Skip to the main content

The Immigration Story of William Cameron (Scottish Home Child)

The Museum reviews and accepts donated personal or family memories and histories into its collection. As a learning institution, the accounts help us understand how individuals recollect, interpret, or construct meaning from lived experiences. The stories are not modified by Museum staff. The point of view expressed is that of the author and not that of the Museum.

Category: 
Culture : 
Country of Origin: 
Language: 
English
Creative Commons: 
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Accession Number: 
S2012.885.1

Story Text: 

By: Greg Cameron
Originally prepared January 29, 2001
For Dr. Della Stanley– M.S.V.U.
 
Purpose :  To learn and understand the trials and tribulations of my grandfather, William Cameron, a home child, who pursued a better life in a relatively new nation: Canada. In a broader spectrum, the information gathered in the interview fits under the category of child immigration in Canada. The purpose is to find out exactly what it was like to be a child immigrant in Canada during the early half of the twentieth century. It is also my purpose, to uncover the darker (and often suppressed) aspects of immigration in Canadian history.
Technical Aspects :  As stated above, the interviewee was my grandfather William Cameron. Mr. Cameron was born "illegitimately" in a poorhouse in Scotland, living the first portion of his life in an indescribable manner, before being transported by officials to the Quarrier Village in Village Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, Scotland. William spent close to six years at the Orphan Homes of Scotland, before boarding the Letitia 11, with twenty-four other boys each in search of happiness in the New World. I selected my grandfather for this interview, in order to give a voice to the historical silence that has surrounded child immigration to Canada in historical texts.
I first made contact about conducting such an interview over the telephone. I informed Mr. Cameron that I had come across information regarding his past, and wondered whether he would consider answering questions about this data in a formal interview. Without any hesitation, he agreed. Since Mr. Cameron resides in Ontario, I was forced to conduct the interview via the telephone. I was received very graciously during the interview, as Mr. Cameron was eager to tell me about his childhood experiences and immigration to Canada. The interview itself lasted approximately thirty to forty minutes. I opted to use a notepad rather then the conventional method of tape recording. Tape recording Mr. Cameron over the telephone would have caused a great deal of confusion, and therefore, would have been an unnecessary distraction. In choosing the style of questioning, I decided to use a combination of open and close-ended questions. I felt this would keep the interview more exciting for both the participant and myself. Close-ended questions I found useful for short, direct answers, whereas open-ended questions were more effective for an in depth view on a given subject. The problem I found with open-ended questions was that they made it easier for the interviewee to waiver from the original question.
List of Questions asked:

  1.  Where were you born?
  2. Do you remember much from your childhood in Scotland?
  3. Do you have any recollection of your family?
  4. Tell me about your time at the Orphan Homes of Scotland?
  5. Where you forced to come to Canada, or did you have a choice in coming?
  6.  Why did you choose Canada?
  7.   What was the name of the ship that brought you to Canada?
  8.  What was the ship like? Did you have your own room?
  9.   Tell me about the trip?
  10.   You must have been quite nervous seeing Scotland disappear into the   night. How did you feel leaving Scotland?
  11.   Who paid your passage to Canada? The O.H.S. or your new Canadian family?
  12.   What were you allowed to bring?
  13.   Where did you come into: Halifax or Quebec?
  14.   What were your first impressions of Canada when you first arrived? Did it match your expectations?
  15.  Do you remember much about Pier 21?
  16.   Was the immigration process long?
  17.   How did you end up in Brockville, Ont.: was it previously arranged?
  18.   How did your new Canadian family receive you?
  19.   What did you have to do on the farm? What were your chores?
  20.   Did inspectors ever come to see you?
  21.   Was it the same for the other boys that came with you?
  22.   Have you seen, or heard from any of the other children that made the passage to Canada with you?
  23.   Do you regret coming to Canada, or are you happy with the decision you made?
  24.   Have you ever returned to Scotland?  Would you like to?

Precis:   The following comprises the most relevant, informative, and revealing quotations generated during the interview, which relate to the purpose of information in Canada. The opening three questions generated little in the way of child immigration, but gave me a firm understanding of, why, and how Mr. Cameron came to the Orphan Homes of Scotland, which paved the way for his migration to Canada. The story is brief and rather simplistic, filled with bad memories of abuse and hardship. After being born "illegitimately" at the Black Isle Combination Poorhouse in Scotland, William was given to an elderly woman who nursed him. Upon returning from service, his mother, Margaret Cameron, took him home to be raised by her and William's stepfather, Donald Cameron. William suffered much abuse and neglect at the hands of his parental figures during his childhood, and his parents were investigated by the S.P.C.C. on charges of cruelty. As stated in a document I received through the Quarriers' group, "(t)he Parish Council of Rosemarkie agree(d) to become responsible for the boy should he not prove to be quite mentally bright ". William was brought to Glasgow by an S.P.P.C. inspector, before being transferred to Bridge of Weir on April 11, 1924. When asked about his time at the Orphan Homes of Scotland, William responded that:
It was the best part of my childhood. We played sports, received an education, and went to church regularly. Everyone was very loving and kind at the orphanage. We were given three meals a day, and clothes to wear. It really, truly, was the happiest part of my childhood.
When Mr. Cameron was asked if he had a choice in coming to Canada, he replied, "Oh yes, I choose to come. We were given a choice of where we wanted to go, and I chose Canada. We were never forced to come here" .  Of particular interest in the process of emigrating, I asked William about the ship he came on, and the journey itself.
The following are excerpts of the most informative quotations:
I wasn't scared when I left Scotland, I was more curious. I was glad to get out of the (Orphan) Home (of Scotland), and was excited about going to Canada. The ship we came on was the Letitia. It was a huge ship, and we sat way up off the water. The deck of the ship was very large. Some kids played baseball on the ship's deck; I didn't, but some did. We left Scotland from Glasgow on a Friday night. It was a big ship though. We all had a single room to ourselves, which wasn't really big, but compared to what others have come across on, it was a luxury. The trip itself was very rough, very rough. I think I was sick almost every day of the trip, except for a couple. When the Bay (of Quinte) is its roughest, that would be like the oceans calmest. The waves of the water would splash over the deck, and that's a long way down. The waves, were so big, they'd come right up over your house, but the ships are so big, couldn't knock them around. When we came into Halifax, someone said, the ship's captain had said that there was a couple times he thought we weren't going to make it. Being the first time on a ship, I just figured it was supposed to be like that.
The government sponsored William's passage to Canada, while the orphanage took care of all the minute details in connecting William to his new family. Upon arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia, William had a single suitcase and one pound in his possession. After answering a series twenty four questions at the now historic Pier 21, William was granted a landed immigrant status, and was transported with many of the other boys to Brockville, Ontario, via the Canadian National Railway. "I think when I first saw Canada, I thought it was nice. It's really hard to remember exactly my first thoughts really, it was a long time ago" . The boys were transported from Halifax to Brockville, where the Ontario branch of the Orphan Homes of Scotland was located. All of the boys were to be employed as farm labourers for a Canadian family. Unfortunately, many of these Canadian employers took advantage of such a fragile plan, overshadowing the strategy of giving deprived immigrant children, an opportunity of a better life in Canada.
William was further transported from Brockville to Kingston, Ontario, where the Donaldson family met him. For the next seven years, William was treated like a slave on the Donaldson farm, which was located across the Bay of Quinte in Masassaga, Ontario. The following is Williams's statement of his life as an immigrant child, who was trying to better his situation, in a land promoted for being'glorious and free':
The son of the family ran the farm itself. Oh, he was a lazy boy too. He wouldn't do anything, ever. I was made to do it. He'd wake me up at 4:30 A.M. and he'd go back to bed. It is rather hard to say, but they truly treated me like a slave. I was forced to rise every day at the four o'clock in the morning to begin my chores. When their son neglected his own chores, I was the one who received the punishment. I was forced to sleep out in the barn with the animals on many occasions. I liked the old man. His name was David Donaldson. I liked to go back to the property line and sit with the old man. The wife was a bitch. She was the mean one. She had an English girl what worked as a maid. She was from the Barnardo homes. The old lady would do some things for her, but not for me. She did nothing for me. Then, one day, I came in from doing my morning chores and they refused to feed me until had done even more. So, I started to walk towards the barn, and just kept on walking. I didn't make it far before a neighbour picked me up and took me in. Those in the neighbourhood knew how I was treated on the farm, but they didn't do anything about it. However, this neighbour changed my life, for he knew a man that worked at the Belleville cemetery, that was looking for a groundsman. He got me the job at the cemetery, which I loved, and from there, I moved on to work at Ontario Hydro. My life in Canada didn't really start until seven years (after) working at Donaldson's farm. I don't know if everyone was mistreated when they came over (to Canada), but at a reunion about ten years ago at Kingston, I met many that had. It is a shame that nobody did anything to help, I'm sure many must have known how we were treated. (Inspectors) never came to see me. I don't know, they could have come to the farm.
Although William sustained a rather grim beginning in Canada, he believes it was the best thing he could have done: "To see all you kids (grandchildren), playing sports and enjoying a childhood that I never got to enjoy; I know it was the right choice. Canada is a great country, and I have lived a great life here" .
Evaluation:  The recent interview with my grandfather, William Cameron, went as well as I wished it would. William, now eighty-seven, offered little-to-no-resistance in answering the questions put forth. He understood all of the questions that were presented to him, responding directly to each one. By conducting such an interview, I was able to achieve my purpose in learning and understanding what it must have been like to be a child immigrant. Many of these children, including my grandfather, had families and even parents in their native land. It is not yet known (although I am working on it), if William's mother had any knowledge of her son's migration to Canada. As far as my own learning experience is concerned, I have not only found valuable information regarding my family heritage, but I have also made important contacts that will help assist me in further investigation on this issue.
Questions and Responses

  1.  Where were you born?

William Cameron:  I lived the farthest North in Scotland that you could live. I lived in a place called Inverness. There were lots of lakes, and I remember the roads would cut down by the lakes so you could see them. Not like here. If you go from Barrie to Bancroft, you pass a lot of lakes without ever knowing they are there.

  1.  Do you remember much from your childhood in Scotland?

W.C.:  Oh yes, but you don't want to hear about that.
3.  Do you have any recollection of your family?
W.C.:  Yes, some. They were not very nice, but you know that from some of the stuff you have found. They used to put me in closets and all kinds of bad stuff. They weren't nice people.
4.  Tell me about your time at the Orphan Homes of Scotland?
W.C.:  It's out, away from the city, like a town in itself. It had a huge church that would hold 200– 300 people. It was a Protestant church. I imagine the Catholic Church was somewhere, but the big one was Protestant. They had big homes, like the ones you see in Belleville. The homes had to be big, because they held about thirty kids. There were about a hundred homes. There was one man and one woman that lived in each house and looked after the kids. The kids had work to do too. It was the best part of my childhood. We played sports, received an education, and went to church regularly. Everyone was very loving and kind at the orphanage. We were given three meals a day, and clothes to wear. It really, truly, was the happiest part of my childhood.
5.  Where you forced to come to Canada, or did you have a choice in coming?
W.C.:  Oh, we had a choice. We were never forced to do anything.
6.  Why did you choose Canada?
W.C.:  Well, that's where everyone was going. Some were going to Australia, and others were going to Canada. Mostly all were coming to Canada.
7.  What was the name of the ship that brought you to Canada?
W.C.:  The Letitia.
8.  What was the ship like? Did you have your own room?
W.C.:  The ship we came on was the Letitia. It was a huge ship, and we sat way up off the water. The deck of the ship was very large. Some kids played baseball on the ship's deck; I didn't, but some did. We left Scotland from Glasgow on a Friday night. It was a big ship though. We all had a single room to ourselves, which wasn't really big, but compared to what others have come across on, it was a luxury.
9.  Tell me about the trip?
W.C.:  The trip itself was very rough, very rough. I think I was sick almost every day of the trip, except for a couple. When the Bay (of Quinte) is its roughest, that would be like the oceans calmest. The waves of the water would splash over the deck, and that's a long way down. The waves were so big, they'd come right up over your house, but the ships are so big, couldn't knock them around. When we came into Halifax, someone said, the ship's captain had said that there was a couple times he thought we weren't going to make it. Being the first time on a ship, I just figured it was supposed to be like that.
10.  You must have been quite nervous seeing Scotland disappear into the night. How did you feel leaving Scotland?
W.C.:  I wasn't scared when I left Scotland, I was more curious. I was glad to get out of the (Orphan) Homes (of Scotland), and was excited about going to Canada.
11.  Who paid your passage to Canada? The O.H.S., or your new Canadian family?
W.C.:  The Orphan Homes of Scotland arranged everything. The Government paid the passage.
12.  What were you allowed to bring?
W.C.:  When I came to Canada, all I had was suitcase. I still have the suitcase downstairs. We didn't really have a lot to bring.
13.  Where did you come into:  Halifax or Quebec?
W.C.:   We came into Halifax: Pier 21. Then we took the train to Brockville, then to Belleville.
14.  What were your first impressions of Canada when you first arrived?  Did it match your expectations?
W.C.:  Just from the boat, I was quite excited. I was quite excited. We didn't have a chance to go through the town (Halifax). It (Canada) was quite a sight from the ship. I was quite impressed when we came in to dock. We docked in front of Pier 21. I did not have any expectations, because I had no idea what it (Canada) was like. I think when I first saw Canada, I thought it was nice. It's really hard to remember exactly my first thoughts really; it was a long time ago. It had buildings like any place. I did not get into the city, just the outskirts.
15.  Do you remember much about Pier 21?
W.C:  To me, it was a busy, busy place from the ship. There appeared to be a lot happening all around.
16.  Was the immigration process long?
W.C.:   No, not too long. We went through quite a stretch in Scotland before we left. But, it wasn't very long at Pier 21.
17.  How did you end up in Brockville, Ont., was it previously arranged?
W.C.:  We were chosen by the farmers. Going over, we had no idea where we were going, or with whom (would we be living). In Brockville, we stayed with a resident for a week. From there the kids were separated all over the place. I was lucky. Some had to go way up North, but I was located across from the town clock (Belleville town clock), across the Bay (of Quinte).
18.  How did your new Canadian family receive you?
W.C.:  The son of the family ran the farm itself. Oh, he was a lazy boy too. He wouldn't do anything, ever. I was made to do it. He'd wake me up at 4:30 A.M. and he'd go back to bed. It is rather hard to say, but they truly treated me like a slave. I was forced to rise every day at the four o'clock in the morning to begin my chores. When their son neglected his own chores, I was the one who received the punishment. I was forced to sleep out in the barn with the animals on many occasions. I liked the old man. His name was David Donaldson. I liked to go back to the property line and sit with the old man. The wife was a bitch. She was the mean one. She had an English girl that worked as a maid. She was from the Barnardo homes. The old lady would do some things for her, but not for me. She did nothing for me. Then, one day, I came in from doing my morning chores and they refused to feed me until I had done even more. So, I started to walk towards the barn, and just kept on walking. I didn't make it far before a neighbour picked me up and took me in. Those in the neighbourhood knew how I was treated on the farm, but they didn't do anything about it. However, this neighbour changed my life, for he knew a man that worked at the Belleville cemetery, which I loved, and from there, I moved on to work at Ontario Hydro. My life in Canada didn't really start until seven years (after) working at Donaldson's farm. It is a shame that nobody did anything to help, I'm sure many must have known how we were treated.
19.  Did inspectors ever come to see you?
W.C.:  They never came to see me. I don't know, they could have come to the farm.
20.  Was it the same for the other boys that came with you?
W.C.:  I don't know if everyone was mistreated when they came over (to Canada), but at a reunion about ten years ago at Kingston, I met many that had.
21.  Have you seen or heard from any of the other children that made the passage to Canada with you?
W.C.:  There was a reunion at Kingston some years back.
22.  Do you regret coming to Canada, or are you happy with the decision you made?
W.C.:  To see all you kids (grandchildren), playing sports and enjoying a childhood that I never got to enjoy; I know it was the right choice. Canada is a great country, and I have lived a great life here.
23.  Have you ever returned to Scotland?  Would you like to?
W.C.:  I had to go back to Scotland when I was working with Hydro. I can't remember why we went, but I did go back. I never saw all the old places that I was when I was there (as a child). I've never had an urge to go over, I know what it looks like. I wouldn't mind going back. Nowadays, it would take a shorter time to go by ship. It must take about five days or so now.
 
                                                    Bibliography
"Archivia Net:  Immigration Records (1925-1935)" . November 25, 2000.
http://data 1.arhives.ca/netacgi/nph-br.../naweb.dll?02011802/e/top/0 &r=4 &f=G
 
Orr, Brian.  "Part 5; William Quarrier and the Quarrier Homes" History of Children in Scotland .  1-2, November 26, 2000.
http://www.tartans.com/articles/children5b.html