BICA's Problems

Some of BICA's problems stemmed from their inexperience and even the expectations and inadequacies of the personalities involved in their operations. Other problems originated in the social and economic climate of the period.

Bad Press from Regrettable Suicides

Given the large number of youths brought to Canada by various organizations, unhappy situations such as the suicide of Charles Thomas Bulpitt in response to his abuse by his sponsor, Benson Cox, (Montreal Gazette, February 15, 1924) closely followed by the suicide of John Payne a few days later were said to be rare. (Globe- Jan. 31, 1924, p1) Of course, these were among the most extreme examples of failures of the system. 

Unfortunately for BICA, these deaths got a lot of publicity and shone an unwelcome light on the whole movement of juvenile boys which had its detractors in both Canada and Britain. 

Between the Spring of 1924 and Spring 1925, 1,080 men and only 90 boys and had been placed on farms.   As the “movement” of boys seems to have been slow to get going, the Association apparently also continued to work placing single adult males as farm labourers.   (The Montreal Gazette, March 10, 1925, p. 6) 

Evaluating BICA's Record

How can we judge the actions and motives of individuals from a different time  whom we’ve never met?  

When reading newspaper articles and reports of the day, the impression of BICA is of a practical and effective organization which benefited firstly Canadian farmers and the greater Canadian society, and secondly boys with an adventurous nature or limited prospects at home in Britain.

Poor Record-Keeping?

One must assume that the plan was initiated with good intentions but it grew very large and unwieldy and it may also be that A.I. Morison, the secretary, in particular, was not well suited to managing financial and administrative affairs as it is claimed by “A.D.M.” of the Department of Immigration and Colonization who stated that record-keeping was extremely poor.  B.I.C.A. had a “peculiar system, or lack of system…for keeping their books and records.” (Letter )  For example, boys’ employment agreements were not always completed within a reasonable time after being placed.

High Failure Rate?

Spring 1925 the immigration of British boys through the British Immigration and Colonization Association started to gain momentum.  Principal Smyth claimed that in 1925 “the association had placed on farms in Canada 583 boys from the British Isles, which was more than one-quarter of all boys between the ages of 14 and 17 emigrating to Canada from Britain in that year.”  Nevertheless, the Canadian Department of Immigration and Colonization was unimpressed, alleging that out of 388 placements, 77 were failures – a rate of 20%!  A newspaper article in the Times of London, (1927) claims a much lower failure rate.

Unsatisfactory Homes?

A Letter dated October 18th, 1929, from the Department of Immigration and Colonization to BICA expressed concern over the thoroughness with which BICA evaluated homes for the boys:       

                “We must never forget that neither Government nor any Immigration Society is responsible for keeping a farmer in help, if that farmer does not offer suitable living and working conditions.”               

                 “The reports that are coming into the Department now indicate some weaknesses along  this line.  There are some homes that are totally unsuited for British boys.  It is not always a question of wages, indeed there are several things more important than wages.  Matters of food, cleanliness, moral character, etc. are most important and I mention this so that due care may be taken to avoid placing boys in unsatisfactory homes.” 

The Department of Immigration and Colonization cited the above reasons for closing BICA down for a time in August 1925 and the flow of British boys to Canada was temporarily cut off until the Association’s affairs could be “put in shape”.