ROGERS, WILLIAM HENRY, merchant, civil servant, and inventor; b. 1821 or 1822 in Amherst, N.S., son of David Rogers and Elizabeth Richards; m. 1851 Mary Eliza Page of Amherst, and they had seven daughters, one of whom died in childhood, and four sons; d. there 22 March 1894.
Largely self-educated, William Henry Rogers clerked for a shipping company in Pugwash, N.S., prior to becoming a merchant there and later at nearby Amherst. A merchant for seven years and collector of customs in Pugwash for four, he is also advertised in the Nova Scotia directory of 1864–65 as a “cancer doctor.”
Rogers was a deeply committed Baptist, and for several years he travelled the Maritime provinces as agent for the American Bible Union. Coincident with his religious conviction was support for temperance. He lectured for the British Templars on a fairly frequent basis.
After confederation, and the assumption of fisheries management by the new government in Ottawa, Rogers was appointed inspector of fisheries for Nova Scotia. His perambulations through the province and growing experience made him aware of the incompatibility of dams with the need for fish to move upstream for spawning. He began to consider how such impediments might best be overcome. The results were designs for two fish ladders.
The first, patented in Canada on 20 May 1880 and in the United States on 15 June, was a relatively simple structure. Essentially a long box open at the top and inclined upward towards the dam, it included a baffled passageway that was intended to allow fish to stop and rest in slower moving water. The second design, patented in Canada (only after Rogers had provided a model) on 31 Oct. 1888 and in the United States on 12 July 1887, was a much more complex structure. The first fishway required that the dam be pierced, but in the new design the ladders were incorporated in such a way that they did not interfere with the integrity of the dam structure. This improvement was to be accomplished by the building of canals parallel to the river bed in which water levels could be regulated by a series of gates. Fish were deflected from the dam face by an auxiliary dam. As in the 1880 design baffles were included to provide areas of quiet water. Both designs recognized problems arising out of the conflict between human and natural activity. It is not known whether either of these designs was ever put to the test through construction, but a biographical sketch published in 1881 states that a fishway invented by Rogers “is proving a great success, being in general use in Nova Scotia.”
Rogers was a man of many careers, a person of strongly held opinions, and an individual of some great imagination if not ingenuity and certainly of good character. This last quality may best be observed in a lawsuit he brought over a $40 loan in 1879. Though he lost in court, Rogers determined on publishing a pamphlet entitled Injustice in a county court, or how I was swindled out of forty dollars (Halifax, 1879). His purpose is clearly stated in the document: he intended to ensure “no act of mine will be calculated to bring a blush to the cheek of any of my children.”
Rogers died in Amherst in 1894 at the age of 72. His penchant for public service, debate, and general inquisitiveness may well have been inherited by his grandson, Norman McLeod Rogers*, who served in the cabinet of William Lyon Mackenzie King* and died tragically in an air crash during the Second World War.
Can., Dept. of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Patent Office (Hull, Que.), Patent nos.26501, 47426. NA, RG 31, C1, 1871, Amherst, division 2: 35–36 (mfm. at PANS). Canadian biog. dict. N.S. directory, 1864–65: 301.