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Frequently Asked Questions About Cornwall's House of Refuge

Where is Cornwall's House of Refuge? Is it still standing?

Cornwall's House of Refuge is still standing. It is located at 201 Eleventh Street East. It is currently known as Heartwood Nursing Home. This facility has been a nursing home since 1972 under various names. You might recognize it as The Convalodge, Best View, or Versa Care.


The red arrow on the map below is the exact location of the facility.

201 Eleventh Street East, Cornwall, Ontario

When did the House of Refuge operate?

Cornwall's House of Refuge operated from 1913 to 1952.


In 1952, the facility was closed down because the building was overpopulated with inmates, and it was completely infested with cockroaches. The Glen-Stor-Dun-Lodge (on Montreal Road) opened just before the House of Refuge closed, and the residents that remained at Cornwall's House of Refuge were transferred to the newly opened old folks home. Over the next two years, the House of Refuge facility was completely renovated. In 1954, it was purchased by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and they turned the facility into St. Michael's Academy, an all girls Catholic school.


Timeline of the building's history:

1913 to 1952: Cornwall's House of Refuge.

1954 to 1970: St. Michael's Academy, an all girls Catholic school.

1972 to Present: Operated as a nursing home under various names.


A relative of mine stayed at St. Paul's Home..
Often times, people confuse Cornwall's House of Refuge with St. Paul's Home. They were two completely different facilities. St. Paul's Home was located on Water Street (beside the old Hotel Dieu Hospital/across the street from the RCAFA building.) It was built in 1898, and served as an old folks home.  The building was run by the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph. The building was demolished in 1963 (it had 100 beds at the time), and re-opened as St. Joseph's Villa in 1969.


Why are the people who lived there called "inmates"? We're they criminals?

Absolutely not. In the early 1900's the term "inmate" was used to describe people in several situations:


Inmate, noun:

1. a person who is confined in an institution such as a prison, hospital, etc.

2. Archaic. a person who dwells with others in the same house.


Who stayed at the House of Refuge? What are some of the reasons for people living there?

People stayed at Cornwall's House of Refuge for all kinds of different reasons:

- Pregnant women who were not married. (Cornwall's House of Refuge only sheltered one pregnant woman.)

- The mentally ill.

- The disabled.

- Children without parents / unwanted children. (Children seldomly made their way to Cornwall's House of Refuge. They would typically be sent to the orphanage on Sydney and Second Streets. The only time you would see children at the facility long term, would be to keep them with their parents. Example: If the family buisiness failed, the whole family would be sent to the House of Refuge.)

- People suffering from the loss of a limb.

- The elderly. (Especially those without family to take care of them.)


The main purpose of Cornwall's House of Refuge was to get people off the streets. Anyone who needed a roof over their head could stay at Cornwall's House of Refuge.


You were taking donations for a monument? Why?

Whenever I speak with citizens about Cornwall's House of Refuge, the number one piece of information they're unaware of, is that the entire grounds is an unmarked cemetery. 


In the early 1900's if there were no relatives alive to claim the body of a deceased, the body would be buried on the property in a paupers grave. These paupers burials took place from 1913 to 1939. (1939 is the latest date I have found of a burial taking place on the House of Refuge property.)


I do not know specifically where all of the burials are located, but I do know they are literally scattered on the entire grounds of the facility.


Why are you erecting a monument, and where is it being placed?

Eventually, I will be erecting a second monument. The first monument that has already been erected, sits on top of the remains of 29 House of Refuge residents that were reburied inSt. Lawrence Valley Cemetery. Eventually, I would like to have another monument erected on the House of Refuge/Nursing Home property.


Between April and June 1985, while construction workers were adding the foundations for the new homes on Gretchen Court (this is the street directly to the left of the facility), they uncovered the remains of 29 bodies. These were the remains of the House of Refuge inmates that had been buried in unmarked graves.


During those months, these bodies were moved to St. Lawrence Valley Cemetery, and, for the second time, they were buried without a tombstone. I am accepting donations and doing various fundraisers in order to purchase a monument for these 29 individuals. The monument has been placed where the bodies are buried in St. Lawrence Valley Cemetery.


The second monument will be placed somewhere on the current nursing home property. This monument will list the names of every inmate that was buried on the House of Refuge grounds. This one will take more time to complete, because I have to research all 906 inmates that walked through the House of Refuge doors to determine which inmates were buried on the property grounds.


What are you doing with all of your research?

I am currently writing my first book, about Cornwall's House of Refuge. I have no "approximate date" to give you in regards to when it will be finished, just know that I am writing it, and I can't wait to share the inmates stories with you!


If you would like to read more information about Cornwall's House of Refuge, click here.