WAGNER, WILLIAM (Wilhelm), land surveyor, immigration agent, author, farmer, jp, politician, and office holder; b. 13 Sept. 1820 in Grabowo (Grabowo nad Prosna, Poland), son of Ernst Wagner; m. 6 Aug. 1859 Adelheid Fenner, and they had at least two children; d. 25 Feb. 1901 in Winnipeg.
William Wagner’s father was a judge in the city-province of Posen (Poznan), in Prussian Poland, and his grandfather had been a major-general of engineers in the Prussian army who distinguished himself during the Napoleonic Wars. Wagner studied engineering and architecture at the universities of Breslau (Wroclaw, Poland), Posen, and Berlin, and graduated in 1847. He supported the revolutionaries of 1848 and took part in fighting at Xions (Książ Wielkopolski), a small town south of Posen. He was taken prisoner, but managed to escape and immigrated to the United States. In 1850 he came to the Canadas and settled in Ottawa. Seven years later, on 7 April, he was certified as a land surveyor in Lower Canada. The following year he was certified for Upper Canada.
In 1859 Wagner returned to Europe, married a native of Ossowa (Poland), and successfully passed examinations as a land surveyor. Back in Upper Canada, he pointed out to the provincial government the possibility of inducing large numbers of Germans to immigrate to the Canadas. In 1860 he was appointed immigration commissioner and sent to Germany, where he stayed until 1863 promoting immigration to the Canadas. He would remain interested in the cause for many years. Settling in Montreal on his return to North America, he resumed the profession of surveyor. He became a member of the German Society of Montreal, a benevolent organization, and in 1867 was elected its president, an office he held until 1870. The following year he was sent to the new province of Manitoba as a government land surveyor charged with surveying several townships between Winnipeg and Rat Creek. His account of the journey from Toronto, the first work written in German on Manitoba, was published in the Berliner Journal of Berlin (Kitchener), Ont., and was issued as a pamphlet, Einwanderung nach Manitoba, by the German Society of Montreal in 1872. It provides an accurate report of travel conditions at the time and is accompanied by advice for travellers and immigrants. It also contains reliable descriptions of Manitoba, its population, settlements, legal and social institutions, history, economy, climate, and natural resources. Above all the account presents a far more positive estimate of Manitoba’s potential than that put forward by certain government officials who considered the prairie province good for hunting and trapping but unsuitable for agriculture and colonization. His report of the journey was also issued as a pamphlet with the financial support of the Canadian government for distribution in Germany. It was dedicated to the German Society of Montreal to further its project of establishing a German settlement in Manitoba, a project which eventually failed since the society could not attract a sufficient number of immigrants to the township chosen by Wagner and set aside by the Department of Agriculture. Wagner was the author of several other booklets on Canada intended for German immigrants.
Wagner decided to remain in Manitoba and took up 1,000 acres of land at Ossowa, a village founded by him some miles north of Poplar Point and named after his wife’s birthplace. He was promoter of dairy farming in the west, and as president of the Manitoba Dairy Association was in great measure responsible for improvements made in the manufacture of butter and cheese. He was named a justice of the peace and appointed to the board of examiners for provincial land surveyors. A member of the Conservative party, he represented Woodlands in the Legislative Assembly from 1883 to 1886. After his defeat in the elections of 1886 he was appointed swamp lands commissioner, a federal position he would hold until the Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier* came into power in 1896. Hugh John Macdonald*, premier of Manitoba in 1900, appointed Wagner assistant sergeant-at-arms for his loyalty to the Conservative cause and for the services he had rendered to the province. Wagner died early in 1901 at his residence on College Avenue, Winnipeg. The funeral was held under the auspices of the masonic lodge, of which he had been a prominent member.
William Wagner is the author of Anleitung für Diejenigen, welche sich in Canada and besonders am Ottawa-Flusse (Canada-West) niederlassen wollen (Berlin, 1861; repr. 1862); Canada, ein Land für deutsche Auswanderung (Berlin, 1861); Das Petroleum, aus Canada bezogen, in seinem Werthe für Deutschland (Berlin, 1863); “Der Nordwesten von Canada, eine geographisch-historische Skizze des grossen Weizenlandes von Nord-Amerika,” Mitteilungen des Vereins für Erdkunde zu Leipzig (Leipzig, Germany, 1883), 115–44; and Einwanderung nach Manitoba ([Montreal?, 1872]), repr., intro. K. R. Gürttler, as “Das Manitoba-Siedlungsprojekt der Deutschen Gesellschaft zu Montreal,” German-Canadian yearbook (Toronto), 10 (1988): 33–71.
Man., Legislative Library (Winnipeg), Vert. file, William Wagner. NA, RG 17, A I 67, 69, 72–73, 75, 79; RG 68, General index, 1841–67. PAM, MG 12, A; B 1; RG 17, C1, 523, 539; RG 18, A2. Manitoba Morning Free Press, 26 Feb. 1901. Winnipeg Telegram, 28 Feb. 1901. Can., House of Commons, Journals, 1875, app.4: 4.