Senator William Eli Sanford and the National Children’s Homes in Ontario. One of the major champions of the British Home Child emigration movement in Ontario was Senator William Eli Sanford. Senator Sanford became aware of the scheme in 1872 when he met the Reverend Doctor Thomas Bowman Stephenson in Hamilton, Ontario. Stephenson was in Canada to establish a Canadian branch of the British National Children’s Homes in order to distribute the little immigrants into farms and homes in the area.
Loneliness was no stranger to the Senator. Born in New York, he himself was orphaned at the age of seven and was sent to Hamilton to live with his aunt Lydia Ann Sanford and her husband, Edward Jackson, a wealthy businessman and well-known Methodist churchman. Sanford’s wife, Emmeline, who was also his cousin and the Jackson’s only daughter, died only 18 months later after giving birth to a child who also did not survive.
Sanford believed that the Home Children were the best of immigrants because they had no established bad habits and could quickly assimilate into Canadian society and become the most reliable class of people. He was the treasurer of the Canadian Branch of the NCH and was responsible for receiving and banking the children’s earnings. He also followed the home children during their placements and acted decisively in cases where a child was either mistreated or neglected. He considered the program a resounding success and had harsh words for its critics.
He was also well-known for the establishment of a summer home, called Elsinore on Burlington Beach for the sick and destitute children of Hamilton. It was non-sectarian and built entirely from the Senator’s personal funds. Just six years later, the original policy was changed to include the aged poor. It was maintained entirely at Sanford’s expense.
Sanford made his fortune through the textile business, becoming a Canadian pioneer in the ready-to-wear clothing business and his business soon grew into being the fourth largest employer in Ontario and the largest in the clothing sector in 1871. He was known as the Wool King of Canada. He had the Sanford estate built and had it named Wesanford. It occupied most of the block bounded by Caroline, Jackson, Hunter and Bay streets in Hamilton and was described as one of the most magnificent and luxurious homes in the Dominion.
At first, Sanford was a staunch (Reform) Liberal supported but after unsuccessfully arguing that duties should be increased on ‘shoddy’ British clothing that was flooding the market, he began to back the Conservatives and Sir John A. MacDonald and his National Policy. Two years later, when the Conservatives returned to power, Sanford’s sales doubled under the protection of the National Policy.
MacDonald called Sanford to the Senate in 1887 in recognition of his tireless work and generous contributions to the Conservative party as well as his leadership in the Methodist church.
However, as an employer of hundreds, Sanford considered himself a benefactor by merely employing them. He did not consider how his profits gave him such a luxurious lifestyle while his workers, in comparison, scratched out a meagre and uncertain existence in his sweatshops.
Sanford drowned in a boating incident at Lake Rousseau in Ontario in 1899. His body rests in a mausoleum built in the style of a Great Temple on the shores of Lake Ontario.