The Poor House

The Wellington County Museum and Archives is a National Historic Site. It is located in a building that stands as the oldest remaining House of Industry in Canada. It was built in 1877 as a "Poor House" or place of refuge for the poor, homeless, and destitute people in Wellington County. It operated as a Poor House and Industrial Farm until 1947 when it became a County Home for the Aged. In 1974 it was transformed into the Wellington County Museum and Archives. A new Archives wing opened in 2010.

 

 

 

 The Museum and Archives was presented the 2013 Business Beautification Award by the Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce for our work on the House of Industry and Refuge cemetery and 1877 Barn.

 

If These Walls Could Speak: The House of Industry and Refuge, 1877-1947

 

This exhibit, featured throughout the Museum, provides glimpses into the lives and activities of the people who lived, worked, and often died here. Originally called the "Poor House," the building is now home to the Wellington County Museum and Archives. 

Attitudes towards poverty, charity and a community's social responsibilities are reflected in the many compelling stories and photos presented here.

This exhibit was the recipient of an Ontario Museum Association Award of Excellence in 2007.

 

If These Walls Could Speak exhibit image

 

1877 Barn

1877 Barn ImageIn January 1877, County Council wanted "...to obtain plans for a frame barn with stables underneath, sufficient for the protection of the stock, produce and implements of the Farm...to let the contract for the erection of the same in time to have the buildings completed before harvest". Council Minutes, 1877,   pg. 19b

Committee hired "Mr. John Taylor, of Elora, to draw plans for the barn, and to superintend the erection of the buildings and fences, for $285.00" and the construction contract was given to Richard Ferguson for the sum of $1,483 as the lowest bidder.

Council Minutes, 1877 pg. 16-17

The purpose of the Barn and Industrial Farm was to produce enough food to feed the staff and the inmates at the Poor House and sell any surplus.

The Elora Lightning Express, published on October 4, 1877, gave a detailed description of the newly built structure, which was completed and opened the same day with the House of Industry and Refuge.  "The barn is commodious, convenient, and up to the modern times in its interior arrangement....  It will amply accommodate all the products of the farm, and the root house contained in it will be found to be exceedingly useful."

An important renovation happened in 1909: "the cattle, stables and hog pens have been thoroughly overhauled during the year by placing concrete floors and feed mangers in same and fitting the stable with steel stalls and water bowls for the stock". Council Minutes 1909, pg. 65

The cost was $313.83, divided between Beatty Brothers, for stable fixtures at $85.13 with the balance of $228.70 going to Charles Mattaini for concrete work, both from Fergus.

A bottom unloading Silo was built in 1915 and it was used to store livestock feed, a mix of whole-plant corn, dried hay and oats.

Another big expansion took place in 1937, when: "The stables at the barn were completely remodeled and enlarged and new steel equipment installed at a total cost of $2,670.33.Purchased an additional 52 acres of land immediately adjoining the present farm on the North at a cost of $2,500.00. On this land is a substantial stone house and a barn of little value."    

Council minutes, January 1938 pg. 48 - 49

More work was done in 1942, when "...the whole barn (was) re-shingled and the beam structure altered to permit of the easier and better handling of the hay and harvest.  This work was completed at a cost of $500.00."

Council Minutes, Inspector & Treasurer Report, January 1943

In 1942 a Massey-Harris Rightway single unit milking machine was purchased, that put an end to the manual milking of the cows. This unit machine did not have a long life because, due to pasteurization regulations, the dairy cattle were sold and replaced with beef cattle in 1958.

Wellington County Home for the Aged was closed in 1971 and Wellington County Museum opened on July 6, 1974.

New eavestroughs were installed on the Barn and a new roof was installed on the Silo between 1994 and 1995.

August 2011 marked another milestone in the history of the Barn. The Barn would become a public exhibit and rental facility space on a seasonal basis. The Barn was in remarkably good condition considering its age but some work was undertaken to meet Building Code requirements for the Barn's new use.

The foundation was excavated and new drainage tiles were installed, interior walls were reinforced, and lighting was added. Heat and smoke detectors were installed and a ramp was added on the north side in order to provide access to the Barn. A new rough sawn pine floor was installed over the original floor to protect it.

The Dairy Barn reopened in July of 2017, after extensive renovations. It reflects the structure and the floorplan of the dairy operation in 1941.

Special group tours of the Barn, the Museum, and the Poor House Cemetery can be arranged for a nominal fee.

Book Tour

House of Industry Cemetery

Cemetery imageBetween 1877 and 1947, over 1500 destitute men, women and children sought refuge at the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge, or the 'Poorhouse' as everyone called it.

Built as an Industrial Farm, the site included a sixty-bed house, thirty acres of crops and a barn for livestock. Many of the inmates were admitted because of poor health or advanced age and had no one to care for them. At the edge of the property, a one-acre cemetery was established for those who had no family to claim their remains at death.

There are 271 men, women and children buried here. Please note not all death certificates have been found.

 

Death Certificates

Between 1877 and 1947, over 1500 destitute men, women and children sought refuge at the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge, or the 'Poorhouse' as everyone called it.

Built as an Industrial Farm, the site included a sixty-bed house, thirty acres of crops and a barn for livestock. Many of the inmates were admitted because of poor health or advanced age and had no one to care for them. At the edge of the property, a one-acre cemetery was established for those who had no family to claim their remains at death.

There are 271 men, women and children buried here.

Death Certificates

It is a cemetery like no other.

Between 1877 and 1947, over 1500 destitute men, women and children sought refuge at the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge, or the 'Poorhouse' as everyone called it.

Built as an Industrial Farm, the site included a sixty-bed house, thirty acres of crops and a barn for livestock. Many of the inmates were admitted because of poor health or advanced age and had no one to care for them. At the edge of the property, a one-acre cemetery was established for those who had no family to claim their remains at death.

There are 271 men, women and children buried here.

Death Certificates

It is a cemetery like no other.


It is a cemetery like no other.

 

Pump House

Pump House - The water supply system for the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge

After the completion of the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge in 1877, it was soon evident that the water supplied by a well or collected in a basement cistern was not enough to serve the needs of the residents.

In 1884, eight acres of land across the road were purchased at $400 and the spring water it provided was pumped to the building by means of a hydraulic ram. "The purchase of the eight acres of land....has been completed and the excellent spring thereon conveyed to the buildings by means of a hydraulic ram. The water is carried 1,050 feet and raised about 93 feet. The ram, tanks and tubing are well covered and protected from frost and the apparatus is working most satisfactorily" - Council Minutes, pg.25, Inspector's Report, 1885.

In 1889 troubles with the water supply began.  "The hydraulic ram, at present in use, does not furnish enough water...a windmill or some other power to pump water up to the House must be resorted to..." Council Minutes, pg.20, Committee Report, 1889.

In 1890 a windmill was purchased and two iron tanks were placed in the attic, one in the main building and the other one in the wash house. The collected spring water was pumped into the tanks and supplied to the kitchen, laundry and water closets by gravity.

 

 

In 1896, once again, the water supply became problematic and " after getting estimates for electric motor, hot air engine and windmill powers, your committee decided to erect a steel windmill galvanized throughout, with 70-foot tower and 10-foot wheel"- Council Minutes, pg. 50, December 1897.

The contract was awarded to Goold, Shapley and Muir Co., based in Brantford, ON, and the wind power station functioned until August 1932, when it was replaced by an automatic pressure water system.

The mill on site is a Goold, Shapley and Muir, c.1910, sitting on a 30 feet galvanized steel tower. Established in 1892, the company has been renowned for its windmills, winning major prizes in the windmill test of the Royal Agricultural Society in London, England. In 1934, hard times had fallen on the company and its assets were liquidated and sold.

Historical Grounds
 Heritage Garden imageThe Gardens surrounding the Museum are an outstanding feature and attraction in themselves. Bring a picnic lunch, relax and recharge in our gardens and rolling acreage.

Butterfly Garden

This garden is designed to attract butterflies. A variety of plants are included here to offer food for the adult (nectar), host plants for laying eggs and feed for the hatched larvae (caterpillars). The garden faces south to maximize the exposure to the sun and provide a place for the butterflies to sun themselves. Some of the species grown here are purple coneflower, wild bergamot, bronze fennel, hollyhock, New England aster, yarrow and globe thistle.

 

Vegetable Garden

The Vegetable Garden is a demonstration garden used for education programmes and located west of the frame barn. The selection of plants is based on research of the produce that was grown on this property when it was the County House of industry and Refuge.

We grow potatoes, onions, beets, cabbage, carrots, turnips, peas, beans, lettuce, cucumbers and strawberries.



Woodland Garden

This garden contains a selection of woodland plants and trees representative of species growing in this area before European settlement. We have milkweed, trillium, wild ginger, white cedar, Grey dogwood and Virginia creeper and many other species on display in this cool, shaded natural display.

 

Cottage Garden

This collection illustrates plants selected primarily for practical use. The plants in this garden were grown as a source of food, medicine, fragrance, textile fiber and dye. Examples of plants include peppermint, lovage, horseradish, lavender, chives, calendula, dill and flax. There is also a small orchard of crab apples to represent the large apple orchard that was on the property when it was a working farm. 

 

Victorian Garden

This garden reflects the Victorian taste for formal
structure and continuous colour from spring through fall. Incorporating native and introduced species, Victorian gardeners selected plants primarily for decorative use. The display includes black-eyed Susan, bergamot, lungwort, candy tuft, wisteria, peonies and a variety of heritage roses.

 

 

 

 

© 2017 County of Wellington, 74 Woolwich St. Guelph, Ontario N1H 3T9, T 519.837.2600, F 519.837.1909