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Giving House of Refuge Residents a Monument

Between the years 1913 and 1952, what is now known as Heartwood Nursing Home at 201 Eleventh Street, once operated as Cornwall's House of Refuge. 


This facility was opened to follow the 1890 House of Refuge Act that Canada created.  The act stated that each county, or union of counties, was to provide a house and an associated “industrial farm".  This Act assisted in removing severe cases of destitution from the town or township streets, and organized it with administration.


During the facility's thirty-nine years of existence, 906 inmates called Cornwall's House of Refuge home.

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.

Since the beginning of my research, I knew bodies were discovered when the foundations for homes were being built on Gretchen Court. I had been told numerous times that these bodies were moved to St. Lawrence Valley Cemetery close to Long Sault.


On February 9th, 2015, I decided to visit St. Lawrence Valley Cemetery to see if there was any truth to what I had been told. 


After my visit I discovered that 29 bodies had been uncovered between April and June 1985. They were all re-buried at St. Lawrence Valley Cemetery.


Two bodies were re-buried on April 26th 1985.

Three bodies were re-buried on May 4th 1985.

Twenty-one bodies were re-buried between June 12th and June 19th 1985.


I also discovered that there is no grave marker or tombstone where the House of Refuge inmates were re-buried. For the second time, these inmates were buried in an unmarked grave. This broke my heart.

The Monument

On July 23, 2016, citizens from all over SD&G came to celebrate the lives of the 29 House of Refuge residents that were re-buried in St. Lawrence Valley Cemetery. A monument that took 11 months of fundraising was unveiled to the public, and now proudly marks the graves of the 29 former House of Refuge residents.

A Long Overdue Celebration of Life

(Published in the Seaway News during the week of May 28, 2018.)


On May 22, a customer walked up to the bar at the Royal Canadian Legion (where I work), and complimented me on my previous article. After thanking him, we began discussing various subjects about Cornwall's history. Eventually, the topic of a particular tombstone was brought up, and to my surprise, this special memorial was not known to him. (This is the beauty of "finding" subjects to write about - They tend to find me!)


Between the years 1913 and 1952, what is now known as Heartwood Nursing home (at 201 Eleventh Street East), once operated as a local poor house.


In 1890, Canada created the "House of Refuge Act." This act stated that every county, or union of counties, was to provide a home accompanied by an industrial farm. This act aimed at removing severe cases of destitution from town streets, and organized it with administration.


During the facility's thirty-nine years of operation, 906 residents called Cornwall's House of Refuge home. These people were admitted to the local poor house for various reasons. Some of the reasons for admittance listed in Cornwall's House of Refuge register included: that residents were mentally ill, elderly, unable to work, "idiots", and women who were pregnant out of wedlock.


What surprises the majority of people I discuss this subject with, is that the entire grounds surrounding Heartwood Nursing Home is an unmarked cemetery. In April, May, and June of 1985, the area just West of the building was being transformed into Gretchen Court. During the excavation work on the property (as Benak Limited began digging the foundations for homes), the remains of twenty-nine bodies were discovered. (Residents of Cornwall's House of Refuge with no living relatives to claim the bodies were buried on the property in unmarked graves, some of which have been untouched since their original burials.) The bodies that were discovered in 1985 were moved to St. Lawrence Valley Cemetery, on the outskirts of Long Sault. For the second time, these House of Refuge residents were buried in unmarked graves.


On June 23, 2016, citizens from our community helped me write a new chapter in Cornwall's history: after eleven months of fundraising, a monument was unveiled, commemorating the lives of the twenty-nine former House of Refuge residents, and a small ceremony took place. Surrounded by dozens of people, their graves were blessed by Father Haley, and for the first time since their original burials, they received the celebration of life they had always deserved.