In the course of researching Poor Farm, I came across the fascinating story of Ned Beals. He was from nineteenth century Preston, still today one of the largest African-Nova Scotian communities in the province. Although my novel is primarily concerned with the plight of an autistic young man in a poor farm, it does touch on the history of others like Ned Beals, many of whom were unfairly incarcerated in these institutions. Stewart, the main character, and Ned connect through popular songs. Ned is one of the few inmates who genuinely empathizes with Stewart, to the point where Stewart copies him by covering his mouth, an unconscious gesture the historical Ned used to make to cover a deformity there.
The Nova Scotia Archives describes Ned as follows:
Ned Beals (sometimes known as ‘Sky’) was a pedlar and handyman, walking to the city to sell his goods and find odd jobs… Photos of him reflect a kindly and genial nature. Despite, or perhaps in part because of this, he was sometimes treated unkindly. According to J.P. Martin (The Story of Dartmouth, 1957), Beals was on one occasion so cruelly taunted by a street gang that he threw a rock through a plate glass window on Portland Street in hurt and bewildered retaliation.Nova Scotia Archives
The history has it that Ned, despite being tormented in this way, was sent to the Cole Harbour poor farm as a result of breaking the window. With so many parallels to Stewart’s own, the story of Sky had to be part of Poor Farm.