The Golers are a clan of poor, rural families in Canada, on Nova Scotia's South Mountain, near Wolfville, known for inter-generational poverty and the conviction in the 1980s of a large number of family members for sexual abuse and incest.
The Golers lived together in two shacks in a remote wooded area south of the community of White Rock, outside the town of Wolfville. Like most other mountain clans, they were isolated from most of the residents of the farming district in the Annapolis Valley and most of the nearby towns. The Goler adults, some of whom had intellectual disabilities, had little schooling and rarely worked. The Golers supported themselves on a combination of social welfare and occasional labor at the many nearby farms, supplemented by fishing and foraging for berries and other fruits. The children were generally forced to perform any menial chores (such as preparing food or removing trash). Garbage was simply thrown into the attic, until it was completely filled, and then the adults would make the children haul it all out.
From about 1980, several of the children had attempted to tell outsiders and authorities about the abuse they suffered, but were disbelieved and returned to their family who punished them. In 1984, one of the children, a 14-year-old girl, revealed the details of a long history of torture and abuse (physical, sexual, and psychological), to a school official. According to further details uncovered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, this abuse and forced incestuous relationships had been taking place for multiple generations. As the case was investigated, authorities learned that a number of Goler children were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, cousins, and each other. During interrogation by police, several of the adults openly admitted to, and even boasted about, engaging in many forms of sexual activity, up to and including full intercourse, multiple times with the children. They often went into graphic detail, claiming that the children themselves had initiated the activity.
Trial and aftermath
Eventually, fifteen men and one woman were charged with hundreds of allegations of incest and sexual abuse of children as young as five. Given the detailed confessions by the accused, authorities did not anticipate a trial. However, the accused eventually recanted their confessions and denied any wrongdoing. The case garnered significant attention in the media. The legal system of Kings County, Nova Scotia was strained by the Goler case. There was only one full-time prosecutor who normally handled one or two rape cases per year, alongside a relatively small number of assaults, thefts, disorderly conduct and other crimes.
Thirteen of the accused received jail sentences of one to seven years.
The event brought to the greater attention the inadequate living conditions of many poorer Kings County residents, not only on North Mountain and South Mountain where some 4,000 poor lived, but in the rich farmlands around Kentville where tar paper shacks blighted the landscape. These communities had been shunned by society forcing them to look inwards for support. Authorities had largely ignored them for a century or more, despite documents dating to the 1860s that showed the prevalence of inter-family relationships through high rates of birth defects and mental retardation, although the county's low-income housing society had been working to build 565-square-feet 'hearth homes'.
Due to the sensational nature of the crime, the trial received extensive national coverage. A book entitled On South Mountain: The Dark Secrets of the Goler Clan was written and published in 1998 covering their story in detail. Donna Goler, one of the abused children who was removed from the Goler household when she was 11, has become an outspoken activist for stricter child abuse laws, and for stronger protection of children from convicted child molesters. Donna's testimony was described by both the prosecutor and defense attorneys as the most important evidence presented at trial. A year after the book On South Mountain was published, she began a long fight to revise the Criminal Code, saying that it failed to protect the young relatives of convicted child molesters.
- Cruise, David; Griffiths, Alison (1998). On South Mountain: The Dark Secrets of the Goler Clan. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-87388-8.
- Beltrame, Julian (13 March 1986). "Shame of 'hillbilly' incest forces Nova Scotia county into action". Ottawa Citizen. Southam News. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
- "Abuse victim fights to change law". CBC News. November 13, 1998. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
- "Canada House of Commons Debates", Volume 135, Number 124, 1st Session, 36th Parliament. September 23, 1998