Fonds MC249 - Saint John almshouse fonds

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Saint John almshouse fonds

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  • Textual record

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on the contents of the fonds.

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  • 1853-1965 (Creation)
    Saint John almshouse (Saint John, N.B.)

Physical description

5.8 m of textual records and 3 reels of microfilm

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(Established in 1800, ceased operations by 1965)

Administrative history

The first almshouse in Saint John, New Brunswick was established in 1800. A new building was acquired in 1819 and used until 1843. An act to "provide for the erection of an alms house and work house, and to provide a public infirmary for the city and county of Saint John" was passed in 1838. It was paid for by an assessment from the city and the parishes of Saint John, Portland, Lancaster and St. Martin's, and £1000 from the provincial government. In 1841 a site in the parish of Simonds was chosen and the contract awarded to Ewen Cameron and Edward Roche for £3330.

From the beginning, there were problems with the management. The commissioners directly responsible for inspection were appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council but supervised by the county Sessions and later by County Council. It was also included in the jurisdiction of the justices of the peace and the grand jury. The resulting conflicts lead to continual controversy. The first keeper was William Craig who remained until 1850. In 1846 he was tried and acquitted on charges of rape and larceny and his financial dealings were frequently suspect. He was followed by Robert Reed and shortly after, by William Cunningham. Cunningham, who remained for 33 years, was also dogged by rumours of corrupt and incompetent dealings The treatment of the inmates was often bad. All types of people were housed together and treated the same, including the old, children, women, the mentally disturbed and the physically ill.

In 1897 another act was passed in an attempt to improve conditions, but it appears to have been unsuccessful. In 1907 the name was changed to Municipal Home. In 1937 an in-depth investigation by John A. Barry, H.C. Schofield and Neil MacKellar identified such problems as the deterioration of the building, under-use of the farm, improper feeding and clothing, mixing of the able and the sick and conflict of interest by the Commissioners and Superintendent. If conditions improved, it was not for long since in 1949 another investigation by John Chard, Charles MacIlveen and Ernest Patterson revealed similar problems.

By 1957, the Municipal Home had evolved into a chronic care facility but conditions were still deplorable, according to a complaint by E.F. Mullay. In 1960 the Social Assistance Act replaced the Municipal Homes Act and by 1965 the Home had ceased operation.

Custodial history

A part of this fonds was given to the New Brunswick Museum by the Home.

Scope and content

The collection consists of administrative records of the Saint John almshouse, almost all from after 1920. It includes minutes, correspondence, financial records, employment records and records related to the Home as a trustee of the pensioners in its care.

The earlier records include alphabetical admittance registers, 1853-1961; chronologically arranged admittance registers, with remarks about the patient's character and condition, and date and reason for leaving, if any, 1885-1925; register of applications for assistance made to the Almshouse Office at Water Street which gives case history and record of action taken,1901-1921; and alphabetical files on persons admitted to the home between 1900 and 1963, which may include biographical sketches, dates of admittance, major physical disabilities, age, religion, death dates, and sometimes a photograph. There is also material relating to illegitimate children, their mothers and adoption.

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Portions of the fonds were donated to the Provincial Archives by Mrs. Margaret Mosher, of Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1972. The rest was donated and transferred to the Archives by the New Brunswick Museum, in Saint John, on 5 October 1994.


Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Microfilm no. F17072 contains the admittance register, 1843-1850. The original is housed in the New Brunswick Museum Archives and Research Library, Saint John, N.B.

Admittance registers from 1853-1877 are on F24226.
Admittance registers from 1878-1897 are on F24277.

Restrictions on access

Post-1900 records on registrants of the Home and records of illegitimate children and their mothers, are restricted. Written permission of the Provincial Archivist is required for access. Presently (March 2012), the next volume of the Admittance Register, 1882-1912 (MS1/6) is now opened to public viewing. It is not on microfilm.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Finding aids

An inventory is available.

Associated materials

Related records can be found in MC2700 Graeme Somerville collection, RS13, ss 35 of the Provincial Secretary's fonds, and RS156, Muncipality and county of Saint John fonds in the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.

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