Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West – Sean Arthur Joyce

Nov 13th, 2014 | By | Category: Featured Article, Tales of the Joyce Family

Joyce Sean Arthur Joyce 2014

Sean Arthur (‘Art’) Joyce 

Hagios Press, Regina, 2014

Genres: History / Creative Nonfiction

What is the biggest ‘open secret’ in Canadian history? Seven years ago, while researching his family tree, BC writer Sean Arthur Joyce made a curious discovery: immigration records showed his paternal grandfather came to Canada from London in 1926 with three other boys and a chaperone, but no parents. After consulting a local genealogist he was introduced to the term ‘Home Children.’ Although it didn’t mean anything to him at the time, his journalistic curiosity was sparked and he decided to investigate.

What he discovered was something he’d never heard a whisper of in public school. Between 1869 and 1948, 100,000 children from poor neighbourhoods in Britain were emigrated without parental support (or consent in some cases) to work as indentured servants in Canada. A further 30,000-plus were emigrated to other British colonies—mainly Australia and New Zealand. In Ontario there were distributing homes for these boys and girls in Belleville, Toronto, Peterborough, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Stratford, and Brockville.

Joyce then decided it was time to write not only his grandfather’s story, but that of the many other Home Children who made their way to Western Canada. “The wider story interested me because I realized if this happened in my family, it must have happened in many other Canadian families,” he says. Indeed, an estimated four million people can trace their roots to Home Children—approximately one in eight Canadians.

The practice persisted well into the 20th century, aided by dozens of immigration agencies, many of questionable repute. Though some of the children did well, many were exploited and abused, their new lives hardly an improvement on the ones they left behind. A few Canadian families adopted the children, but most were wanted strictly for their labour.

Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest chronicles this essential yet seldom-discussed aspect of Canadian history. Joyce’s book combines exhaustive research with memoir and creative nonfiction to paint a vivid picture of life for a Canadian Home Child.  The author also explores the impact of this experience on subsequent generations of Canadians. Recent discoveries in epigenetics have shown that trauma from previous generations can have a lasting impact on families.

Cole Harris, Professor Emeritus of Historical Geography, UBC, calls Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest “A significant achievement in Canadian history.” Gary Geddes, an icon of Canadian poetry, says, “Joyce is an excellent writer and has produced an important, engaging book. With a poet’s eye, he often finds the exact image to make his story fly beneath the radar and nest in the ear and eye…”


Joyce’s background as a freelance journalist, poet and West Kootenay historian prepared him well to write this book. When he wrote his popular ‘Heritage Beat’ column for the Nelson Daily News (Nelson, BC) from 1996-2000, it was the most popular column in the newspaper. The reason is simple: instead of writing like a history lecturer, Joyce wrote them as stories, often first-person narratives based on historical characters.

In addition to 25 years of experience as a journalist, Joyce has published two works of local history: A Perfect Childhood—One Hundred Years of Heritage Homes in Nelson (BC) and Hanging Fire & Heavy Horses—A History of Public Transit in Nelson. Text from A Perfect Childhood was excerpted on BC’s Knowledge Network TV segment BC Moments.

Joyce has also published two major collections of poetry, The Charlatans of Paradise and Star Seeds, both from New Orphic Publishers of Nelson, BC, besides many limited editions.

LINKS: Hagios Press website:

Author blog with at least a dozen articles on the Home Children:

CONTACT INFORMATION: Phone:  250-358-2666. email: cell: 250-265-8184 (during the tour only)

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