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Nazareth Orphanage: Once home to hundreds of orphaned children

Appeared in the Senior Citizen, June 2017.

Standing at the corners of Sydney and Second Street, it is hard for me to stare at the Cornwall Public Library and imagine a grand Victorian building in its place, but sixty-seven years ago, that’s exactly what stood proudly at the Northwest corner.

In 1897, Cornwall’s Children’s Aid Society was formed. Their mandate was “to house destitute children until they could be placed in permanent homes.” In 1909, the Children’s Aid Society became overpopulated with homeless children. The Society looked towards the Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph Sisters to help care for the large number of destitute children.

The Sisters purchased two small framed homes on Mulberry Lane. These two homes became Nazareth Orphanage, which opened on January 16, 1909. Eight months after the orphanage opened, twenty-six children would call the two wooden buildings “home”. Although the homes were not of the greatest quality, they succeeded in providing food and shelter for the children.

In October 1909, the orphans would be relocated to a new home. “The Greenwood House,” located on York Street became the “new” orphanage. It operated as Nazareth Orphanage until November 28, 1919. On that same date, the orphans were moved to “Highland Manor”, located at the Northwest corner of Sydney and Second Streets. This residence belonged to Mrs. Mary McMartin, and was donated to the orphans in memory of her late husband, John. Mrs. McMartin also provided the funds to heat the orphanage.

Five Sisters were assigned as staff, and lived at the new orphanage with the children. The Sisters found it difficult to meet the expenses required to care for dozens of children. The government assistance at the time was not much: two cents per day for each child. Woman from the community formed the Nazareth Orphanage Society, and devoted much time, effort, and care to help with the orphans’ upbringing.

On Friday, May 4, 1950, tragedy would strike at Nazareth Orphanage. As soon as Sisters Cameron, St. Emily, St. Monica and Mary Theresa sat down to have lunch, the fire alarm began to ring. By the time the Fire Department arrived, all the staff and children were safely outside. Representatives of the Children’s Aid Society picked up children who were in school, and took them to the Salvation Army Citadel until relatives could come for them. Although the cause of the fire was never determined, it is believed that it was caused by faulty electrical wiring. It is rumoured that even if there hadn’t been a fire, the home would have been demolished to make room for Cornwall’s new Post Office.

Photo Credits:

Top Photo: Thom Racine.

Bottom Photo: Library and Archives Canada.