Poor House legacy
BY STEVEN WARBURTON
Staff When Sara Lauzon speaks of the plight of the thousands of Canadians who spent much of their lives living in Poor Houses, you can hear the emotion rise in her voice.
“The people who lived there were shunned by their own communities,” says the 27-year-old Cornwall resident, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Ottawa. “These were people – fathers, mothers, sons, daughters. They deserve to have one day where we remember them.” Ms. Lauzon started a petition that called for the federal government to officially recognize April 14 as Poor House Commemoration Day.
Last week, Stormont-DundasSouth Glengarry MP Guy Lauzon (no relation) stood in the House of Commons to table Ms. Lauzon’s petition. Sometime next month, Heritage Canada should weigh in on what it will do with the matter.
For the past five years, Ms. Lauzon, a local historian, has been researching Cornwall’s former House of Refuge at 201 11 St. E. Now it is Heartwood Nursing Home.
The House of Refuge was open from 1913-1952. It was designed to hold about 30 people but, according to Ms. Lauzon’s research, it sometimes held four times as many people.
On her website, www.cornwallslittlehistorian.com, Ms. Lauzon writes as follows:
“Canada’s House of Refuge Act was established in 1890. The act stated that each county, or union of counties, was to provide a house and an associated ‘industrial farm.’ In Ontario, the province passed the Houses of Refuge Act in 1890, which provided county governments with grants of up to $4,000 to purchase at least 45 acres of land and construct a suitable building.’ With the creation of this Act, Ontario finally arrived at what a respectable society had been seeking for decades. This Act assisted in removing severe cases of des- titution from the town or township streets, and organized it with administration. Despite some resistance after 1890, House of Refuge institutions began to spread.“
At first, Canadians weren’t happy with the new law; they didn’t want their tax dollars going to shelter the impoverished. Nevertheless, they were a reality for several years. Many Glengarrians spent time at the Cornwall House of Refuge. Those who stayed there didn’t always go of their own free will. Sometimes they could be banished there by a mayor or other government official.
Ms. Lauzon says she chose April 14 because it was on that day in 1937 when the Alberta government passed a law saying that all persons staying in Poor Houses would have their possessions seized.