A petition is circulating asking the federal government to recognize an important-but-obscure chapter of Canadian history.

Between the 1860s and late 1930s, packed institutions in England presented authorities with a problem. 

The solution: the children, who became known as British Home Children, were sent throughout the British Empire to work as labourers and domestic workers.

“Soon, they were full to overflowing, and they had to find a back door and that back door became Canada,” said Sandra Joyce, an advocate and lecturer on British Home Children.

Up to 120,000 of these children were sent to Canada.

Many believe that most of the children were orphans.

The reality is that most of the children were taken from their families under the pretext that their parents were too poor to care for them. 

According to the British Home Children in Canada organization, parents would sometimes try to reclaim their children, only to learn they had been sent overseas. 

In Quebec, children were placed in farms and homes across Knowlton, Sherbrooke, Montreal, Rimouski and Quebec City. It’s estimated that one out of every 10 Canadians is a descendant of a British Home Child.

“The children were brought to Canada, not to give them a better life, they were brought here to work,” said Joyce.

Among the most notable of such descendants is former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, whose grandfather was a Home Child.

“He never told us his story, but there was a lot of shame, it seems, among those people,” said Duceppe. “I think we should know about that, it’s part of our history. It’s part of the human story, not only Canada, but of the whole world.”

Duceppe is among those asking the federal govermnent to remember the Home Children, and to apologize to their descendants.