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House of Refuge

May 5, 2024

Lindsay's House of Refuge (old Victoria Manor)

By Guy Scott

The House of Refuge Act was passed in 1890 and legally obligated each county in Ontario to set up an institution to care for those who could not care for themselves. People placed in such institutes included the physically or mentally disabled, people too old to care for themselves, indigents or what we would today call homeless people. In pioneer times, charity or welfare was dispensed by Churches or the municipality on an ad hoc basis. But residents who were given charity or welfare locally had a home or family to look after them. The House of Refuge was designed for those who actually had nowhere to go or no home and nobody to look after them.

The idea of such institutions was long established in Britain by the Poor Laws and the resulting Poor Houses. The act of parliament provided up to $4,000 for the county to set up such an institution. It was mandated that there be a structure to house these indigent souls so they did not become homeless. Houses of Refuge were built in Lindsay and Peterborough. Local residents were sent to the House of Refuge from time to time, at the behest of township council. Many of these people were older residents, but it was not really an ‘old-folks home.’

The Victoria County House of Refuge (also called the old Victoria Manor) was constructed in 1905. Prior to that date, the Mansion House Hotel in Lindsay was used to accommodate the indigent and seniors. It was run by a committee of county council called the Central Charity Committee. Before construction, a committee of council had toured Ontario, examining previous homes in search of ideas. The Lambton County Model in Sarnia was adopted. For the sum of $47,250 the old Manor was built on Angeline Street. The massive three storey building was designed to house 75 residents. The grand old building served until replaced by the current complex. The old Mansion House was turned over to the local Children’s Aid Society.

Since the turn of the century, the system of Seniors Housing has grown dramatically. In the Nineteenth Century, most seniors were kept in care of their families. The lifespan of people was shorter, and the percentage of seniors in society was smaller. The demand for seniors’ services grew dramatically, and the accommodations increased to fill the demand. Today there is seniors’ accommodations in many smaller communities and the system is a mix of government and private accommodation. But don’t call them Houses of Refuge, times have changed!

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