House of Refuge Monument Unveiled

July 25, 2016
By Kassandra Blais

Cornwall, Ontario – Twenty-nine House of Refuge inmates were honoured and their graves finally marked on Saturday, July 23rd during the unveiling of the newly erected stone monument commemorating their lives. Made possible by Cornwall’s Little Historian, Sara Lauzon, and the generous support of the community, the monument ensures that this small piece of Cornwall’s history will never be forgotten.

The inmates, who passed away during their time at Cornwall’s House of Refuge, had never been given a proper burial or grave marker, and Lauzon felt it was important that the community recognize and honour them.

“The ceremony was important to me because I wanted their lives to be celebrated,” said Sara Lauzon. “They had deserved this since day one, and although it happened many years later, I am happy to say they received the ceremony they deserved.”

Lauzon, 26, raised $5, 000 over the course of 11 months to make the monument and ceremony possible. Her fundraising efforts included 15 historic walking tours of the downtown area, holding lectures and presentations for donations, a yard sale and selling House of Refuge Christmas ornaments.

“It was incredible to see so many people allowing these residents to be a part of their holiday,” said Lauzon. “It made me wonder if the residents from the facility ever imagined that their lives would be celebrated in so many ways!”

The ceremony was presided over by local priest and chaplain, Father Claude Hallé and Master of Ceremonies Thom Racine, a retired Sergeant with the Cornwall Community Police Service. Members of the local government were also on hand, and MP Guy Lauzon, MPP Jim McDonnell, and City Councillor Justin Towndale each thanked Lauzon for her dedicated research efforts.

Lauzon, who has been enthralled with Cornwall’s history since the age of sixteen, began researching the House of Refuge and its inhabitants in 2012 upon discovering that the Heartwood Nursing Home at 201 Eleventh Street East was originally built to house the poor, the mentally ill, and the sick.

“It became my personal mission to share their stories with everyone.”

Cornwall’s House of Refuge was built in 1913 to ensure that anyone in the SDG area who needed a roof over their head had access to one. Those who stayed in the House of Refuge were referred to as inmates, not because they were criminals, but simply because that was the term that was used in the early 1900’s to describe someone who dwells with others in the same house.

During its operation in 1913-1952, nearly 1,000 people sought shelter at Cornwall’s House of Refuge. During this time, if a resident passed away during their stay and there were no relatives to claim them, the remains would be buried on site with no ceremony or grave marker. As time passed and redevelopment of the site occurred, 29 remains were found and relocated to the St. Lawrence Valley Cemetery.

With the first monument finally in place, Lauzon has plans for erecting a second monument, to be located at the House of Refuge/Heartwood Nursing Home property. She is also writing her first book on Cornwall’s House of Refuge and its inhabitants.

For more information on Cornwall’s House of Refuge and Lauzon’s other projects, please visit her website:


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