Dr. Henry George Lackner was born in Hawkesville, Ontario on December 25, 1851 to parents William August Lackner (1827-1906) and Julianna Elisabeth Diefenbacher (1827-1893). His father was a farmer and he grew up with seven other siblings in Wellesley (two of his other siblings ended up being doctors, as well). For a complete biography on Henry G. Lackner, please visit his page on Waterloo Region Generations.
Henry finished schooling at the age of 14 and started teaching in public schools at the age of 16. After four years of teaching, he went on to the Toronto School of Medicine and received his license to practice medicine in 1876, when he was just 25 years old. He moved back to Berlin where he began his practice. A few years later, he married Helen Allister Mackie (1854-1935), daughter of John Allister Mackie (1824-1904), one of the first merchants in the region who also provided snuff (ground up tobacco) to the House, and Mary M. Burke (1838-1906), in June 1880. They had two children together: May Agnes (1882-1966) and Dr. Harry Mackie (1883-1964).
After Dr. John W. Walden resigned from the position of Physician of the House in early 1881, the search began for the next doctor to replace him. Dr. Lackner was awarded the position in June 1881 and received a letter of congratulations from the Inspector of the House, Israel D. Bowman.
County Clerks Office
Berlin 10th June 1881
I have the honor to inform you that the County Council at its session yesterday appointed you to the Office of Physician to the House of Industry & Refuge to hold office during the pleasure of the Council – salary at the rate of $200.00 per annum.
I enclose a blank Declaration of Office which you will make and subscribe before the Mayor or any other Magistrate, and return at your convenience – I also enclosed a Copy of ByLaw No. 157 of this Corporation –
I am Dear Sir
Your obdt servt
Israel D. Bowman
[Henry F.] Lackner Esq
As stated above (letter provided by the Region of Waterloo Archives), the doctor received $200.00 annually for attending the House once a week and in emergencies. At the time, he was also being paid to examine “lunatics” for the County, a position he kept for several years.
In his third year as Physician of the House, Dr. Lackner brought to the attention of the County Council that too many pregnant women were coming to the Poorhouse just to have their babies and were treating the institution like a “Lying-in-Hospital”. There were five births in 1884, two of which died shortly after they were born. Lackner also stated that the high number of deaths that occurred in the House that same year, 18 in total, were due to natural causes. It is also interesting to note that he states that the majority of the 130 inmates that were staying at the House that year came to him with some form of chronic ailment. Below is the full Physician’s Report for 1884.
After an inmate died in 1888 due to the unsanitary conditions and lack of clean water in the House (for the full story, please see Jemima Frame’s page), on recommendation from Dr. Lackner, the County looked into procuring a supply of water to the House from the Berlin Water Works Company.
Dr. Lackner also served as mayor of Berlin in 1886-1887 and again in 1893. In 1891, Henry was working for the County as the coroner. This was especially important during this time as bodies from county institutions (such as the House of Refuge and the County Gaol) were being sent to the Toronto School of Anatomy based on the regulations outlined in the Anatomy Act.
During the 1893 Scandal at the House when the managers, Peter and Alvina Itter, were being questioned about their alleged mistreatment of some of the inmates, Dr. Lackner was asked to testify on their conduct that he witnessed over the 12 years he worked alongside them. Below is his statement that was printed in the Galt Reformer.
As there are only a few physician’s reports available in the County Minutes, it is difficult to know what Dr. Lackner’s stance and perspective was on the sanitation of the House and how the inmates were actually treated. We know from a few of the physician reports that were printed in the County Minutes that Dr. Lackner had made suggestions to improve sanitation within the House, but overall he never attested for any physical abuse from the Keeper and Matron. He even suggested the case of Jemima Frame being neglected and left to die in her dirty clothes could be misconstrued as her mental health at the end of her life was worsening.
Dr. Lackner was appointed sheriff to the County in 1912, earning $1305.08 annually on top of his salary with the House of Refuge and for being the Secretary Treasurer for Woolwich (which earned him $107.36). It wasn’t until 1920 when Dr. Lackner’s salary was increased with the House from $200.00 to $300.00.
Dr. Lackner died on December 4, 1925 from chronic myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, which he had been suffering with for over five years. He was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.