In the late 19th century, charitable organizations in the United Kingdom dispatched Britain’s surplus children to Canada to meet the soaring demand for cheap agricultural and household labour. One of the best-known figures of child emigration was Thomas John Barnardo, Irish-born philanthropist and founder of Dr. Barnardo’s Homes. His organization sent roughly 30,000 children to Canada between 1882 and 1939. Typically, young boys and girls, most of whom were age 8 to 16, were taken first to receiving homes established in Ontario. From there, boys were apprenticed as farm labourers and girls as domestic servants.
With the expansion of the Canadian West, Barnardo opened the Industrial School for Barnardo Boys near Russell, Manitoba, in 1887. The youths selected for the industrial farm received an eight-month apprenticeship in all areas of agriculture, after which they began homesteading. Although the Industrial School closed in 1908, subsequent child emigration to the prairies, including Saskatchewan, was administered from Barnardo’s Winnipeg Receiving and Distributing Home. As might be expected, the practice of sending young children from Britain to Canada was highly controversial. In 1925, the Canadian Immigration Branch prohibited voluntary immigration societies from bringing children under 14 years of age to the country. All child emigration schemes were halted in 1939.