Thrilling News! A Wholesome Horror; Poor Houses in Nova Scotia has WON the 2019 BEST NON FICTION AWARD by the Miramachi Reader!! Enjoy reading about it here!! I am thrilled!
Thrilling News! A Wholesome Horror; Poor Houses in Nova Scotia has WON the 2019 BEST NON FICTION AWARD by the Miramachi Reader!! Enjoy reading about it here!! I am thrilled!
Hello and Happy Summer Everyone. I’ve been so busy trying to fit everything into two months of summer that I’ve let this blog slide a bit. When I was sent this story about a woman whose family was devastated by provincial poor laws and life in a poor house, I knew I had to pick this up again.
This story, which I have only lightly edited for clarity and removed identifying features, shows us how the crime of being poor could tear apart families. Although the poor houses were built with good intentions, the local poor laws had a terrible impact on her family. She writes about this in her own words:
When I worked at the a nursing from 1980-1990, I worked a lots of mid night shifts with my cousin Vera . She told me the story of my grandfather’s sister Sarah Louise, who went by the name Louise.
Louise married her cousin Holland “Holly” and they had five children and lived in a small settlement where there was only 3 homes a mile back in the woods. All the families were poor as church mice, and had a hard time feeding their families.
The floor of the house had a dirt floor but was kept really clean. Tilly, her daughter, used to help her mother make bread standing on a chair to reach the table.
Vera said the woods used to be fields and you could see the neighbour’s clothes on the clothes line miles down the dirt road from her house on the hill.
The county (overseers of the poor) came one day and took Louise and her 5 children. Holly said “They ain’t getting me!” and he hid in the woods for a week before he finally came out and surrendered himself to the Overseers of the Poor and went to the poor house to join his family. Vera said Holly was a little funny, not sure if she meant humorous or perhaps a little slow of mind.
Sarah worked in the kitchen and Holly worked in the barns. Vera remembered Holly lugging up huge bags of potatoes from the basement. And she saw her Aunt in the kitchen peeling vegetables.
All the children were farmed out and adopted by relatives or other people. While Louise was there at the County Home she had another baby, a son, a little while after the death of her husband in 1935. My grandfather, Gilbert “Gillie”, said his name was Wilfred. I think we’ve found him through DNA.
The oldest daughter Mary, who was called “Tilly” at home, said she remembered being in a place with old people, but didn’t know it was the Poor House.
Grace another daughter, was raised by her mother’s brother, Clarence, went on to marry my husband’s Uncle, Jack . As she just had her DNA done, she’s very much interested in the family history.
Kay,the next daughter, married and had children, I’ve kept in contact with one of her daughters.
A son Vernon, who was farmed out as an infant, ended up living in Truro. Our family found him about 12 years ago through genealogy research. Vernon cried like a baby when he found out he had siblings. He got to meet some of his family and he looks a lot like my grandfather, Gillie. He said he never knew nothing about his family as he was taken away from his parents and siblings at such a young age. He thought he was all alone.
This is just a single example of how we ‘criminalized’ poverty in the past and still do in the present. Instead of helping the family to survive in their own home, ‘the County’ broke up their family. It has had an impact on the future generations of the family, both emotionally and mentally. Nearly 100 years later, the family members are still trying to find and gather back their family members that were taken away. And all because they had a dirt floor and were poor.
Today our “overseers of the poor” or “Department of Community Services” tries to keep the families together, however, they still regulate the poor and expect them/us to live up to a middle class standard without providing middle class supports such as access to further education. Rural poverty is rampant in many parts of Nova Scotia because these middle class resources are not available to them/us in our areas. We make our own, find our own, do the best we can and sometimes, we just give up in exhaustion and frustration. And then we are blamed for our situations.
Moving to an urban area is not the solution for many people. We may be living in an old family homestead that is mortgage free and we cannot afford to give that up. We may not want to abandon the century old family homestead so we make do with what we can and hang in. Urban areas are not always good for the mental health of people who have been born and reared in a rural setting. We might also be taking care of elderly family members and cannot move and leave them on their own. There is a myriad of reasons why people stay in rural Nova Scotia.
And we/they should not be punished for it. I hope this family continues to locate the offspring and family members of those they lost in the Poor House.
Columnist John DeMont of the Chronicle Herald wrote an opinion piece about the pottersfield of the Halifax Poor House. The link is here but I will cut and paste the full text. Extremely interesting!
“Meeting to be held Thursday to discuss future of former library building
John DeMont is a columnist for The Chronicle Herald.
I like walking east along the elegantly named Spring Garden Road, past our world-beating library, beyond the stone grandeur of the courthouse on one side and the soaring Gothic spires of St. Mary’s Basilica on the other.
I think my pleasure is enhanced by knowing that there was a time, let’s say 150-200 years ago, when it would not have been so pleasant.
When, as Thomas Raddall wrote in Halifax Warden of the North, “the gentlefolk sniffing the flowers” as they made their way down Spring Garden “came upon the poor house dead buried hastily in shallow graves in the yard,” whose decomposing bodies gave off such a stench that “for many years there were complaints about the smell which hung over this part of Spring Garden Road.”
The stink is long gone.
But there are, in fact, still graves everywhere around there, an area that Saint Mary’s University archeologist Jonathan Fowler calls Halifax’s “necropolis,” a reference to those collections of burial sites that create “great gatherings of dead inhabitants” in the downtown core of cities.
In this regard, he means the Halifax worthies buried at Saint Paul’s Church Cemetery (The Old Burial Ground), a national historic site at the corner of Spring Garden Road and Barrington Street.
He also means right across Spring Garden, in the parking lot of St. Mary’s Basilica, the latest in a succession of Catholic churches built at that site.
Fowler estimates that some several thousand people — all Catholic, including a few Mi’kmaq — are buried under the pavement.
Yet, there’s no real monument to the dead there.
Just as there is nothing to remind people that nearby, perhaps as early as the first decade after the founding of Halifax, stood a small Jewish cemetery.
Better known is that lots of Methodists have been buried next to the former Saint David’s Church, at a site that has recently been excavated as part of a new development on Brunswick Street.
But you have to be up on your history to know that from the second half of the 18th century to the early 1900s, the Halifax Poorhouse stood where The Doyle residential and retail development has risen.
And that some 4,000 of those who once lived there were buried in a pauper’s field about where Winston Churchill now strides across the lawn in front of the old Halifax Memorial Library.
They were the poor, the forgotten, and the unfortunate whose road somehow led them to that terrible place.
Chris Marriott, chairman of the Halifax Military History PreservationSociety, points out that the dead in the poorhouse cemetery were also prison inmates, men and women executed for some crime, and the victims of smallpox and the other maladies that swept through the city in its early days.
Their sins could have been minor, Halifax historian William Breckenridge says.
If you were a servant in Halifax in the late 1700s and early 1800s and spoke up to the master of the house he could throw you in the poorhouse, where the pox ran rampant, where you would have to share a bed with four other people, and end your days, as many of them did, making your own coffin.
“They were real people,” he says, “who just were too poor to have a headstone.”
You will hear all about them if you go to Halifax’s Royal Artillery Park this Thursday at 7 p.m., where a public discussion is being held about the fate of Halifax Memorial Library, which was built over the poorhouse cemetery as a monument to the Second World War, but hasn’t lent out a book since it closed in the summer of 2014.
What’s next is the question. So far all anyone knows is that the city has asked staff to look into the possibility of some kind of “hub for the built environment” with Dalhousie University.
But there hasn’t been nearly enough consultation according to Marriott. The Halifax Military History Preservation Society is sponsoring Thursday’s gathering.
Whatever is the end result, his society wants the building to stay in the public domain.
Brenda Thompson, an Annapolis Royal author and antipovery activist who has written a book about Nova Scotia’s poorhouses, thinks turning the old library into a resource centre for those who are struggling makes sense.
That kind of squares with an idea of Fowler’s. Like several people I talked to Tuesday, he thinks “we shouldn’t be sticking shovels into the ground” because there’s been too much damage to those old gravesites that have all been eradicated from our memory.
He suggests the building include some interpretation that will enable visitors to consider the lives of the people buried under the ground on which they stand.
He puts it this way: “Let’s honour this place. Let’s not destroy it any more than need be.”
Good Morning Everyone!
This is not poor house related but I wanted to announce it on here anyway. My next book, “Find Fortune, Documenting and Imagining the Life of Rose Fortune (1774-1864)” will be launched on Saturday, June 1st at 1 pm at the King’s Theatre in Annapolis Royal, NS.
Rose Fortune was an amazing woman who lived in the Annapolis Royal, Brinley Town and Digby Neck area of Nova Scotia. A survivor of early provincial racism, misogyny and poverty, Rose operated several of her own businesses and became known as the Police Officer of Annapolis Royal. Rose made her mark not only in Nova Scotia but also across Canada. Her descendents continue to make their mark all over the world.
I hope you can make it to the Launch which is being hosted by The Annapolis Royal Historical Association. A short presentation will be given and light refreshments will be served.
“The interior contains ninety-one rooms, as follows – The basement or ground floor contains two general workrooms, one 36×14 ft., and one 24×14 feet; two furnace and fuel rooms, one 11×25 feet, and one 11×18 ft.,..two halls, 36×7 ft., and two halls 6x18ft…two bathrooms fitted up with a tub and three wash basins in each and from either of which may be obtained cold or hot water. There is also one room fitted up for a cell to confine refractory inmates, 11×8 ft.
The first story or flat contains 8 wards 10×9 ft with 9 foot ceilings…two water closets
The second story contains eight wards, 10×9 ft and two water closets…
The attic or third flat contains 12 wards 12×14 ft, two water closets and…two rooms in towers 6×6 ft…”
This is just a very small part of the description written about “Annapolis County’s New Insane Institution” in an undated article in the Bridgetown Weedly Monitor. Denise Rice came across a photocopy of this article. What she did not realize was that the back page of the photocopy not only gave us the time of year (Easter) but also contained a letter to the editor. It is a long letter and include the following excerpts:
Plans and specifications were prepared and tender called for building same, the lowest ender being of the vicinity of $9,000…A resolution was passed to this effect: That the committee modify the plan and specification so as the building could be erected….not cost(ing) over six thousand dollars…a sum, Mr. Editor, that would be more than ample for that purpose when you consider at the present time we have about fifteen in that institution.
Reading over the rooms, the size of the rooms and the number, I did think “Wow! They are expecting a LOT of harmless insane people from the county to be housed here.” Of course, poor people would be housed here as well as we not only criminalized poverty but also questioned the mental health of those in poverty. As poverty puts a great stress on those in it, it creates poor mental health. This is a cycle that continues today.
The building ended up costing $10,000. The article applauds Annapolis County with this line “…the people of Annapolis county of this generation certainly rank high, for they have taken the load among the people of the province in establishing institutions for the poor and the insane which speak loudly of their generosity and christian philanthropy.”
To which I cannot help but ask the question, What was making the people of Annapolis County poor and ‘harmless insane’? Rather than only dealing with the outcome, find the source of the problem.
But that is a question and philosophy we are still grappling with today…in 2019.
Last weekend, author Denise Rice and I shared a table at the Round Hill Community Hall annual sale. She was selling her many books on genealogy and I was selling my book A Wholesome Horror: Poor Houses in Nova Scotia. Denise is often at sales for anything regarding genealogy and had picked up several boxes from a local person whose parent, a genealogist, had died recently. When going through the boxes, she came across some things that would be of interest to me.
Denise handed me a rough photocopy of an undated article from the Weekly Monitor, a newspaper from Bridgetown Nova Scotia and a photocopy of a page of the Register of Inmates 1949. The list contained names of women who were in the Annapolis County Asylum and Poor Farm in 1949.
The names are Community Age Religion Civil State
Sabean, Martha Port Lorne 67 Baptist Single
Sabean, Catherine Port Lorne 82 Baptist Single
Minard, Bertha New Grafton 71 Anglican Single
Minard, Helen New Grafton 33 Anglican Single
Spurr, Maria Lequille 81 Anglican Single
Mosher, Beatrice Bridgetown 40 Baptist Single
Sabeans, Florence Bridgetown 34 Baptist Single
Clayton, Phyllis Parkers Cove 30 Baptist Single
Orde, Maud Clementsport 50 Anglican Married
Palfrey, Elsie Bridgetown 39 Baptist Single
Baker, Etta Margaretsville 76 Baptist Single
Sears, Addie Kempt 70 Baptist Married
Smith, Edith Inglisville 76 Baptist Single
Cress, Charlotte Bridgetown 77 Baptist Single
Banks, Annie Port George 43 Baptist Single
Caufield, Lavinia Lunenburg 67 Baptist Widowed
Forrester, Margaret Bear River 34 Baptist single
Jeremy, Rebecca Annapolis Co., 91 R.C.* single
Young, Bertha Granville 71 single
Whynott, Ellen Springfield 72 widowed
Orde, Caroline Lake LaRose 77 widowed
McCormick, Ruth Bear River 54 single
*R.C. = Roman Catholic
The religion of the last four women are not noted or else, through multiple photocopying, the Ditto sign has faded out.
The first two women, the Sabeans could possibly be sisters as there are 15 years between them and they are both listed as ‘single’.
The Minard women from New Grafton are possibly Mother and Daughter as there are 38 years between them but they are also both listed as single.
And then again, perhaps the elder women in these two groups of women were unmarried when they became mothers.
Rebecca Jeremy from Annapolis County could possibly be First Nations as Jeremy was often a First Nations surname.
The married women, Maude Orde and Addie Sears might have been separated from their husbands who were in the male quarters of the poor farm.
So much information and so little information at the same time. I’m grateful but frustrated. I want to know more!
Next post will be about the ‘new’ asylum and it’s size and dimensions as well as a Letter to the Editor protesting the cost of this new place.
Good Rainy Morning Everyone! I just came across this review last night on the Miramichi Reader. Thank you James, very much!
Over the weekend I was given some material on a poorhouse which I will be writing about on here. Stayed tuned!
PS -If anyone wants to share information with me about their local poorhouse, just message me. 🙂
Brenda Thompson’s poignant treatise on the treatment of the poor in Nova Scotia and the evolution of private and government-subsidized poor houses.
A few months ago my parents and I were sitting and talking about their youth. My dad grew up mostly in Quebec in the Gaspe Region as an Anglophone Protestant. His father died when he was very young, as did his two sisters Diane and Barbra, of tuberculosis, which was rampant in those days. His mum was a nurse and, now a widowed mother (and probably suffering from trauma and grief) she had to earn a living in her profession.
She was offered work as a Nurse in Chalk River, Ontario but she could not bring her remaining children with her under the terms of her employment. So she put them in ‘a home’ as my dad remembered. He remembered some of the name of the home so I decided to look it up. What a surprise we had when we found this:
“Founded in 1859, the Ladies’ Protestant Home was a temporary relief shelter for poor and destitute Protestant women living in Quebec City.”
My dad lived in a Poorhouse!! He lived there for approximately 18 months and has fond memories of living there. He claims he was ‘spoiled’ with attention from all the women. It can be surmised that his mother, my grandmother, probably paid for their stay there as she was gainfully employed. Eventually my dad was moved to another facility as he had developed childhood tuberculosis. He survived along with his remaining sibling.
His mother eventually remarried and took her children back. They moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia when my dad was a teenager, met and married my mum and they have remained in the province for all these years. My dad is now 80 years old.
For all of these years, he did not realize what kind of facility he was living in and then his daughter writes a book about poorhouses in Nova Scotia. Kind of ironic, don’t you think?
The Poor Laws of Nova Scotia were based on the Poor Laws of England and came over from England with Edward Cornwallis. Within a year of arriving in Nova Scotia, the first poorhouse/jail was set up on the site of what is now the Governor General’s House at the end of Spring Garden Road, on Barrington Street.
The criminalization of poverty began in Nova Scotia and continues to this day.
A friend and sister blogger, Flora Doehler, sent me this link on a podcast about the Poor Laws in England. It is a very interesting read, particularly if you want to know more about social history of poverty in Nova Scotia. It’s a fascinating listen!!
The month of February was a very active month, talking about Poor Houses of Nova Scotia all over the south west end of Nova Scotia in several of the libraries. I was in Lockeport at the Lillian Beham Library last week (the orginal date in February was re-scheduled because of the weather) and had the most DE-licious date squares! (Thank you Danielle!). We had a lively discussion about whether things had changed for the poor or whether they have remained the same.
The Senator Ambroise H. Comeau Library in Meteghan was great fun and so interesting talking about not only the local St. Mary’s Poor House but also Cy a Mateur. Here is a piece about him on https://www.canadianmysteries.ca/sites/jerome/contextes/normalite/indexen.html
“Cy à Mateur (Celestin, son of Amateur Trahan) was a contemporary of Jerome. In fact, they died the same year, in 1912. Cy was a highly skilled cobbler, but also very poor. According to the inhabitants of St. Mary’s Bay, including his neighbours in Meteghan, Cy was not normal. He was an angry, violent person. He drank a lot, played cards and gambled. He didn’t go to Mass on Sundays, and didn’t take communion. He was reputed to have sold his soul to the devil and to be a witch. People said he could change into a bear or fly to Boston by surfing through the air on a wooden plank. Cy really and truly existed. Today, he would have received government assistance in the form of Social Welfare payments and his doctors would have insisted that he take therapy and be treated for alcohol addiction. But in Jerome’s day, Cy was shut up in the Meteghan “Poor House” and rejected by all.”
Clearly Cy a Mateur had unresolved mental health issues and the community did not understand it. How could they? We did not know what mental health issues were in those days.
Author Lise A. Robichaud gifted me a copy of her book Le diable et le cordonnier: Vie et legende de Cy a Mateur. Thank you again Lise! I’ve got my French-English dictionary out and my French classes are coming back to me.
In the Isaiah W. Wilson Library in Digby, it was standing room only! We talked about not only the Marshall Town Almshouse, but the other poor houses in the area (Clementsport and Bridgetown) and discussed the possibility of Guaranteed Annual Incomes in Canada.
Clarke’s Harbour Library discussion and presentation was at the beginning of February and, although the group was small (7 people), we swapped stories and facts about the Barrington and Shelburne Poor Houses.
The staff at all of the libraries were WONDERFUL and so welcoming! Thank you to Joanne Head for inviting me and thank you to my husband, Kent Folks, for driving me all over this part of the province and listening to my presentations. I’m sure he could do them himself now.
Next presentation coming up is April 3. I shall keep you posted.