In 1900, the government of the Dominion of Canada felt it necessary to create a supervisory position to monitor the immigration of British children, in an attempt to address the rising tide of negative public opinion that had been instigated by the release of the critical Doyle Report in 1874.
Despite the Act to Regulate the Immigration into Ontario of Certain Classes of Children (which was followed by similar acts in Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia) in 1897 and the appointment of J. J. Kelso in Ontario as Secretary of Neglected and Dependent Children, more and more people felt that the children were being improperly placed and supervised. Furthermore, the official concern, as expressed by Arthur Hardy, then premier of Ontario, was that such immigration practices would result in the moral or physical deterioration of Canadians.
On Jan. 1, 1900, George Bogue Smart, a Baptist from Brockville, Ontario, formerly employed by Molson’s Bank, was appointed the Inspector of British Immigrant Children and Receiving Homes. This position was under the auspices of the Immigration Branch, a section of the Interior Department.
As applications to indenture children as domestic servants or farm labourers far exceeded the children being immigrated, Smart firmly believed that child migration benefited both the immigrant children and the Empire. Any flaws in the policies, he thought, could be improved with new regulations.
At the beginning of his term as inspector, he reported the average age of girls being immigrated was ten and boys were twelve. He also noted that some of the children were placed out on verbal agreements and strongly recommended that all agreements should be written. At the age of 18, the contracts and the agent’s responsibilities for the children’s placements should end.
He frequently visited Britain to attend conferences with Reformatory and Refuge unions and established close ties to the agencies sending children to Canada. Sometimes, he accompanied children’s groups back to Canada.
Smart’s findings were published by the Department of the Interior, the Dominion of Canada, annually. His reports focused on the types of children being imported, the placement practices of each organization, and how the child labourers were being treated. They also included the amount of children coming into the country and from which organization and the areas in Britain they were coming from.
In spite of this, few improvements were made, at first, to the children’s living and working conditions. Schooling, even though required in the terms of their indenture, was sporadic. If at all, it was more likely to take place in the winter months when less work was required on the farms.
However, under the Laurier and Borden governments, Smart was given more latitude to expand his supervision. The smaller agencies were urged to follow the lead of the larger agencies in providing better placements and better receiving homes. Should a placement not work out, he expected there should be a receiving home that children could return to. Inspectors were encouraged to follow British Local Government Board regulations for ‘boarding out’ children and to ensure that the welfare of the child was their primary objective.
Physical examinations were carried out before embarkation and again, at the port of entry to ensure good mental and physical health. Particular attention was paid to unappealing infectious skin and eye diseases, which were conspicuous and detrimental to the image of the immigrant children.
Smart’s reports were carefully monitored by the British Board of Guardians and in the mid-1920s, more than sixty members sent matching resolutions to the Canadian High Commissioner with their demand to make it mandatory that all receiving homes be examined and frequently monitored.
In 1924, no unaccompanied children under the age of 14 were permitted to enter the country as per a Government order-in-council and by 1928, the immigration of school-age children became disallowed.
These inhibiting policies and the depression era were largely responsible for bringing the importation of children labourers to an end although small numbers of children continued to be sent through the 1940s.
Smart remained in his position until 1933.