“The Cry of the Children”: Accounting for the Entry of Child Survivors of the Armenian Genocide into Canada, 1880–1930
Author: Daniel Ohanian
From the introduction:
This major research paper explores an instance in Canadian immigration and church history in which religious, secular, and political interests intersected to engage tens of thousands of individuals in an effort that led government officials to break with established immigration policy in order to relocate child survivors of the Armenian Genocide to Canada. The undertaking was significant because of the widespread support by which it was borne and because it resulted in the country extending the possibility of immigration to an otherwise unwanted group and of citizenship to refugees who had none. Between 1923 and 1930, some 150 children thus entered Canada through special government sanction. Of these, three-quarters were tied to a project initiated by the Armenian Relief Fund Association of Canada (ARFC) and run first by its successor, the Armenian Relief Association of Canada (ARAC), then passed on to the United Church of Canada (UCC). The undertaking was best known for an institution it established in Georgetown, Ontario, some 40 km to the west of Toronto, which also gave its name to the migrants: the Georgetown Boys and Girls.
My investigation addresses two core questions: First, why did the Canadian government, which otherwise barred Asian immigration and turned away the poor, open its doors to these displaced individuals? Second, why did so many among the Canadian public support this endeavour, considering that the Armenians were a group with which they had had no direct experience and who lived some 10,000 km away? In order to answer these, my analysis begins in the nineteenth century, which saw the constitution of the first connections between Canadians and Ottoman Armenians as well as the first fundraising drives for their benefit. An analysis of campaigns taking place between 1880 and 1922 follows and highlights the ways in which this people was presented to the public and the broad-based financial and moral support it received. The impressive outpouring of sympathy is juxtaposed with government officials’ clear efforts at preventing the immigration of Armenians—refugees and otherwise—over a course of 50 years, including the span of time during which child survivors were allowed in. Following an analysis of the latter’s entry, I conclude that it was due to the strength of popular support raised, made possible by the wider contexts within which campaigns were run as well as the strategies of representation they employed, that led federal authorities to break with their restrictive immigration policy.