Poor House Story

History of the Poor House

The Wellington County Museum and Archives is a National Historic Site, located in the oldest remaining rural House of Industry and Refuge in Canada. Commonly known as the Poor House, this building was built in 1877 as a place for the poor, homeless, and destitute people of Wellington County. Approximately 1,400 men, women, and children sought refuge here from 1877 until 1947. 

Group portrait of Poor House Inmates in front of the stone wash house, circa 1916
Inmates of the Poor House, photographed by Elora photographer John Connon circa 1916. The stone building behind the inmates is the stone wash house, which was demolished in the 1950s. Ph 9276, 9277, 9279.


The Industrial Farm

The Poor House was designed to operate as a self-sufficient industrial farm, with thirty acres under cultivation. Crops like oats, turnips, wheat, hay, potatoes, carrots, peas, and sugar beet mangolds were grown, and an orchard with 100 trees provided apples. Chickens, pigs, and cows provided eggs, meat, and fresh butter, and any surplus was sold in town to offset the cost of purchasing staples like sugar, coffee, and bread. 

An old archival photo showing the original Poor House building, front walkway, barn and tressle bridge railroad
The Poor House and Industrial Farm circa 1908-1912. At this point in time the hospital wing extension (right) is completed, the front lawn is an apple orchard, and the outhouses are located in the small building at the far left, beside the barn. Ph 13402.



At the edge of the property, a cemetery was established for residents of the Poor House who had no family to claim their remains at death. 271 men, women and children were buried here. To learn more about their stories, take a short 6-minute walk on the Museum Trail to the cemetery or visit the House of Industry and Refuge Resident Database.

Large stone gravestone reading "In memory of the pioneers of this  1877 to 1946county who died in wellington home


From Poor House to Present Day

In 1947, the House of Industry was renamed to the Wellington County Home for the Aged, and the term 'inmate' was officially replaced with 'resident.' The Home closed in 1971, and the residents were transferred to a new senior's home in Elora called the Wellington Terrace. In 1975, the building re-opened as the new home of the County Museum.

Our site continues to evolve. A new Archives wing opened in 2010, the Heritage Barn opened as a seasonal public exhibit in 2011, the original 1918 Poultry House was restored in 2020, and a playground was added in 2023.

Agricultural equipment on display inside heritage barn.
Book cover for "If these walls could talk" on display in front of museum

Further Reading

"If These Walls Could Speak: The Story of the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge, 1877-1947", written by author (and past Curator) Susan Dunlop. Pick up a copy in our giftshop!

Frequently Asked Questions

The history of the Poor House is complex and research is ongoing to discover more details about the House and the people who lived there. Although much is known about the site's history, many questions remain. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the Poor House.