the Poorhouse Story

Caption:  County Home, Belleville, Ontario



The following note was submitted by Jacobus [Jim] Whalen who lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Mr. Whalen, as a MA student at the University of New Brunswick in the late 1960s, researched the nineteenth century Poor Laws of the Province of New Brunswick. Since then, he has had several articles published based on his research. At the end of this communication, is a list of the titles of the ones that he feels are the most pertinent to our interests. We are grateful to him for sharing his knowledge with us.  PHL
     "In New Brunswick, the smallest administrative units within the various counties of the province are called "parishes." Overseers in each of these parishes were responsible for looking after their resident poor. They carried out their duties in ways similar to like officials in various parts of the United States. This was especially so in New England where the laws pertaining to the poor were almost the same as New Brunswick. For example, it was customary for parish overseers of the poor to provide outdoor relief to paupers or to contract with persons in the community to care for paupers for a period of one year. Another method was to auction off the keep of the poor to the lowest bidder. It was this latter more infrequently used method of public pauper auctions that attracted the most attention mainly because of the involvement of one George Francis Train. Late in 1887, Train, a flamboyant American moral crusader, was in New Brunswick on business.

     Apparently, he heard that a public pauper auction was about to take place in the Parish of Sussex, Kings County, so he made an arrangement to join the editorial staff of the local Sussex newspaper - the Weekly Record . Train wanted to expose the injustices and abuses suffered under this system that to him differed little from how slaves were treated in the southern United States. His diatribe against public pauper auctions appeared not only in the local Sussex weekly but in newspapers throughout North America. Train carried out his crusade in Sussex for only the first three months of 1888. In fact, things reached such a fever pitch that he was forced out of New Brunswick because of public opposition to his controversial views. Public pauper auctions continued after he returned to the United States but more often than not parish authorities tried to avoid publicity by making private arrangements with residents to care for the poor. Finally, in 1899, Kings County opened a municipal home for its poor and by then about half of the fifteen counties of the Province had an almshouse. Although Train had left the Province long before then, there is no doubt that some of credit for the demise of the celebrated public pauper auctions in New Brunswick was due to the intervention of this eccentric American."

          J M Whalen     e-mail address: 

The titles of some articles by James M Whalen on the Poor Laws in New Brunswick are as follows:

"The Nineteenth Century Almshouse System in Saint John County," Historie Sociale/Social History, April 1971, pp 5-27. (Reprinted as "Institutional Care of Paupers in Saint John City and County, 1784-1900," Social Development Readings in Canada, Open Learning Institute, Richmond, British Columbia)

"Social Welfare in New Brunswick, 1784-1900," Acadensis, Autumn 1972, pp. 54-64

"Poor for Sale" Atlantic Advocate, Sept. 1976, pp. 50-51 (in collaboration with W A Oppen)

the Poorhouse Story


Last resort for the poor: The Almshouse, 1843- 1900 

By James M Whalen

from "The New Brunswick Reader" 
(a Saturday insert to the Telegraph-Journal, Saint John) 
September 14, 2002
copied with permission

This is a wonderfully comprehensive article about the history of the Saint John County  poorhouse.
But it will be of value also to those interested in the history of poor relief throughout Canada.  PHL

the Poorhouse Story

the Poorhouse Story

the Poorhouse Story

of the Saint John City and County Almshouse
 (The New Brunswick Courier, 15 June 1839)

the Poorhouse Story

We are hoping to build this base of information about poorhouses in CANADA through the helpful participation of  readers. All are requested to submit items of interest by sending e-mail to The Poorhouse Lady.

HOME               OTHER STATES

Poorhouse HISTORY CEMETERIES by State RECORDS by State