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When and why were Houses of Refuge established?

Wellington County's House of Refuge (in Fergus, Ontario.)

Ontario’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.”[1] 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 destitution from the town or township streets, and organized it with administration. Despite some resistance after 1890, House of Refuge institutions began to spread. “Although some local resistance to setting up a house of refuge continued to stunt the system, there was a relatively rapid spread of provincial institutions in rural settings after 1890, along the lines of the “out of sight, out of mind” principle inherent in the asylum approach.”[2]


After the first law was decided, rules became stricter and counties who once refused to build a House of Refuge, now had to. “To make a house of refuge mandatory for all counties, the Ontario government passed the Municipal House of Refuge Act in 1903.”[3] For the first time since the aborted Act of 1866, each county or union of counties, had to construct a House of Refuge facility. The deadline was January 1st 1906.[4] Once the building was constructed, the county council was to “appoint two persons who shall, together with the warden, form a board of management, regulation and control”.[5] The deadline for the construction was moved twice. It was first moved to 1908, and then moved again to 1911. All counties or county unions had to establish a House of Refuge by 1911.[6] In 1912, the Houses of Refuge Act was extended again, but “only to populous parts of northern Ontario. Northern districts, like their southern forerunners, were not quick to respond. Algoma established a facility in 1914 in Sault Sainte Marie, followed by Parry Sound (1919) at Powassan, and Nipissing in 1924.”[7]

Sources:

[1] Tyler, Tracey. "The County Poorhouse." York University. The Toronto Star, 3 Jan. 2009. Web. 29 Jan. 2014. <http://socialwork.blog.yorku.ca/2009/01/03/untitled/>.

[2] Carter Park, Deborah, and J. David Wood. "Poor Relief and the County House of Refuge System in Ontario, 1880 - 1911." Science Direct. Journal of Historical Geography, 1992. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.

[3] Tyler, Tracey. "The County Poorhouse." York University. The Toronto Star, 3 Jan. 2009. Web. 29 Jan. 2014. <http://socialwork.blog.yorku.ca/2009/01/03/untitled/>.

[4] Carter Park, Deborah, and J. David Wood. "Poor Relief and the County House of Refuge System in Ontario, 1880 - 1911." Science Direct. Journal of Historical Geography, 1992. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid