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Poorhouse Project

The Social Innovation Research Group (SIRG) initiated the Poorhouse Project in 2014 out of a desire to commemorate the forgotten stories and lives of the people that lived, stayed and worked in the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge.

poorhouseSandy Hoy, a Faculty Associate of the Manulife Centre for Community Health Research (MCCHR), was living in the Central Frederick neighbourhood where over 150 years ago the construction began for the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge in the town of Berlin (now Kitchener). She wanted to learn more about what brought people to the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge and to get a glimpse into what their lives may have been like over a century ago.

As is still true today, the experience of poverty in the 19th century was shaped by one’s life circumstance and position in society: age, gender, ability, race, immigrant status, physical and mental health, the circumstances of birth family and personal tragedies and calamities. This project sought to better understand and share the lived realities of the people who resided in the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge. Through piecing together stories using archival information, the virtual museum is a "history from below."

With support from the Waterloo Regional Heritage Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), a historical case study of the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge (1869-1950) was undertaken. The project began as a digitization of the archives for the House that are stored at the Region of Waterloo Archives in Kitchener, and eventually expanded into the creation of a virtual museum.

The virtual museum highlights stories and profiles of people that lived and worked in the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge between 1869-1952. It also answers many questions about the residence itself. Acting as a learning tool, the website includes several articles on the intersections of poverty in Ontario in the 19th and early 20th century to provide a social history of its residents. The story of the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge is the story of the roots of social welfare in Ontario and reveals the beginnings of social work practice.

Aligned with our guiding principles, SIRG aimed to honour the memories of residents through a better understanding of their everyday lives, struggles and strengths. Special thanks to the living relatives of people who lived and worked at the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge who have generously contributed information, artifacts and stories. 

This project has been featured in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record on the local CBC 89.1 morning radio show.

Contact Us:

Ginette Lafrenière, SIRG Director

T: 519.884.0710 x5237
Office Location: FSW 310

Rachel Yavnai, Associate Director (Research & Community Projects)

T: 519.884.0710 x5280
Office Location: FSW 206A