Sunday, June 22, 2008

Poor Farm at Bissett Park

There's an interesting article in today's Chronicle Herald about Bisset Park - which is also a great place to walk the dogs. I have the park on my website - at - it's probably one of the first pages I made on my website back in 1998 when I very first started the "Charlie and Leonard like to play" site that pre-dates the site that's there now.

These photos are taken back when Charlie was probably only about 4 months old. He was so cute back then. He is still just as beautiful today 10 years later.

Giving a voice to the powerless
Archeologist digs into the history of Poor’s Farm

They were poor, powerless and voiceless in life. But the residents of Poor’s Farm are finally having their story told.

Halifax County Poor’s Farm (later called the County Home) in Cole Harbour, was established in 1887 to house the aged, poor and "harmless insane."

People who lived on the working farm cared for livestock and grew produce, which was sold to local citizens.

The "inmates," as they were called at the time, were housed in institutional-style dormitories. They ranged from teenagers to the elderly.

"It would have been people with mental illnesses that they didn’t really understand at the time," archeologist Sarah Kingston said in an interview Saturday at the Poor’s Farm site.

For the last two weekends, Ms. Kingston has returned to the site, in the Cole Harbour Heritage Park on Bissett Road, for a dig intended to uncover more about the history of the people who lived at the farm.

"Not a lot of people know about this park," Ms. Kingston said. "Residents here were so misrepresented, and they’re finally getting a voice. They were just kind of put here . . . but now they’re finally getting their voice. They’re getting their history told."

Anthropology majors and couple of members of the public were on hand for Saturday’s dig.

Ms. Kingston is doing this work in the dormitory areas at the request of the Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association, as part of her master’s thesis at Saint Mary’s University, on public archeology.

"Eventually, they would like to mark out all the footprints of the buildings, the foundations; that’s what we’re after," Ms. Kingston said.

During the dig, participants unearthed everything from foundation walls, windowpanes, roofing material, ceramic pieces, bottle glass, brick fragments, clam shells and animal bone fragments from meals at the home.

"Our initial goals in terms of the research was simply to find their building foundations and map them so that the Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association can just kind of outline them on the surface of the field, in a way that doesn’t obstruct the current landscape, the beautiful views but adds a sense of the history here for the people using it," said Heather MacLeod-Leslie, an adjunct professor of anthropology at Saint Mary’s University, who is supervising Ms. Kingston’s work.

"The type of history that we’re getting from the archeology is one that won’t get necessarily in the historical documentation. Of course, the people who lived here were socially powerless at the time they lived. And socially powerless or less-powerful people become historically voiceless or marginalized in the historical documentation because they’re not the ones writing the records. The only record they leave for us to learn about their lives and the stories is the archeology . . . the most democratic record of the past."

The remains of many of the people who lived here are buried on the east side of the buildings. Last year, Saint Mary’s University anthropology students did archeological field work on the farm site and in the cemetery, where small white crosses and grey rocks mark the graves at the head and foot.

About 300 people reportedly died at the home, and those whose bodies were not claimed by family members were interred on the grounds.

"So this cemetery is a really special place for us to take care of because it’s the people that nobody came back for," Ms. MacLeod-Leslie said. "So they really kind of deserve our care and attention."

The home closed in 1929, when a large portion of the coed dormitories burned down. No one died in the fire, and residents of the home were transferred to the poorhouse in Halifax. At the time of its closing, the facility was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Edward Conrad, who, along with a small staff, cared for 140 people.

Ten years after Poor’s Farm closed, a rehab centre was built across the road; it has served as a location for the popular television show Trailer Park Boys.

Since 1990, there have been three archeological investigations at the Poor’s Farm site.

On July 5 and 6, members of the public are invited to observe or join archeological volunteers as the excavation continues.

The artifacts that are found will be cleaned and then taken to the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History.


  1. Anonymous4:07 PM

    Thanks for this post. I have been doing genealogy research, and this story about Poor's Farm has a connection to my family, but nothing to do with dogs!

  2. Hi there - I'm glad you found this blog post - I know that the poor farm didn't have anything to do with dogs - but it's still a great place to walk dogs at today - and if I hadn't walked my dogs there, then I wouldn't have copied this article to my blog - so it's very serendipidous in the long run - so really dogs have turned out to be your friend too! haha!