KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This week the whole country saw how the City of Halifax treats its poorest citizens, the homeless. What is remarkable is that it happened on the grounds of an unmarked graveyard of poor house inmates. The crappy treatment of poor people on this piece of land is historic.
The second poor house in Nova Scotia was erected in 1752 on the ground’s kitty corner to the Halifax Library on the corner of Spring Garden Road and Queen Street. It housed homeless people, sick people and criminals (who were usually criminals because they did something to feed themselves and/or their children).
Vagrants, unwed mothers, people sick with various conditions such as diphtheria, immigrants from other provinces and countries all lived in the Halifax Poor House, often sharing beds and vermin from sheets that had not been cleaned in months.
The ‘harmless insane’ (addicts, those with mental health issues and those with Downs Syndrome) had the “Devil beaten out” of them on these grounds. When they died of disease or despair, their bodies were unceremoniously buried in the grounds where the old library now sits and a statue of Churchill strides over them.
This burial ground – or potters field as it was known then – reaffirmed their status in life. They were poor, therefore, they were unimportant to the officials of the day. The poor house inmates were often buried several at a time without shroud, coffins or markers to note their existence.
Thomas Raddall, well known writer of Nova Scotia history even wrote about this piece of land remarking on how much the area around it tended to stink.
“Their poor house dead were buried hastily in shallow graves in the yard, and for many years there were complaints about the smell which hung over this part of Spring Garden Road.”**Raddall, Thomas Warden of the North Nimbus Publishing 1993 p.55
This week the mayor and councillors of Halifax added to that stink when they sent in the police in full riot gear to evict the homeless residents who were living in temporary housing on that same land with its unmarked graves.
Several times the council has been asked to acknowledge the poor house people buried there. Several times this request has been ignored. This week the City of Halifax added to the history of poor people on this land by violently removing homeless people and assaulting and arresting the people who were trying to help unhoused people keep a place to live in their tents and homes. Halifax mayor Savage the city councillors were all unrepentant about what they had done, again, to poor people on that particular piece of land.
Developers are salivating over that piece of land, the unmarked graveyard of poor people, wanting to build profit-generating condominiums for richer-than-the-rest-of-us-people.
City officials just added to the stink of this land’s history of poor people in Nova Scotia.
Brenda Thompson is the author of A wholesome Horror, Poor Houses in Nova Scotia. ISBN 978-0-9868733-5-5. Available at a few selected bookstores, public libraries, and through the publisher. Her latest book is Finding Fortune, documenting and imagining the life of Rose Fortune. Check out her blog Poor houses in Nova Scotia.
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