In 1901, Thomas MacKay wrote a history of the English poor laws and dedicates his history to the leaders who developed and implemented the laws:
“The labours of the early reformers of Poor Law administration are regarded with reverence and admiration by every thoughtful student of social history, and it is as a humble tribute to their memory that the present volume is now offered to the public”. (p. vi)
We would like to make a similar dedication but turn Mr. McKay’s dedication on its head:
The labours, struggles, successes, and deaths of people who entered the Poorhouse and other such institutions in Ontario have been ignored, forgotten, and discarded throughout most of history.
We present this exhibit as a humble tribute to the memory of the people referred to as inmates.
We dedicate this work in memory of the children, men and women who suffered the indignities of a sometimes helpful and often punitive systems.
It is our hope that their stories will serve as reminders for us to consider our present day approaches to poverty and social inequality.
How will history judge our present day systems if our measuring stick is supporting people to fulfill their human potential with compassion and dignity?
This website is a virtual memorial to the residents.
A committee at the Region of Waterloo is also working to develop a physical memorial art project on former House of Industry and Refuge lands.
We know that approximately 1350 inmates died in the House and approximately 213 people remain buried in unmarked graves on the site of the former poorhouse. At least 19 bodies were transported to the School of Anatomy upon their deaths.
To view the House Burial Register, see below. Special thank you to Darryl Bonk for his work in transcribing the Register and researching the people who died in the House.