Young Immigrants to Canada

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Louisa Birt and the Liverpool Sheltering Home

A group of prominent Liverpool men, after hearing Annie Macpherson speak, invited her to come to their city and start a home for destitute children. A public meeting was held in November of 1872 to discuss the establishment of such a home and Annie Macpherson was invited to attend. In her place, Annie sent her sister Louisa Birt and Louisa was invited to head the institution.

The home was first opened on May 1, 1873 and was located on Byrom Street, between Gerrard and Circus Streets. By 1883 the facility was no longer large enough and so Number 1, Sugnall Street was rented as a home for girls. In 1888, the property was purchased along with the adjoining property on Myrtle Street. On November 16, 1889 the Sheltering Home on Myrtle Street (see 1891 census) was officially opened for both boys and girls.

Children were sent to Nova Scotia starting in August of 1873. These children were placed with local farmers. Some 550 children were sent to Nova Scotia between August of 1873 and the end of 1876.

In 1877 Mrs. Birt took over the home her sister, Annie, had started in Knowlton, a small, remote Quebec village in the Eastern Townships. Mrs. Birt brought two parties of children a year to this home for the next 25 years.

The first party of children to go to Knowlton, sailed from Liverpool on April 19, 1877. Mrs. Birt wrote:

Picture the grey, rolling North Atlantic; the crowded steerage and decks of the steamer laden with emigrants. Under a lifeboat, screened from the wind and spray by a stretch of canvas, sit the group of children in their warm coats and caps or hoods. Singing, stories, recitations, friendly talks, interspersed with drills or skipping and races, occupy the time. This voyage of eight or ten days is of incalculable benefit to the city-bred children, bracing and strengthening them after a winter's training, and giving them a healthful relaxation of play and rest before they start out on their new careers.
We arrived at the Distributing Home on the 1st of May. At Knowlton we received a most cheering and hearty reception, and every one who visited the Home seemed delighted with the children. We had over a hundred applications for them. Occasionally during the first days of our distribution work there would be a hue and cry from the children, 'A farmer's coming!' "Oh, let him have me, Mrs. Birt!' 'No, let him have me. I want to be a farmer and earn my own living.'
On bringing in about half a dozen and letting the farmer speak to them, it was very funny to see these dear children stretch themselves up to their greatest height; and, if I relaxed and permitted any freedom, the scene would become trying with beseeching voices saying, 'Take me, sir, I'll be such a good boy.'
I have seen both men and women weep, and reply, 'My dears, my heart is big enough to take you all, but my house ain't.'
And when the choice was made it would take a little time for the rest to get over a feeling of intense disappointment at not being the distinguished chosen one, who in a little while would be ready for his journey to his new home with his new father. They invariably went off amidst English cheers.
It is sorrowful work unbinding, as it were, the little twinings their sweet, obedient ways have already bound around us. Many were writing letters to friends in England, but many had not a love-link to earth. One little fellow said, 'I ain't got nobody to write to but you.'

(From The Children's Home-Finder by Lillian Birt, (London:1913), p.106.)

Records from the Knowlton home indicate that some 4,858 children were placed in Canada. Of this number, 69 children were returned to England and 1000 were under 9 years of age.

In 1915 the Knowlton home was closed and the work was moved to Stratford, Ontario, and joined with the work of the Annie Macpherson home under the Liverpool Sheltering Homes. The Stratford home was closed in 1920 and work was moved to Marchmont in Belleville, Ontario. In 1925 the Liverpool Sheltering Home was taken over by the Barnardo Homes and Marchmont was closed in August of that year.

Liverpool Sheltering Home, Myrtle Street in 1999 - Courtesy of Paul Young.


Enquiries about children from this home can be sent to Barnardo Homes as they now hold the records.

You must include as much information as possible. Although Barnardos does not charge for this service a donation would be welcomed as they are a charity. Please note that the records from the Liverpool Sheltering Home are not as complete as those for Barnardo children.

Other material may be housed at the provincial archives of Nova Scotia (see Col. Laurie's ledger) and Quebec. There is material available at the University of Liverpool, Social Work Archives, however, they will not answer queries so you would have to pay them a visit.

You might wish to check other sources on this site:

If any one has additional information on any of these children please contact me.

Liverpool Sheltering Home Ad, 1920, Courtesy of Barbara Humpreys.

UWInfo | Young Immigrants | 19th Century Immigration | Genealogy | Local History

© Marjorie P. Kohli, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 1996-2010
Last updated: October 27, 2010, and maintained by Marj Kohli