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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
September 23, 2017
Canadian Excellence


Life in the Poorhouse: A Historical Digitalized Case Study of the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge (1869-1951)

With support from the Waterloo Region Heritage Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) the Social Innovation Research Group (SIRG), is undertaking a historical case study of the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge (1869-1951). This archival research project will involve the digitalization of archival materials and the creation of a virtual museum exhibit.

A little about the House of Refuge:

In 1869, Waterloo County became among the first communities in Canada to admit an "inmate" to a newly built poorhouse, called the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge.

The House of Refuge and its inhabitants have mostly faded from the collective memory of Canadians.

Poorhouses can be described as a "one stop shop" for people without other means of shelter, food or support. The poorhouse offered food and residence for time spent working on the farm that was established alongside the main shelter building.

To date, no one has pulled together or analyzed local House of Refuge information in an accessible formal.

Purpose of the Project:

The project is examining the establishment, governance, procedures and practices of the House of Refuge. We seek to reveal the stories, experiences and perspectives of residents, staff and community leaders associated with the House.

The project involves the collection and analysis of currently dispersed information (archival information,newspapers, books) so that community residents and others interested in the topic have access to a piece of Waterloo Region's history that has been to date, largely untold.

We will also explore how today's current ways of helping in a social work context are shaped by the past.

One of our main objectives for this project is to bring from the obscure to the light the existence and history of the poor house. As social workers we are interested in how charitable work was organized within the context of the poor house and the vulnerable populations it served. As an academic partner in the Kitchener downtown core, we are interested in contributing to the historical memory of the Region of Waterloo and the City of Kitchener and to honour the memory of the poor house residents

If you are interested in learning more about the project, volunteering, or sharing a story about the House of Refuge contact Sandy Hoy at  or 519-884-0710 ext 5280.