Poor House legacy

The Glengarry News - - News - News


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.

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