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Memorable Manitobans: William Hespeler (1830-1921)

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William Hespeler
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Merchant, immigration agent, MLA (1900-1903).

He was born at Baden-Baden, Germany on 29 December 1830, son of George H. and Barbara Hespeler, he was educated at the Institute at Karlsruhe. At the age of 19, he arrived at Preston, Ontario where his elder brother had a milling, distilling, and general merchandising business. From 1854 to 1868 he was a partner in the firm of Hespeler and Randall at Waterloo, Ontario. While visiting Germany, he discovered that a large number of Mennonites in southern Russia were contemplating emigration to the USA. Hespeler forwarded this information to the Canadian government, which asked him to travel to Russia to induce the group to come to Manitoba. This resulted in 284 families of Mennonites settling in 1874, with further groups arriving in 1875 and 1876. He served on the Winnipeg City Council in 1876 and 1878.

In 1873, Hespeler became Commissioner of Immigration and Agriculture, which he filled until 1883. He was then appointed German Consul for Manitoba and the North-West Territories until 1909. In 1889, he was elected to the Provincial Legislature and chosen Speaker of the House, the first foreign-born citizen to be so in the British Empire. He served as chief commissioner of census for the Province of Manitoba, 1881; appointed German Consul for Manitoba and NWT, 1883; decorated by the German Emperor with the Order of Red Eagle, 1903, and upon resigning office was decorated with Zaeringer Loewen Order by the German Emperor for long and faithful services. From 1883 to 1894, he was Manager of the Manitoba Land Company, then later a member of the board of the Royal Trust Company and the North of Scotland Mortgage Company. In 1880, he organized The Northwestern, a German language weekly, the first German newspaper in the Northwest. He was a member of the board for the Winnipeg General Hospital starting in 1874, and president of the same starting in 1884, resigning from the board in 1909.

He was married twice; first to Mary H. Keatchie of Galt, Ontario (1855) then to Kate R. Keatchie. He had one son.

Hespeler died at Vancouver, British Columbia on 18 April 1921. He is commemorated by Hespeler Avenue in Winnipeg.

See also:

National Designation for William Hespeler
Manitoba History, Number 54, February 2007

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Wardlaw Apartments (544 Wardlaw Avenue, Winnipeg)


Who’s Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, edited by C. W. Parker, Vancouver: Canadian Press Association, 1911.

A History of Manitoba: Its Resources and People by Prof. George Bryce, Toronto: The Canadian History Company, 1906.

The Story of Manitoba by F. H. Schofield, Winnipeg: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1913.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This profile was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough using, in part, information compiled by Harry Shave.

Page revised: 5 November 2012

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