The Golden Bridge Child Migration from Scotland to Canada 1869–1939

Video transcripts

The following are transcriptions of the videos featured in the Migration section of The Golden Bridge.

Migration Stories


Between 1869 and 1939 100,000 children were migrated to Canada from the United Kingdom, 10,000 of these came from Scotland. Quarrier’s homes migrated 7,000 children.

"Give us the power to make a Golden Bridge across the Atlantic." Words written in 1869 by Scotswoman Annie Macpherson. Earlier in that year she had opened a refuge in London for destitute children, many of whom were then taken to Canada to begin a new life.

In sixty years at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th around 100,000 were sent to Canada. One of the keenest supporters of this movement was William Quarrier, the founder of the Orphan Homes of Scotland. Over 7,000 children were sent across the Atlantic from his 'children’s city' outside Bridge of Weir in the West of Scotland. They were sent to work as farm labourers and domestic servants; most of them were under 14 and some were as young as 5.

This learning resource seeks to present just a little of their story. It is a story well known now in Canada where the home children have been described as 'little slaves' but it is a story that needs to be told again and again to remind us how easy it is to stigmatise a whole group of vulnerable people, especially children. At the same time the achievements of the 'new' Canadians should not be forgotten.

The Journey

The Orphan Homes Of Scotland

There were 43 cottages with an average of 35, 36 or somewhere in that neighbourhood in the boys' cottages. And there was about 28 or 30 girls in the girls' cottages.

Oh, it was a beautiful place. You never felt confined because it was so spacious, even the individual home that we lived in.

Quarriers I think is one of the finer orphanages that was in the old country. It was by donations and sheer hard work that they managed to get this started.

The Port

There was this time this fella come, and he said "the inspector's coming over from Canada."

So of course we knew about Canada, we knew that money grew on trees in Canada and it was a place where you got filthy rich. And of course, everybody wanted to go to Canada.

He was just like a travelling agent that was all. He'd tell you what a great country it was and the money grew on trees and it was good, it was a big country. There was lots of work and good opportunity.

I always wanted to go out to Canada when my brother had left. So I applied to the homes if I could go with the next group of girls that were going.

You didn't just walk out the door and jump on the boat and away. You had to be gone over with a complete check-up.

The Voyage

You got a steamer trunk with overalls, work boots, a good suit, a Sunday suit we called it, a bible and things like that.

And the last night, we always had a service. Whatever group was leaving, either girls or boys. The hymn that we did sing that night was "God Be With You Till We Meet Again", and it couldn't help but bring a tear when you knew somebody who was going.

There were 23 other boys left the Quarriers home the same day as I did and sailed on the same ship, the SS Athenea.

There was a place and we all got out there and we waved our hats and whatever.

Oh, there was a lot of sea sickness.

Some of the boys were sea sick yes, very sea sick, very bad. But it was a very rough crossing.

Oh, it got rough. The boat went down and they put a big fence around the bow of the boat so as nobody would fall over. The waves came right up to where we were standing.

I think it was just an adventure to us to be on the ship. And on the last night there's always a party onboard ships, before they dock the next day. So the girls all got together and we sang "The Maple Leaf Forever".

It took us eight days to come across the Atlantic. We landed in Halifax.

Halifax and Onwards

The train ride from Halifax to Montreal especially, boy it was a rickety old thing.

I got one seat, a window seat, and I stayed there. I said "I'm gonna view this country", but it seemed to me there was no end of it.

The country was a great big place and so many miles on the train.

I was really taken aback by the breadth, the trees, everything. Fields that looked to me to be hundred acre fields. Over in Scotland a field was just a little four by four.

Receiving Homes and Onwards

But we finally made Brockville so Mr Douglas lined us all up two by two. And we marched from the station to Fairknowe home.

Fairknowe, that was the distribution point for the orphans and the 1927 party from Scotland.

All in step, he made us all go in step to the home. Them farms was all selected before we left the old country. They asked to get somebody when the next shipment came. Because they all knew, and pretty near every farmer had a boy. Either from Barnardo's or Quarriers.

They had applications for all the emigrants they could set out. There was always a shortage.

We stayed there for two weeks before each girl was sent out to jobs that they had acquired for us.

The Last Word

I had a nice bedroom, a good bedroom. Good food. Good clean clothes when necessary. But you always had at the back of your mind, "I'm just a step or two down the rung – down the ladder. I'm not on the same level."

They were the ones that were pretty near starving to death. They put me over in the corner there with a wee table, like a card table, square and about forty inches wide, square. And they come along and slop the whatever it was there on the plate.

The home boy got the tough end of the stick all the time, he got the dirty work to do, and lots of it.

I got eighty cents a month for pocket money. Eighty cents a month.

Oh you were just more or less, I'd say you where a farmer's slave, that's about the size of it.

But this time I said, in my mind, I said "I'm gonna go, I gotta break out of this somehow." So I went, and that's how I started out in the big world as you might call it.

After five years, he could renew if you wanted to stay. I thought to myself "God there must be easier ways than this, maybe make more money some way or other."

It's a country I love, now. My life in Canada's been very good. And I've lived a long life, I'll be 93 on my next birthday.

I'm very thankful that I was a Quarrier child. I'm thankful that I got the opportunity through Quarriers to come to Canada. I'll never forget Scotland as the place of my birth, but Canada is my home.

Myself and probably 7000, maybe more, maybe ten, Quarrier orphans have certainly helped this Canada, to make it what it is today. I think we should all be proud of it.

Testimony Tree


Although migration of children to Canada had mostly stopped by the beginning of the 1930's, similar programmes were carried out in other countries of the former British Empire. A group of children was migrated to Australia from the UK as late as 1967. Concern and interest in these programmes in the late 1980’s led to an awakening of research into the effects of migration on Canadian home children. A few Canadian oral historians collected testimony from surviving home children, all of whom were by then elderly. Some similar work was carried out by British historians. These collected words of former home children frequently provide a vivid contrast to the reports which were carried by William Quarrier’s annual reports, Narrative of Facts. But despite the messages of cruelty and deprivation contained in some of these testimonies, more often than not a pride at being Canadian emerges strongly. The home children have contributed in making a nation of which the 1867 patriotic song The Maple Leaf for ever can declare:

Here may it wave
Our boast, our pride
And joined in love together
The thistle, shamrock, rose entwined,
The maple leaf for ever.

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