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.
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.
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."
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.
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.