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Another mystery for Cornwall's 'Little historian'

Published on September 4, 2014
Sara Lauzon works on some records concerning another mystery of long lost Cornwall residents of the House of Refuge.

CORNWALL, Ontario - On what was arguably a bright spring day 100 years ago a woman from Brockville entered the Cornwall House of Refuge and began what remains a mystery to this day.

The woman was single mother Theresa Rice, formerly a resident of the Brockville Asylum, who brought with her a two-month old child Hazel.

In just over a year Hazel was adopted, by local couple John and Elizabeth Hollister.

What ultimately happened to both the baby, and her biological mother, has fallen into mystery and local historian Sara Lauzon wants to find out.

Lauzon has made a passion out of diving into the mysteries of Cornwall's House of Refuge, a place where the mentally ill and physically disabled called home - sometimes for their entire lives.

Lauzon said telling the stories of these people, who are often left in the shadows while the spotlight shines on more popular politicians, athletes and philanthropists, has become an all-consuming joy.

"As depressing as it is, it is still Cornwall's history," she said. "These are the people who defined the 20th Century best."

Hazel Hollister was adopted on March 15, 1915, less than a year after she and her biological mother Theresa Rice appeared at the House of Refuge on what is now Eleventh Street in Cornwall.

Lauzon said information she has uncovered indicates Theresa spent the next 30 years at the house, but the record becomes murky after that.

"I don't know if she spent her whole life there, or was transferred to the Glen-Stor-Dun Lodge when (the House of Refuge) was closed. I can't find anything, which is rare."

As for Hazel, Lauzon has been able to uncover records out of Brockville that suggest a woman with the same name was on the voters list in 1957, 1972 and 1974 and worked as a secretary and stenographer.

Is it the same Hazel who was adopted in Cornwall in 1915? Lauzon doesn't know for sure.

"I can assume she's the same person...but I don't like to assume," she said.

Lauzon is hoping members of the public, or perhaps distant relatives, will have some answers. She can be contacted at littlehistorian@live.ca.

Lauzon is fresh of solving the mystery of Sarah “Mina” Empey, another Cornwall woman who was a resident of the House of Refuge.