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Cornwall's House of Refuge

After Ontario passed the final extension in regards to the House of Refuge Act, Cornwall started preparing to build their own House of Refuge facility. To follow the regulations of the 1890 Act, Cornwall needed 45 acres of land. The united counties of SD&G purchased a farm from William A. Craig, and proceeded to build their County House of Industry and Refuge on this property. The building was designed in 1911 by an architect named Arthur Le B. Weeks, and was completed in 1913.

From 1913 to the 1930s, inmates that had passed away with no family alive to claim the remains we’re buried in unmarked graves around the House of Refuge property. To this day the exact locations of these burials is unknown.

Cornwall decided to add a new street to their city. Gretchen Court, a small crescent, was to be created for the purpose of building new homes. When the construction workers were digging to add the foundations for these new homes in April, May and June of 1985, they discovered human remains. The 29 bodies that were discovered were removed from the property, and reburied in St. Lawrence Valley Cemetery (just on the outskirts of Long Sault.)  This would not be the last time that the remains of House of Refuge inmates would be discovered.

In 1999, Versa Care decided to add an addition onto the old House of Refuge building to accommodate more residents in their nursing home. This resulted in more remains being uncovered. I have yet to find out what happened to the remains (although I am confident that they were reburied elsewhere.)

Living conditions were basic, and, as Cornwall’s House of Refuge moved through both World Wars and the Great Depression, conditions steadily deteriorated. By the 1940’s, Cornwall’s House of Refuge found it very hard to keep up with the demand of people applying to be admitted into the facility. In 1949, one hundred residents were living in a building designed for approximately thirty people. Throughout the facility’s years of operation, nine hundred and six inmates passed through the doors, calling Cornwall’s House of Refuge “home”. The Standard Freeholder in May 1949 reported on these population problems: “For some time it has been known to the public, and especially to the more recent boards of management, that the Present Home for the Aged has become increasingly inadequate to meet the similarly increasing demands on behalf, not only of the aged persons at the present, but also of the increasing number of applicants for admission.”[1]

On top of population issues, the facility had a dilapidated heating system, and faced condemnation from the Ontario Fire Marshall. In 1952, the facility was closed down and the Glen Stor Dun Lodge nursing home was constructed. House of Refuge residents were moved to this new site.

In 1954, the facility became an all catholic girls school called St. Michael's Academy, and would close down in the early 1970's. In 1972, the Kaneb family purchased the property and turned the facility into a nursing home, which it remains today.


[1] The Standard Freeholder [Cornwall] May 1949: n. pag. Microform. Standard Freeholder 1939-1949 (n.d.): n. pag.