Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge National Historic Site of Canada

Fergus, Ontario
Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge National Historic Site of Canada, ca. 1910. (© Wellington County Archives/Archives de Wellington County, ca. 1910.)
Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge
(© Wellington County Archives/Archives de Wellington County, ca. 1910.)
Address : 536 County Road 18, Fergus, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1995-11-24
Dates:
  • 1876 to 1877 (Construction)
  • 1876 to 1971 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Wellington County Council  (Organization)
  • Victor Stewart  (Architect)
  • John Taylor  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge  (Designation Name)
Research Report Number: 1995-045

Plaque(s)


Existing plaque: plaque on terrace at front of building 536 County Road 18, Fergus, Ontario

This is the earliest surviving example of an important 19th-century institution, the government-supported poorhouse. Erected in 1877, it was a shelter of last resort for the homeless and destitute, trading spartan accommodations for domestic or agricultural labour. With changing attitudes and the introduction of alternative forms of social assistance, its function shifted to the care of the elderly and infirm, and additions were built to respond to their special needs. Closed in 1971, this building and its history illustrate the Victorian roots of the 20th-century social security system in Canada.

Description of Historic Place

Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge National Historic Site of Canada is a former working farm dominated by a larger, two-storey Italianate-style stone building standing high on a hill. It is located beside the Grand River in the former hamlet of Aboyne between Elora and Fergus in southwestern Ontario. For almost a century, this was the county poorhouse: today it is the county museum and archives. The official recognition refers to the cultural landscape including the farmlands, barn and outbuildings and the residential building.

Heritage Value

Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge was designated a national historic site in 1995: as the oldest identified example of a state-supported poorhouse or alms house; and as an important 19th-century social institution, it provides an excellent illustration of the origins of the important 20th-century theme, state involvement in social policy.

The heritage value of the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge resides in its representation of the state supported poorhouse as illustrated by the cultural landscape of a working farm dominated by a large residential building.

The Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge was built in 1876-1877 as the shelter of last resort for the homeless and destitute in Wellington County. Its original inhabitants traded their domestic or agricultural labour for spartan living accommodations. In later years it became a home for the elderly and infirm. Designed by Guelph architect Victor Stewart, the building was modified over the years, acquiring an entry porch in 1907, and rear additions in 1892-93 and 1954-55.

Throughout its history, the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge operated as a working farm. Its grounds contain a barn, built by Elora architect John Taylor in 1877, with a silo attached in 1914, an 1888 driveshed and shed, 1927 front gates, a 1947 boilerhouse, fields and pastures, and a cemetery (1888-1946). The institution closed in 1971 and the main building was rehabilitated as the Wellington county Archives and Museum in 1987-88. Part of the farm survives in agricultural production.

Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1995.

Character-Defining Elements

Key features contributing to the heritage value of this site include: the integrity of the cultural landscape as a working farm dominated by a large institutional building; the siting of the residential building on a rise overlooking the farmlands; the grouping of farm buildings to one side of the residential building; the location of the graveyard in the far northeastern corner of the property; the integrity of circulation and access patterns within buildings, between and among buildings, between and among buildings and agricultural landscape features; the presence of a formal entrance with a main gate and treed entrance drive; the integrity of the form and materials of the entrance gate.

The House of Industry (residential building) the L-shaped footprint of the residential building predating the archives addition; the two-storey, Italianate-style original residential building standing high on a raised basement with projecting central frontispiece capped by a belfry, projecting end pavilions, tall segmentally headed windows, and heavily bracketed eaves; its masonry construction; the sympathetic form and massing of the 1890s east addition; surviving evidence of the interior layout as institutional residence and hospital; surviving materials and finishes in major public spaces.

The Barn its rectangular massing and footprint; its timber-frame construction and vertical board sheathing; its design as a dairy and hay barn with sloped ramp access to sliding doors on one side and high stone foundation on the opposite side; its interior layout with housing for cows at lower level, root cellars at the south end, and hay storage above; its attached silo.

The Driveshed its rectangular footprint and massing under a pitched roof with shed-roofed shelter along one side; its wood construction and rough board sheathing; its large doors for vehicular entry.

The Storage Shed its rectangular footprint and massing under a pitched roof; its wood construction and board sheathing; its large door at the gable end.