University student goes online while working on age-old mystery

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Sara Lauzon and a portrait of Judge James O'Reilly.

Are there still bodies buried in unmarked graves beneath a former Cornwall home for those less fortunate?

A university student examing the past at what was once known as the Cornwall House of Refuge says yes - as many as six, and perhaps more.

Sara Lauzon, a self-confessed history nut, is making her bones - pardon the pun - in the world of research and history by delving into the mystery of just how many people were buried at the facility located on Eleventh Street in the city.

"I'm sure there's still people buried at the site," she said in an interview.

Lauzon, who has a website dedicated to her work on local history (, said the House of Refuge was once a place where the "feeble-minded" and unemployed were sent when they had nowhere else to go.

"They went there for shelter," she said. "And then they were just tossed aside.

"I'd realy like to see a plaque, or something there. Just something to commemorate them."

She might get her wish. Lauzon has already been successful at getting a portrait of Judge James O'Reilly put on display in the historic Cornwall Gaol and Courthouse.

On April 23, 1929, O’Reilly opened the court despite feeling ill, and upon suffering a coughing fit retreated to his chambers where he succumbed to an asthma attack, dying in the courtroom at the age of 67.

It was Lauzon's work that resulted in the portrait being hung.

Through her research into the House of Refuge, Lauzon has unearthed information that suggests bodies were exhumed at the property when the facility was expanded in the 1950s and again in the 1990s.

Her website reports that as of November last year she had identified more than 800 people who lived at the House of Refuge. She has fully invesitgated 23 and concludes that of that number, there are the remains of six still buried at the property.

It's this kind of story that keeps Lauzon returning to archival material, history books and other local historians to tell the stories of the past.

"My mom's friend cals me Nancy Drew," she said with a laugh. "A lot of people ask me how I can look at this stuff for so long."

Lauzon is in her third-year at the University of Ottawa studying history, and hopes to one day work in the industry, specifically with archival material.

"This started when I was much younger," she said. "I used to beg my parents to take me to Upper Canada Village all the time."

Lauzon said her website, which was created as a way for family and friends to keep track of her work while away at school, has become a popular stop for people looking for informaiton on local histoy.

"People are actually signing up for my website," she said. "There's some people I've never even heard of."

Organizations: Cornwall House of Refuge

Geographic location: Cornwall, Eleventh Street

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Recent comments

  • Judy Barkley
    March 06, 2013 - 16:39

    Love reading your interesting facts. I was born in 1944 and grew up on a farm west of Aultsville, and lived there until the "seaway project" forced everyone to move. We moved to Williamsburg, where I reside today. Looking forward to more of your research. Good luck in all your endeavours! Judy Barkley.

  • aleria
    February 17, 2013 - 05:36

    True dat. tratamente celulita

  • Linda Lauzon
    February 13, 2013 - 15:54

    Wow Sara! Just Love everything u do and talk about. So Very Proud of U.Keep up the historian in U. Love Mom