The idea of establishing a House of Refuge to care for Bruce’s aged and impoverished was first brought forward at the 1881 December session of County Council. A motion was brought forward by Edward Leslie, representing Kincardine, and William Bradley, representing Greenock, that the County Clerk obtain information as to the costs and maintenance of such a facility. It was motioned the information be received from the newly established House of Refuge in Wellington County. During the same meeting, a motion was forwarded by the two Reeves of Carrick, William Dickison and James Johnston, that each township submit a report stating how much it was costing each of township to support their ages and impoverished. Following these motions, a committee was established to consider the matter and they were in favour of establishing a House of Refuge. However, the project was tabled due to “lack of enthusiasm”.
In 1888, the matter was brought forth again to County Council by Dr. De Whitt Martyn of Kincardine and Dr. W.S. Scott of Southampton. Lieutenant Colonel James Henderson Scott was appointed chair of the committee and continued to work tirelessly towards having the home established, creating in-depth statistics and reports for both ratepayers and County Council. The issue was put forth to Council in 1893, and it was put to a public vote – the citizens of Bruce turned it down.
Again, the issue was put forth to Council in 1897, and again it was put to a public vote early in 1898. This time the citizens of Bruce voted yes to the House of Refuge. Wasting no time, Council advertised for a suitable building location and settled that it should be located outside of Walkerton, Kincardine, Port Elgin or Paisley. Each of these locations were visited by Council, but before a decision was made Council made a trip to Stratford to see the new House of Refuge built by Perth County. They were so impressed they engaged the architect, Harry J. Powell of Stratford to create the plans, including any learned improvements and with the ability to house 125 people.
Walkerton became the site of the House of Refuge by County Council vote. The land selected was 62 acres in area with 50 acres cultivated. The building tender was awarded to Cawsey & Young of Stratford. The cornerstone was laid June 24, 1898 by Lieut. Col. James Henderson, who had worked so tirelessly for the cause. Construction was completed in December of 1899, costing the County $23,166.09. The first “inmates”, as the residents were then called, moved in early January 1900. The first keeper and matron were Mr. and Mrs. Joseph M. White, the first inspector William S. Gould, and the first physician assigned to the house by Council was Dr. George J. Dickison.
Through its time the House of Refuge saw three keepers, or superintendents, Joseph White, John Wiles and Russell Wiles. The land was farmed by Frank Hehn and the residents. They produced much of their own food, and sold produce, grain and hay. The House of Refuge continued to operate until 1961, with the building being removed in 1962, to make way for the new County home, Brucelea Haven, which presently stands on its site.