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Poor House Commemoration Day

The Objective

On June 1, 2017, I submitted a petition to the Canadian government asking them to recognize April 14 of every year as Poor House Commemoration Day in Canada. I had 120 days to gather, at minimum, 500 signatures of support. In total, 648 signatures were received. On November 8, 2017, the petition was presented and tabled in the House of Commons by local MP Guy Lauzon. On January 29, 2018, I was informed of the governments response: "The Government of Canada does not have any current plans to officially designate the aforementioned date [as Poor House Commemoration Day in Canada.]"

Poor House Commemoration Day aims to recognize and celebrate the lives of Canadian and Immigrant citizens that lived and died in:

  • Asylums.
  • Houses of Refuge (these facilities were only in Ontario.)
  • Poor Houses.
Inmates from Wellington County's House of Refuge (in Fergus, Ontario.)

Who were these people?

Residents of Canadian poorhouses were referred to as "inmates." Inmates were sent to these facilities for various reasons:
  • Pregnant women who were not married. (Only one birth occurred at Cornwall's House of Refuge.)
  • The mentally ill.
  • The poor.
  • 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 elderly. (Especially those without family to take care of them.)

Anyone who needed a roof over their head could be admitted to the House of Refuge.

Why April 14?

By April 14, 1937, Canadians and Immigrants who suffered from mental illnesses were entirely stripped of their property, managing their economic affairs, and their ability to reproduce. Not only had they lost their belongings, the right to own properties, but they were stripped of their right to have children. By April 14, they lost control of everything, including control over their own body. 

On April 14, 1937, the “Act respecting the Mentally Incompetent Persons and their Estates” was passed in Alberta. This Act marked a growing intrusion of the state into the lives of those they deemed “mentally incompetent or unfit.” Canadian citizens in an asylum were no longer capable of managing their economic affairs. The government stripped these people of their own property. Nine years prior to this act, the government of Alberta stripped their citizens of the ability to reproduce. On March 21, 1928, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta passed the “Sexual Sterilization Act.” This legislation authorized sexual sterilization to individuals living in designated state institutions (Asylums) deemed to have “undesirable traits.” The impact of the Sexual Sterilization Act was substantial. Under this Act, over 4,800 people were sterilized. More than 2,800 persons were sterilized under its two amendments in 1937 and 1942.