All aboard for a new life way out west

A century ago thousands of Norfolk people left the county of their birth to discover a new life in Canada. EDP Sunday editor Trevor Heaton looks at some of their remarkable journeys.

A century ago thousands of Norfolk people crossed the Atlantic to escape grinding poverty at home, helped on their way by Britain's most active programme for giving a second chance to its poorest citizens, all looking – in the words of its chairman – for a 'free, open and pure life'.

Famous city company of J & J Colman was one of those at the heart of the migration programme. Its efforts are featured in the latest issue of Contact, the staff magazine for Reckitt & Colman, which looks back 100 years to tell the story of how the company became involved.

Economic woes, of course, were at the heart of it all. Norwich, as it had for centuries, had proved a magnet for families escaping rural poverty. But there were simply not enough jobs to go round.

The city fathers did their best to relieve the situation but their efforts were summed up in evocative style by a Canadian government spokesman, Arthur Hawkes. It was, he wrote, 'as efficacious as placing flypaper in a pantry when there is a garbage barrel outside and no screen on door or window'.

Colman's, one of the country's most forward-thinking and socially-aware companies, felt a keen sense of obligation to the 'batch of young fellows and bevy of young girls' it had been forced to lay off from its 3,000-strong staff.

At the heart of the efforts to resettle the local people was JW Clarke, the active and visionary chairman of Norwich Distress Committee, the most successful of all these groups.

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For the remarkable tale of the Norfolk migrants given hope by a new life in Canada see the EDP Sunday supplement in tomorrow's EDP.