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Some tips on
Living Simply

How About Instituting These Rules Around Home

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By Pat Mestern
February 21, 2004

Poor HouseA lot of people from away have asked about that lovely stone building on the hill between Fergus and Elora. They think that it was the home of some wealthy Scottish landowner and are taken aback when told it was the Wellington County House of Industry & Refuge, known locally as the Poor House. At some point in its life it was also referred to as Wellington Home for the Aged & Infirm and the Industrial Farm.

Folks are also a little appalled when told that those behind its impressive walls were once called Inmates and that they had a long list of rules to live by, none as intimidating as those set in 1877, the year the place opened for business. My copy of the rules is courtesy of a former Keeper, the person in authority who had to administer them. The bell in question is located in the bell tower on top of the building. I believe that it still works.

  1. At the ringing of the morning bell every inmate in the house - the sick and those in confinement excepted - must rise, dress, wash, and be in readiness to proceed to work.
  2. The bell will ring ten minutes before each meal, when all will leave their work, and be in readiness with clean hands and faces for the ringing of the second bell, when they will repair to the Dining Rooms, and take such seats at the table as are assigned to them by those in charge, where they must observe silence, decency and good order.
  3. At the ringing of the slow bell after meals every inmate shall repair to work.
  4. No inmates shall loiter about the kitchen, nor shall any provisions or food - excepting at regular meals - be carried to any part of the house without the consent of the Keeper; nor shall any cooking be done except in the kitchen.
  5. At nine o'clock in the evening, at the ringing of the retiring bell, the inmates must secure the fires, put out the lights, and retire to bed in their respective apartments.
  6. No inmate shall be allowed to trade or exchange clothing, or any other thing with any person whomsoever, or beg of those who visit there; nor shall they receive any money or other article from any one without the consent of the Keeper.
  7. All persons shall diligently and faithfully perform the duty or task allotted to them by the Keeper, unless otherwise excused.
  8. Any person guilty of drunkenness, disobedience, immorality, obscenity, disorderly conduct, profane or indecorous language, theft, waste, or who shall absent himself or herself from the premises without the permission of the Keeper, or who shall be guilty of injuring or defacing any part of the House or furniture therein'; or who shall commit waste of any kind, shall be punished, as the case may seem to demand.
  9. In all cases of solitary confinement, the prisoners shall be debarred from seeing or conversing with any person except the Inspector, the Keeper, or the person employed to supply their wants, and the food of such prisoners shall consist solely of bread and water, unless otherwise ordered by the Inspector or Physician.
  10. Any person who shall have communication either directly or indirectly with any one thus confined, without permission shall be subject to punishment by a like confinement.
  11. No none shall go beyond the limits of the Industrial Farm, unless by the permission of the Keeper, nor remain out beyond the time specified by the Keeper.
  12. The Sabbath Day shall be strictly observed, and no irreligious diversion or unnecessary labour be indulged in.
  13. At the ringing of the bell for the purpose of assembling for religious instruction and worship, every person - unless excused by the Keeper - shall appear dressed in clean apparel in the instructing room and shall behave with decency and sobriety. No noise or disturbance shall be made in any part of the house during such exercises.
  14. All persons wilfully absenting themselves from the place of meeting or violating the Sabbath Day, shall be subject to prompt and severe punishment.
  15. Every person previous to admission or an inmate of the House, shall be subjected to examination and search by the Keeper, or one of his assistants.
  16. No visitor shall have admission to the House on the Sabbath without the written permission of the Inspector, or by the consent of the Keeper upon good cause shown.
  17. All persons aggrieved may prefer their complaints to the Inspector when he is visiting the House.

Another question that I'm frequently asked pertains to the monument that is located in the grove of pine trees before one goes under the railroad trestle on County 18. The property on which the monument sits was part of the House of Industry & Refuge and was utilized as the cemetery for folks who died in the Poor House. As their graves when unmarked a monument was erected to honour them as Wellington County pioneers.

Truth be known, once a person was signed into the Poor House, especially during the period c1877 through c1925, they were often out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Having no relatives or relatives who weren't keen on claiming the body, their remains were interred in the Home's burial ground. Dr. Abraham Groves wrote that on many occasion he, the Keeper, grave digger and minister were often the only people in attendance at many of these burials.

I'm not sure what official records put the burial tally at but at one time it was widely publicized that there were nearly two hundred burials in the plot. This figure usually came to fore every time County Road #18 was, and, is widened. Unfortunately, uncaring officials have allowed the road to expand into the old burial ground's territory until there's only a small portion remaining today, planted with Scotch Pines.

A number of people, the late Ossie Glen being one of them, fought hard to stop encroachment. I do remember on one occasion he presented a brown bag full of bits of bone, teeth and even some hair to County Council, fragments he had picked up along the side of County #18. More recently, I'm told there is evidence that someone or something has been digging deep holes in the stand of pine. What a sad commentary on part of Wellington County's colourful history.

Third question. Was anyone able to leave the Poor House? Yes, there were a few people whose financial circumstances changed enough that they were able to leave the facility, the emphasis is on the word FEW. Some of the babies born into the Poor House were taken in, and raised by decent local folks. Others, at the proper age, were bound out as servants or apprentices to people who needed an extra hand around the house or business. Some children knew no other home. They were born, raised and died in Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge. Escape in several instances would the right word to use. There were a number of incidents of people who ran away from the Poor House. I ask you, can you blame them? The most famous case involved a young girl whose body was found in the woods between the house and Kinnettles. If you recall her body was taken to the empty house at Kinnettles, laid out on a table and left until an inquest could be called the next day. Her body disappeared overnight and that's another tale.

Final question. What's taken the place of the Poor House today. Answer. Welfare and pensions.

An aside to this story, while driving along County #18 toward Elora, two years ago in October, Ted and I saw two deer, one an albino, heading for the shelter of the pine trees. We'd been told about this albino but didn't expect to see it so close to Fergus. The field was frosty with a light snow. The albino blended in so well, we had to look closely to make sure it was a deer. What a gorgeous sight they were. While talking with some people about the albino this summer, we was told that some stupid, inconsiderable hunter put an end to its life, while hunting out of season of course.



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