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Shaftesbury Homes/Children’s Aid Society of London

Lord Shaftsbury

Shaftesbury Homes/Children’s Aid Society of London

The National Refuges for Homeless and Destitute Children grew out of the Ragged Schools Movement.  The organization would later change its name to Shaftesbury Homes.

The work of William Williams and the Ragged Union drew the attention and support of Lord Shaftesbury.  In 1844 Shaftesbury became president of the union.  Lord Shaftesbury was a tireless parliamentary spokesperson for the rights and improved working conditions of women and children.

The amalgamation of a number of schools created a need for dormitories.  To meet the growing demand, a home at 164 Shaftesbury Avenue, London was opened.

shaftsbury ship
Shaftsbury Ship

Using his political influence, in 1866 Lord Shaftesbury secured the Chichester, a retired naval warship.  In 1874, he added the Arethusa to his fleet docked on the Thames.  The two vessels were home to some four hundred boys who were being trained for careers in the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine.  This undertaking would continue for over one hundred years.

During the next forty years, expansion would take place away from the city.  In 1867 operations extended to include a farm school at Bisley that would be followed six years later by the Shaftesbury Boys School.  Further institutions were opened by Shaftesbury; Fortescue House, Royston in Hertfordshire and Esther Place, a girls’ school in Surrey.

shaftsbury ship 1
Boys working on the Shaftsbury Ship

In 1880, Shaftesbury Homes began sending boys to Canada.  Initially the emigration was facilitated by larger organizations such as Barnardo’s that were experienced in child migration.  Eventually, Shaftesbury Homes would arrange for the passage and placement directly without the use of other agencies.

Many of the early parties were sent to Hamilton, Ontario and in 1884, a home was opened to receive them.  This home was closed in 1887 in favour of more modern premises at Wingham, Ontario.  A small party was also sent to Marchmont Home in Belleville.

The organization was renamed the Children’s Aid Society and following the opening of its Winnipeg home, the Children’s Aid Society of London, England – Canadian Branch.  By the late 1890s, Winnipeg became the destination of choice for the society.  The home of J.P. Vickers, the group’s agent in Winnipeg, was used as the receiving home.

Mr. Smart, the government’s inspector, noted that the boys were well educated and in robust health; usually staying at the receiving home three days before being placed in households.  The society reportedly sent only boys to Canada although there is mention of one girl having been migrated.

The society’s last group of boys arrived in Canada in 1915.  From 1880 until it ceased operations, Shaftesbury Homes and the Children’s Aid Society sent approximately 1,200 boys to Canada, their average age being 15.  Many of the boys went on to take advantage of the government’s land grants and became farm owners themselves.