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Toronto Famine Orphans Mark McGowan Transcript

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The story of the Kingston orphans is not the only story in Canada West, as it was known at the time. There were also orphans that had to be placed within the city of Toronto.

Now imagine in the summer of 1847 Toronto was about 20,000 people; about 38,560 migrants descended upon the city. A colossal effort was undertaken by the municipal council and the Board of Health to accommodate many of these immigrants who were sick.

Some were taken to the General Hospital which had been converted into an Emigrant Hospital. It is now the site of the Toronto Film Festival building.

Others were taken to a convalescent hospital, if they were not as severely ill, as those in the General Hospital.

The Widows and Orphans Asylum was established on Bathurst Street. They took in hundreds of widows and orphans, and specifically 197 orphan children who were then placed by the home, and by Catholic priests, with local farms, artisans, and shopkeepers in Toronto and in the hinterland.

We have been able to track a good portion of these 197 children, many of whom were given contracts with them so that their life in their placement area would be not onerous to the extent that they would paid. They would have pay in increments. They would be given blankets. They would be given proper board and food in these places, whether it be a blacksmith shop, or whether it be in a farm situation.

It is the only area in the country that we have seen where contracts were part of the whole placement of orphan children. The Catholic church was fairly strict about the fact that Catholic children should be placed in Catholic homes, and similarly Protestant children should be placed in Protestant homes. And, to the best of their ability, a mixed board of Catholic and Protestant supervisors over the Widows and Orphans Asylum actually managed to do the very best they could and also have terms of agreement established with them so that the orphans were not exploited as they moved into a new phase of their lives.

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