Young Louis Henry Wagner



Louis Henry Wagner began a diary, really a set of what turned out to be four leather-bound diaries, when he was 15 years old. The diaries document some of the milestones, good and bad, that occurred in his life. The diaries are important records of the events in the Wagner and Breithaupt families during the latter half of the 19th century as well as providing an interesting perspective on the life of a young man living in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, Canada during that pre-cable television, pre-video game era.



Louis began his diaries on December 15, 1872. His accounts of life at that time are filled with church services that were clearly at the centre of the family’s life, completing a range of chores and errands like “fetching” hides for the Breithaupt’s Eagle Tannery or loads of hen dung for use as fertilizer, and fishing with his cousins. Christmas 1872 is described as a time of for church services in the morning and the evening. In between, the family “had a splendid turkey for dinner.” Louis received a ‘cravat’ from his mother Margaret (Hailer) Bean (previously Wagner) and her sister “Aunt [Catherine (nee Hailer)] Breithaupt (pictured above right in 1907).” In addition, he received 25 cents from “Grandmother Breithaupt” [Barbara Catharina Goetze].


Louis was born in Grove, New York, USA in 1857. When he was only one year old, his father Jacob died, just a couple of months after moving the family to Berlin, Ontario. Louis’ mother, Margaret re-married in 1862, shortly after Louis’ fifth birthday. Interestingly, among all of his recording of the family member visits to his home and trips being taken by family members to neighbouring towns and villages to visit relatives, Louis always refers to his mother’s second husband, Daniel Bean, as “Mr. Bean” and never references him as his step-father. While I can’t assume that there were any problems between Louis and Daniel Bean, the references don’t suggest to me a close relationship.


By the time Louis had begun his diaries he was living with the Breithaupt family, his Uncle Louis Breithaupt and Aunt Catherine along with their children, Louis’ cousins. It is clear from many of Louis’ early diary entries that he felt a particular affection for his Aunt Breithaupt. In early December 1872, Aunt Breithaupt gave birth to her ninth child, Catherina Louise ‘Katie’ Breithaupt. Aunt Breithaupt, as Louis consistently referred to her as, experienced a tough time recovering from the childbirth. As Louis described in his January 2, 1873 entry, “I had to go along to Preston with the teams to fetch hides today. Aunt Breithaupt was very weak this evening. Johnny [cousin John Christian Breithaupt] and I had to go and fetch Doctor Bowlby. We brought Aunt Brehler [referring to Harriet Brehler (nee Hailer)] along out. When we came home Aunt Breithaupt had given them all a farewell in this world, she thought she had to die, but she got better again.”


In addition to describing the gradual recovery to good health of Aunt Breithaupt, Louis left behind a record of weather reports for his southern Ontario town and a unique glimpse into teenage life during a time long past.

The Town of Berlin Becomes Kitchener



Today, August 23rd, marks the ninety-fourth anniversary of the Ontario cabinet’s ‘order-in-council’ that officially changed the name of the town of Berlin to Kitchener. The name change became effective as of September 1, 1917. In recognition of this historic and then controversial decision, I am re-sharing a post from the past about the views and involvement of some of my wife Ellen’s family’s involvement in the controversy.

When the Wagners and their cousins, the Breithaupts, settled in what was originally Canada West, now the province of Ontario, Canada, they chose to live, naturally enough, in the predominantly German settlement of Waterloo County, specifically in the town of Berlin. Jacob Wagner and Louis Breithaupt married Mary and Catherine Hailer, respectively, who were the daughters of the first German settler in the region, Jacob John Hailer. The area also featured a large Mennonite community that had immigrated from Pennsylvania.
With the outbreak of World War 1, however, things changed quickly as the German heritage became the focus a growing enmity lead by non-German residents. A bust of Kaiser Wilhelm II went missing twice from Victoria Park in the centre of the town and then disappeared for good. Recruitment for the local battalion was seen as being too slow, perceived as a symptom of an unpatriotic community heritage.
In 1916, a movement began to rename the town and although it did not have popular support, names were put forward to be decided upon through a referendum. Those in favour of the name change argued that maintaining the name of Berlin was unpatriotic and bad for business. Those in favour of keeping the name pointed to the bustling manufacturing sector unharmed by the town name and argued that the time was not right to be spending time on a name change debate when raising recruits and funds for the war effort should be the focus of attention.
The opinion of the Breithaupt family, as prominent citizens of the town, was considered to be of importance. The Breithaupts opposed the name change and suffered attempts at intimidation as a result. On May 12, 1916, about a week before the scheduled referendum, W. H. Breithaupt (pictured above right), then president of the Berlin and Northern Railway, had his home vandalised by “men in uniform” who cut his telephone line and rang his front door bell repeatedly before slipping a threatening note under in front door “stating what would happen if he did not support the change of name bylaw.”
On May 19th, 1916 only 892 citizens out of about 15,000 cast their votes. W. H. Breithaupt the following day lamented in a letter, “We had a citizens vote yesterday on the question of changing the name of our city, a name it has had for nearly a hundred years, and I regret to say that those who want to change won by a small majority. No new name is as yet selected.” The name was subsequently changed to Kitchener in honour of Lord Kitchener, Britain’s Minister of War who died when his ship hit a mine and sank off the Orkney Islands.
The Breithaupts remained a family of prominence in the newly named city and today a city park and neighbourhood bears their name.

The Diaries of Louis Henry Wagner



While on vacation during the past week, I had the opportunity to intersperse visits with family members in various Ontario, Canada cities with genealogy pursuits. I finally donated the Henry Erskine manuscript to the University of Guelph’s Centre for Scottish Studies and the professors at the university seemed genuinely thrilled to receive it.

I was also able to visit the Special Collections section of the Dana Porter Library at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. The library holds about 125 linear feet of original family documents connected with my wife Ellen’s paternal ancestral family. In my two visits thus far, I think I have managed to go through only about one foot!

My goal on this visit, that I successfully completed, was to scan (the Special Collections section offers a great free scanning service) the four personal diaries kept by Ellen’s great grandfather, Louis Henry Wagner (pictured to the right). These old, leather bound diaries contain Louis’ descriptions of his activities and the activities of the family covering the period December 15, 1872 until November 30, 1891. They offer not only a great insight into the Wagner family but also into life in southern Ontario during that timeframe. I can only wish that my ancestors had left such great documentation for me!

Of the many entries that I will share over time, the following caught my attention as it is Louis’ thoughts and recollections on the christening day activities for his son, and eldest child, Ellen’s grandfather, Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner. The entry is dated:

Saturday, January 1st, 1887

This morning finds us up in good time preparing for the christening of our dear little boy Louis Jacob Gordon.

We had quite a time getting a name for him. The first one selected was Jacob after his two grandfathers and three great grandfathers. The former – Jacob Wagner and Jacob Staebler and the three latter, Jacob J. Hailer, Jacob Staebler and Jacob Muerner. The second was Gordon after the English General Charles George Gordon, commonly called ‘Chinese Gordon,’ also ‘The Hero of Khartoum,’ a pious Christian soldier. The third we selected was Louis, after my Uncle and foster parent from my 13th year, Louis Breithaupt who died July 3rd, 1880.

Having the full name of my cousin Louis Jacob Breithaupt, he with his wife Emma kindly consented to be his Godparents. Rev. Father Wm. Schmidt who performed the sacred rite was the first to arrive – about 10:40 a.m. and very soon the old homestead erected by Grandfather Hailer over 50 years ago and now occupied by my mother, was filled with the pleasant faces of old and new relatives.

There were present beside ourselves and Mother’s family consisting in herself, Alma, Wesley, Samuel and Eusebius, Aunt Breithaupt, Albert, Melvina, Caroline, John, William, Louis and family of 3 children, Louisa Hailer and child Erna, A. B. Augustine (Carrie’s betrothed), Julius Knauf, Father and Mother Staebler, Ike K. Devitt with Annie and 2 children.

At 12:00 all was ready and we handed our boy to Louis and Emma and Father Schmidt preformed that beautiful and solemn ceremony baptizing in the name of “The Father, Son and Holy Ghost” in the German language. (Father S. also married my mother and two aunts). This was the first baptism in this old home, which was built by Grandpa Hailer about 1830.

Our charge is now publicly consecrated to God. May he grow up in the fear of the Lord, an honor to his Maker, a blessing to the world and a joy to his parents. May we train him up in the nature and admonition of the Lord! Amen – Amen.

The table set in the parlor was now surrounded and very soon all were busily engaged in supplying the physical wants of the body. We got two turkeys, one 18 pounds and the other about 8 pounds so there was enough and to spare. Immediately after dinner John took Will to Galt where he took the train for Kansas City and Albert B. Augustine also left about 3:00 p.m.

Mother was quite pleased that we had the christening at her house and everyone secured happy. In the evening we went out to Aunty’s and next morning I left for my appointment to Strasburg and Hespeler leaving Mary and the baby to remain a few days longer in Berlin.”

Prosperity Did Not Always Bring Happiness

I have written a number of posts about my wife Ellen’s cousins in the Breithaupt family. Phillip Ludwig ‘Louis’ Breithaupt had immigrated to Buffalo, New York as a teenager with his father Liborius in 1844 where the elder Breithaupt established a tannery business. Phillip Ludwig learned the tanning business from his father and would often make trips through Upper Canada (now Ontario, Canada) and the U.S. mid-west to purchase hides for leather manufacturing.

One of Phillip Ludwig’s close friends in Buffalo was an Evangelical Association minister named Jacob Wagner, Ellen’s second great grandfather, who was married to Margaret Hailer. In 1851, when Liborius died, it was Rev. Wagner who officiated at his funeral. Eventually, Jacob would introduce Louis Breithaupt (he had dropped the Phillip and anglicized the Ludwig apparently to carry on the family business of L. Breithaupt) to the Hailer family in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario. In 1853, Louis married Catherine Hailer, thus making he and his friend Jacob brothers-in-law. In late 1861, Louis left his Buffalo, New York business and established Breithaupt Leather Goods in Berlin.

Although Louis was successful in building his Berlin tannery into a thriving business, twice the tannery burned to the ground, once in 1867 and again in 1870. The adversity slowed Louis down but he carried on and re-built.


Louis and Catherine had ten children, the first three born in the U.S. and the remaining seven born in Berlin, Ontario. Their seventh child and fifth son was Daniel Edward Breithaupt (pictured above), born in 1868. By all accounts, Daniel was a normal, healthy three year-old. On July 9th, 1871 Daniel attended a Sunday School outing in a small area near the Breithaupt tannery that was in the process of being re-built. When it began to rain, the group of children took shelter on the main floor of the tannery building. Unfortunately, the floor collapsed beneath them, plunging the group into the vats below. Although there were very few injuries, little Daniel drowned. Following his son’s death, Louis wrote in the family bible, “Gott schenke mir und uns allen die Gnade ihm Himmel einst wieder zu sehen,” loosely translated as ‘God grant me the grace and all of us to see him again in heaven.’


Their sixth child, and fourth son, Esra Carl Breithaupt was born in 1866 and although never physically considered to be robust, Carl, as he preferred to be called, was a capable student who graduated with a science degree from North-Western College in Naperville, Illinois in 1887. In 1892, Carl graduated as an Electrical Engineer from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Returning home, Carl (pictured above) transformed the horse powered Berlin and Waterloo railway to an electric railway. He also purchased a substantial stake in the railway company, becoming president and manager of the company. Carl was also a member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, where he joined the likes of Thomas A. Edison and Alexander Graham Bell in an association formed in 1884 “to promote the Arts and Sciences connected with the production and utilization of electricity and the welfare of those employed in these Industries: by means of social intercourse, the reading and discussion of professional papers and the circulation by means of publication among members and associates of information thus obtained.” Carl also held the position of Vice-President of the Canadian Electrical Association, formed in 1891.

During the evening of January 26, 1897, Carl was at the electric works when an explosion occurred. Early in the morning of the following day, Carl succumbed to his injuries.

A prosperous family was left to grieve.