Managing the Poor

In the middle of the 19th Century, local communities throughout the Maritimes were responsible for their needy. If an individual or family was too poor to live properly, the Overseers of the Poor were charged with finding a solution, whether it meant shutting them up in a “Poor House” (a workhouse for the needy) or removing the children to be placed as domestic servants in families that were better off. Sometimes the poor were given a little financial assistance, but generally their own relations were expected to take care of them without resorting to the help of the Overseers. In New Brunswick, the most indigent could also be sold at auction to the highest bidder: the person or family asking the least to house and employ them won the contract for a year with the Overseers of the Poor. The indigent person had to work for the winner of the contract, with severe penalties for running away or disobeying. In the case of the “transient poor”, needy strangers without relations in the area, the law did not hold communities responsible for their care. Instead, provincial governments set aside funds that were used to reimburse what communities paid for the care of such strangers.

Government Documents