William Booth, who was the founder of the Salvation Army in London, England, was of the firm belief that the poor children of the city could be saved by sending them to British colonies to farm. In his 1890 book, called “In Darkest England and the Way Out,” he talked about how the ‘submerged tenth’ could prosper from their migration.
Even though Booth’s idea of farm colonies was thwarted by the British government, the Salvation Army began to send a trickle of boys, who had first been trained on their farm in Hadleigh in Essex to Canadian farms. The trickle quickly grew and by the turn of the century, the Salvation Army began to play a significant immigration role.
The first children under the age of 14 were sent to Canada in 1905 and in circa 1910. a separate department was created at their London office to deal with youth immigration. Some were as young as five or six.
It has been said that the Army’s work was extremely well done as children were allowed to recuperate from their long journey at the Receiving Home for about a week before being placed. They were then sent to their placements on two months’ trial before legal documents were signed.
Emigration of children stopped during the First World War, yet after the passing of the Empire Settlement Act in 1922, the Salvation Army began to send immigrant children again. However, there was a dispute with the Canadian government, who refused to subsidize their juvenile program separately, even though other agencies received funding, as they were already receiving subsidies for adult immigrants. The Salvation Army argued that their juvenile program had been separately organized and they had been counting on the money to support this completely different program.
Most of the child migrants were boys or youths but they also brought girls, aged 14-17, who were labelled “Blue Medical Domestics” and were placed in S.A. run hospitals. Many of these girls were housed at Clinton Lodge at 478 Jarvis Street in Toronto.
The Salvation Army’s involvement in child migration to Canada peaked shortly after the Act, but began to wane in the late twenties.
After the First World War and during the 1920s, the Salvation Army sent migrants to Australia, as well. By this stage, its efforts were directed to assisting families and settling farm boys, especially in Queensland. The Army worked closely with the Royal Colonial Institute and the Oversea Settlement Department within the Dominions Office. In Queensland, it established a special training camp at Riverview near Brisbane to give the farm boys training.
The high point of immigration was in the late 1920s when on four separate occasions, the Salvation Army chartered the vessel Vedic to transport its emigrants from Britain to Australia.
By the 1940’s The Salvation Army had cooled towards youth migration; and the Big Brother Movement had become their focus.