living room. There were interpreters dressed in period costume in both of these homes and they were very informative about the families and their lives. You could tell they had a great interest in the people they were representing.
As the season is winding down, there were not a lot of other activities happening at the village. However, in the summer it is a hive of activity with a blacksmith in the smithy, cooking and baking demonstrations in the houses, etc. I will have to make a return visit to see the village when it is more alive. The rustic café in the Town was open luckily and we partook of some of the last leek and potato soup – there was only one serving left for the party after us. The soup was delicious and hot and we enjoyed it with grilled cheese sandwiches that were served with crisps. The village also puts on a meal at Thanksgiving and Christmas which you have to book ahead of time as tickets sell out quickly. There is also an evening Halloween walking tour happening throughout October.
The purpose of this visit was to hear the presentations about the British Home Children and by the time we finished our lunch, it was time to head to the Lochaber Free Presbyterian Church in the Corners for the first item on the agenda: British Home Child Overview with Sandra Joyce. Ms. Joyce shared her experience of only finding out her father was a Home Boy near the end of his life. It was something he never spoke about. She has turned his story into a series of novels – her way of telling history in a way that she also likes to learn about it. On display in the church were a couple of quilts. One was made in 2010 to commemorate the Year of the British Home Child. One was made in 2017 to commemorate Canada’s Sesquicentennial (150th birthday). The quilts display photos and stories of British Home Children. There was also another speaker who told of her very recent search for information about her grandfather. It was very moving to hear the feeling of connectedness and belonging the speakers (and members of the audience) had when piecing together the history of their families.
After the presentations we all moved across the street to Corbett Tavern (no there were no drinks on tap, sadly) to see the artifacts on display about the British Home Children, genealogical searches and books (including Sandra Joyce’s that were for sale: “The Street Arab,” “Belonging” and “Trees and Rocks, Rocks and Trees” which is a children’s adaptation of “The Street Arab”). Ms. Joyce was very patient with her time helping point people in the right direction to start or continue their searches.
Ten percent of Canadians are descended from the British Home Children who were sent here from Britain to work on farms. Some, like my grandfather, had good experiences working for caring farmers. Some were not so lucky and were treated like servants, or worse, like cattle. It is a part of Canadian history that is glossed over in history books and Ms. Joyce is trying to get it given more presence in the school curriculum. Whether the students are descendants of Home Children or descendants of the farmers who took them in, it is part of their history they likely know nothing about.