The Goler Clan Spent Years In Their Isolated, Inbred Town - Until The Cops Showed Up

In 1984, a rural community in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, Canada, made headlines when stories of inbreeding came to light. The Goler family, who had been practicing intra-family marriages for generations, was at the heart of it all. From the Blue Fugates of Kentucky to the Habsburg dynasty, cases of inbreeding have fascinated the public for ages. 

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police charged the Goler clan with approximately 137 counts of incest and abuse, and over a dozen family members went to prison. But what the public quickly discovered was that more than punishment, the Golers needed help after enduring generations of extreme poverty and social prejudice.

  • A 14-Year-Old Girl Exposed The Goler Family's Forced Inbreeding

    In 1984, a 14-year-old member of the South Mountain Goler family broke down in tears at school. When the teacher asked why, she explained that her father had regularly forced intimate relations with her 10 to 15 times per month. The allegation shocked the small Nova Scotia community.

    An investigation revealed that sexual abuse occurred within the Goler clan for generations. Authorities charged 13 Goler adults with over 100 counts, including incest and assault, and many of the cases involved minors from 6 to 14.

  • The Charges Included Child Prostitution

    After over a dozen arrests, the community referred to the Golers as a “hillbilly sex ring.” Donna Goler, a member of the family, vocalized her experience in the hope that her story will prevent other children from being severely mistreated:

    The first time I can remember I was five, just going on six, because I had just graduated from Kindergarten going into grade one […] I came home and that was the first time I had been raped and it was by my father.

    [I]f somebody wanted to have sex with one of his kids he would let them for a case of beer or a carton of cigarettes, or even a pack of cigarettes [...] They got to pick out whichever child they wanted to have sex with. We had nothing to say, we couldn't prevent it, we couldn't stop them. We were basically lined up against the wall and they chose the one they wanted and we were forced to do it.

    Local authorities charged three adult women with incest and sexual assault, including Wanda Wiston. The prosecution convicted Wiston, an in-law from a common-law marriage, of having intercourse with four boys and four girls, all minors. One prosecutor said, "It was just like something out of the movie Deliverance."

  • The Inter-Family Relations Had Gone On For About A Century

    Investigators determined the latest generations of the Goler clan inherited a century's worth of compromised genetics. While the isolation of the families on South Mountain is not new, evidence dates the inbreeding back approximately 100 years. 

    In a 1986 interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Acadia University sociologist Jim Sacouman maintained during the trial how "[m]anuscripts dating back to 1860 showed inter-family relations were prevalent." Sacouman also noted that officials and political leaders should have noticed the mountain clan's inbreeding and genetic disorders long before the Goler family made headlines.

  • People Were Beginning To Notice Their Genetic Abnormalities

    Reportedly, people in Kentville long suspected the families on South Mountain were inbreeding, but no one intervened. Despite the assistance families received after the trials, isolation and genetic problems persisted into the 21st century. Professor of human geography James Boxall lived in Kentville in the mid-2000s and made observations about the rate of people with developmental and physical disabilities in the area:

    You'd notice [the high rate of disabilities] at Christmastime, because everybody would be around shopping at Christmas. I just went around and I went, ‘Oh my god.’ I remember saying to my friend, ‘Do you notice this?’ and she said, ‘Oh yeah, it's when they come down off the mountain for Christmas shopping.’

    Boxall was surprised to hear the issue put so bluntly, but for him, it was confirmation that people in town knew of the South Mountain families' plights.

  • Several Of The Golers Didn't Understand What Was Wrong With Their Actions

    A Canadian news station interviewed one of the Goler family members, a 57-year-old man who doctors labeled mentally disabled. He had just been released from prison after four months behind bars and was confused about his incarceration. He insisted to the reporter that he didn't know what he had done wrong; he was just living life as he always had.

    Reportedly, one family member didn't even know what the word "incest" meant. The defense lawyers were challenged in defending the Goler family since many of them had already made incriminating statements to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) before the trial. The family was unfamiliar with the legal system in a culture from which they had been almost entirely isolated.

  • The Golers Were Living In Primitive Conditions

    The Goler family lived in tar paper shacks. The buildings were falling apart, and they had no running water, which meant the family had no access to showers or toilets. In the 1940s, the houses were so crowded that many children shared mattresses on the floor. Most of the children the Royal Canadian Mounted Police rescued in 1984 were living in similar conditions.

    David Cruise and Alison Griffiths have written numerous nonfiction books regarding Canadian history. The duo authored the 1997 book On South Mountain: The Dark Secrets of the Goler Clan. The book details the severe poverty in which the Golers lived as well as how limited access to education, resources, and society factored into the generations of abuse.