Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gordon Gilbert Henry Wagner

Not many can boast of a series of lakes being named after a family member but my wife, Ellen, is one who can do just that for Wagner Lakes, located near Mount Drabble in the Comox District of Vancouver Island, British Columbia are named in honour of her Uncle Gordon Wagner (pictured left).

Gordon was born on June 15, 1914 in Redcliff, Alberta. Although some biographical information lists his place of birth as Markinch, Saskatchewan, Gordon listed his birth place as Alberta while acknowledging he spent many years growing up in Markinch, attending elementary and high school there before graduating from the University of Saskatchewan in 1938. Following university, Gordon accepted work in the nickel mines of Sudbury, Ontario but with the outbreak of World War 2, Gordon left the mines to join the Royal Canadian Air Force in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before 'shipping out' in 1941, Gordon married Ivy Madelaine Harvey. Following the war, Gordon returned to Canada where he and Ivy settled into life on Vancouver Island where Gordon became well known as a land surveyor.

Gordon retired in 1980, a lifetime member of the BC Land Surveyors society where Gordon was registered as member number 314. In 1976, his son, Gordon Keith Wagner would also become a member of the society, number 547. Sadly, Gordon's son, known by his middle name of Keith, passed away in 1978 two days before his 36th birthday of cancer. In 1979, Gordon and Ivy established the Keith Wagner Memorial Bursary for eligible Comox Valley second year Geomatics Technology students at the BC IT Foundation.

Following his retirement from land surveying, Gordon pursued his interest in history, particularly family history! I'm fortunate to have a copy of the work that he completed, tracing his Wagner and Faulkner ancestors. His genealogical work is remarkable given that he completed it without the modern aids of computers, specialized software and on-line databases. The pre-computer and pre-Internet days of genealogy that I began my research in, and in which Gordon completed his, did not provide instant access to records. Rather, forms were completed and mailed to government departments and repositories, information was kept on hand written forms and charts - an often very long process that required patience (something I don't think I ever quite fully developed). In 1990 and 1991, Gordon donated much of the original family history source materials he had gather to the University of Waterloo in Ontario. The University of Waterloo was chosen due to its proximity to the location of the original 1840's Wagner family settlement. The documents collected and donated by Gordon continue to remain available to researchers through the university's special collections area.

Gordon dabbled in art, both painting himself and collecting the works of other local artists. He became an author, first self-publishing "From My Window," a collection of short stories and poetry. He explained to BC Bookworld magazine in 1988, "I sent my manuscript to four or five publishers and everyone wanted me to delay. Well, when you're 73, you can't wait around." His book was a success, requiring three printing and making the BC Bestsellers List. A second book followed, this time a memoir entitled, "How Papa Won The War."

Gordon passed away on October 14th, 1994 following which local Comox Valley societies petitioned to have the lakes located near Mount Drabble named in honour of his contributions toward preserving the Valley's heritage. On April 4, 1997 Wagner Lakes was officially named by the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks.


  1. Very Nice Ian, Our Family Much Appriciates your Appriciation of Gordons Hard Work. He truely was dedicated in his efforts as I witnessed on my weekly visits to his office as a teenager to see what "progress" he had made. Truley a amazing man and "Papa"
    Thank you so much for this lovely Site.
    Kathy Wagner (Keiths daughter) Gordons Grand Daughter.

  2. Hello - I am a historical researcher - came across this WW2 Pocket Guide to Hindustani - it is signed on the flyleaf 'F/O [Flying Officer] Gordon Wagner, 229 Group, RAF India'. I couldn't resist doing a little research, and was wondering if this is the same Gordon Wagner that is in your family history.

    Regards - Don Wagner, Soldiers Museum - my email is info at soldiersmuseum dot com.

  3. Yes, That would have been him, He was posted in India, as a navagational officer in the airforce. He was hospitalized for some time with a serious case of Malaria. My grandmother had told me he arrived home scarcely thinner than he had left, he was reported as weighing as low as 98 pounds while in hospital.Very thin for a man of 6ft 2inches.

    1. I am his first born granddaughter Jacqueline Rae Burgess born to Raymund Burgess & Shirley Wagner. Thanks for your post

    2. Yes that's our Papa!