Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Canadian Senator in the Family

It's a frequently offered piece of advice, one that I have offered to both experienced and inexperienced genealogists as a lesson learned over the years - go back and re-check your records for nuggets of information you may have initially overlooked. If only I could remember to follow the advice I offer! Oh well, better late than never!

As the result of a recent cemetery trip, I decided to go back and review the pedigree charts and family group sheets left by Gordon Wagner, Ellen's uncle, that contain the information resulting from his family history research. I was looking for a particular family name but in reviewing Gordon's notes, I noticed that beside the name of one of Ellen's second great grandmothers, Anna Muerner, Gordon had penciled in "(sister of Senator Muerner)." I had never heard of Senator Muerner and, in fact, because I had not yet pursued Anna's family, I wasn't aware that she had any siblings.

I checked the Canadian Parliament web site's listing of past Members of Parliament and the Senate and it indicated that there were no Muerners. I did however find a short Wikipedia biography of "the Honourable Samuel Merner" (pictured above right in a photo from the Parliamentary library taken in 1898). Using the more 'anglicized' Merner spelling, I found the Parliament biography for Ellen's second great granduncle, 'Honest Sam' (as he was apparently called) Merner.

A blacksmith by trade, Samuel Merner established a successful wagon and carriage manufacturing business in the village of New Hamburg, Ontario. Prosperity in business lead Samuel into leadership roles in his community like membership on the local school board and time as village councilor and reeve. In 1878, Samuel lost a provincial election but was elected to represent the federal riding of Waterloo South in the Canadian parliament in Ottawa, Ontario.

Unfortunately for Samuel, he was defeated in the 1882 election but on 12 January 1887, Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, appointed Samuel to the Canadian Senate. The charmed life continued for Samuel - business successes included two iron foundries (that he subsequently gave to two of his sons), large farms, and a silent partnership in a large, profitable furniture manufacturing business. His original carriage shop, he sold to his brother Frederick. Samuel and his wife Mary Ann brought fourteen children (seven boys and seven girls) into the world and lived in an elegant home beside the Nith River in the heart of New Hamburg.

Sadly, on the twentieth-fifth anniversary of Canada's Confederation, July 1st, 1892, Samuel's wife Mary Ann died of "congestion of the lungs." Samuel did re-marry, in 1898, and following a re-location of his family to the Brunswick Hotel in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, which he owned, he began to experience a decline in his health and wealth. According to the Universities of Toronto and Laval's Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, it appears that Samuel, in desperation, unsuccessfully attempted to end his life in 1905 by taking carbolic acid. Samuel passed away on August 10, 1908 and was survived by his second wife and eight of his 14 children.


  1. Wow, Ian..what an intriguing story. Good for you for being so inquisitive! I always knew you had politics in your blood-line :-)


  2. Hello, my great-great grandmother was Mary Merner, a younger sister of Samuel Merner. The Merners and their ten children including Samuel and Mary sailed to North America in 1837 and landed in Buffalo, N.Y. They then travelled by covered wagon to New Hamburg. Mary married Joseph Laschinger, a German from Baden-Baden who had emigrated with his family to Upper Canada a few years ealier. The Laschingers were a prominent family in New Hamburg and her grandson, Edmund Herbert Laschinger was a prominent figure working in the Laurier Government who later became a leading financier in Toronto during WWI. I am his grandson and live in Prescott, Ontario. Fraser Laschinger