Peter Itter was born in York Region, Ontario in 1839 to parents Melchi Itter Sr. (1810-1844) and Anna Catherine Itter (b. Hailey; 1813-1880). He had three siblings who were also born in the same region: John (1834-1921), Margaret Esther (1835-1877), and Melchi Jr. (1839-1924). After Peter’s father died in 1844, his mother, Anna Catherine, married Andreas/ Andrew Binder (1820-1898) a year later. Peter was the only sibling that moved in with his mother and new step-father. Anna and Andrew Binder had three children of their own together: Samuel (1846-1926), Andrew Jr. (1849-1920), and Susannah (1852-1918). In 1851, Peter was attending school at the age of 13. John, Peter’s brother, eventually moved in with the Binder family and began working as a cabinet maker. At the same time, Peter was working as a carpenter. It is interesting to note here that both Peter and his brother, John, are both listed as having no affiliation with a religious sector. This will come up again when Peter is the Keeper of the House of Refuge.
Peter married Susannah Clemens (1840-1886) on February 6, 1861. Susannah was born in Waterloo to parents Abraham B. Clemens (1814-1888), who worked as a farmer his whole life, and Magdalena Eby (1810-1883), who worked as a “house wife”. She grew up in Waterloo with her six siblings: Elizabeth (1835-1890), Jacob (1840-1892), Magdalena (1844-1874), Catherine (1845-1918), Levina (1850-1873), and Veronica Franny (1853-1912). She had two other siblings that died shortly after their birth: Samuel (1836-1836) and Angeline (1846-1846). After Susannah married Peter in 1861, they moved to Galt where they lived alone together while Peter was working as a carpenter.
Peter was paid by the Waterloo Township to held build a bridge over the speedway in 1865. He earned $448.00 for his work.
They lived Galt until 1880 when the call went out for a new Keeper and Matron for the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge. The process to appoint the new managers of the House began early 1880 and the Standing Committee for the House required that any applicants must be able to speak both English and German. There were 19 applications in total that were being considered for the position. Peter and Susannah were awarded the position as the new managers by the end of 1880. This came just a few months after Peter’s mother died of a sudden heart disease on September 26, 1880.
Peter was paid $460.00/year compared to Susannah who was paid $140.00/year, almost three times lower than her husband.
While Peter was the Keeper of the House, he tried to make a few changes to the daily routines of the House. In January 1882, Israel Bowman, the County Clerk and Inspector of the House of Industry and Refuge, wrote to Peter to authorize the religious services that were once a part of daily life at the House to be reinstated. Not being a religious man, Peter got rid of the religious services that were held on weekends by Reverend Andres. Israel contacted the Warden, William Snider, who insisted that Reverend Andres by allowed back into the House to continue to hold his services. Below is the letter written to Peter on January 4th, 1882 (Source: Region of Waterloo Archives).
4th January 82
Mr Peter Itter,
With reference to the matter of allowing religious services to be held in the House during weekdays – Must respect what I said to you in a conversation I had with you shortly after you refused the Rev. Mr. Andres the privilege of holding these services, namely – that I brought the matter under the notice of the Warden and that he directed me to instruct you to allow Mr. Andres to continue his usual services until the next meeting of the Standing Committee, when you can bring the matter before them and get instructions as to your future conduct. I may just say in addition that the Warden thinks it quite improper that you should make an important change like this in the affairs of the House without first consulting with your superiors – the Committee – You will therefore have the goodness to give the Rev. Mr. Andres full liberty to resume the holding of religious services in the House if he so desires.
Israel D. Bowman,
In 1884, Peter suggested getting a telephone installed in the House as it would reduce the costs of transportation, it would be a safety measure in case of a fire, and be of more convenience to him. Below is the letter written to the Reeve of St. Jacobs by Israel Bowman on May 15, 1884 about the matter:
15th May 84
My dear Sir,
Mr. Itter is getting up an agitation to have the Telephone at the Poor House. He has seen Mr Walter, the Chairman of the Committee also Messrs. Holwell and Seally who were down at the House this week. They are all in favor of it. Mr Walter thinks it will not be necessary to call the Committee for that, as that would cost about as much as the rent of the Instrument for a year – and to wait for the regular meeting of the Committee would not do as the men would be away and would have to come back specially, which would add to the cost – There is no doubt it would be a great convenience to the Keeper and would save him many trips to town – as our Doctor, the Grocers, Butchers and about 30 others are now in the system including the Court House, Gaol. Mr. Itter thinks it would be a direct saving to the County as so much of his time is taken up in running up and down – it would also be useful in case of fire to summon the Firemen or other assistance – what do you say, will you favor the proposal in Committee – the idea is to poll the Committee and if they are favorable, we will have the Instrument put in –
Israel D. Bowman
By the end of 1884, a telephone was installed in the House and they were paying $19.00 to rent it out. Below is a glimpse of the House of Industry and Refuge Report in the 1884 County Minutes.
Along with trying to change things around the House, Peter was also a lot more disciplined and rigid with the inmates. There was a letter written to Josiah Snider, the Deputy Reeve of Bloomingdale, from Israel Bowman stating that one inmate, Mary Schafer, was turned away by Peter Itter from entering the Poorhouse because she did not possess a written letter from the reeve of the County she was from. This was in June when the weather was very hot and Israel found it unfair to leave this woman out on the street in the heat.
20th June – 84
A poor simple young woman about 32 years old by name Mary Schafer, came to the Poor House this morning ask to be admitted – but as she had no commitment the Keeper sent her away – and referred her to me – It appears she was in the House 6 or 7 years ago – and since then has been working round Lexington & Bridgeport – I gave her a line to Mr. Itter asking him to take her in, until I could communicate with you as to signing a commitment for her – as the poor girl is not well and owing to the great heat – I thought it would be most too hard to make her walk all the way over to your place – as she has been in the House before – I think you will not be going for wrong even if you sign the paper without knowing her personally – If you are satisfied that all is right you will please sign the enclosed commitment and return the same in the stamped envelope enclosed – However as the girl is cared for in the meantime there is no hurry about it – you can make enquiry at Bridgeport – she worked for a Mr. Vogt last – and satisfy yourself that she is a proper subject for the Poor House.
Israel D. Bowman
Josiah Snider Esq
Susannah died on October 27, 1886 from dropsy that she had been suffering with for three months. She was buried at the Mount Hope Cemetery.
Peter married Alvina Klem (1868-1949) exactly eleven months after Susannah’s death on October 27, 1887.
Interestingly, Alvina had been working at the Poorhouse since 1884 doing cleaning and chores around the House.
When Alvina became Matron of the House, she earned the same amount as Susannah was earning the year before (at the same wage when she started in 1880), $140.00/year. In the same year, Peter was earning $560.00/year, having received a wage increase of $100.00 a few years prior to 1887.
Alvina began having children a year after their marriage. Gordon Clarence was their first child who was born in 1888 but died at the age of two caused by water in the brain. They had two other children: Lily May (1889-1918) and Irwin Albert (1891-1909).
Once Alvina began working at the House, the physical abuse accusations started to come to light. The first accusation was put against both Peter and Alvina for neglecting and poorly treating Jemima Frame. She was visited by her two friends from Galt who first reported that she was living in her own filth and needed a personal nurse to care for her. The Keeper and Matron denied this request, making no improvements for Jemima seeing as if they accommodated these requests, they would have to do so for the other inmates. A few months later, Jemima died in her bed from chronic diarrhea. For more information, check out Jemima Frame’s story.
More of these stories started to come to fruition over the next few years, which eventually accumulated into the Scandal of 1893. Peter and Alvina were under investigation by the Standing Committee to the House of Industry and Refuge for charges against them made by inmates, staff members, and locals. Some of the allegations against them included: the neglect of Jemima Frame, an inquest into the death of inmate Henry Sand, physically abusing Michael McCarthy, Meinrod Ochsner, Lucinda Potter, and Flory McFee, not allowing Annie Watson to leave the House on her own will, and the overall misconduct and mistreatment of the inmates. On a few occasions, Peter Itter wrote into the local newspapers to defend himself against these accusations and to shed light on how well he was treating the inmates of the House.
After months of investigation, Peter and Alvina were asked to resign as the Keeper and Matron of the House to be effective September 1, 1893. They were, however, completely cleared of all charges against them and no legal action was taken. For more information on the Scandal and some of the newspaper articles that printed the accusations, please visit the House page.
Below is a letter written by Israel Bowman, one of the few members of the administration that remained neutral throughout the hearings, writing to a potential applicant for the position of the Keeper’s replacement.
29th. July, 93.
(PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL.)
My Dear Sir/-
I suppose you have seen about all the trouble and row we have had with the Poor House Investigation, Well the Investigating Committee have at last made up their Report which is supposed to be a secret until the Special Meeting of the Council, but it is pretty well understood they will clear Mr. Itter of all charges brought against him, except in the matter of disobey the motion of the Poor House Committee ordering the Discharge of a certain inmate of the House for which there will be a mild censure, and as Mr. Itter has put in his resignation the Special Committee will recommend that it be accepted.
The Warden has authorized me to call a special meeting of the Council for the 15th. August next, to receive the Report and Mr. Itter’s resignation, and to take such action as they may deem necessary.
I am also to invite parties desiring to apply for the positions of Keeper and Matron to send in their applications for the positions of Keeper and Matron by the 12th. August, addressed to me. I will of course advertize in the papers to that effect. If you have any intention of trying for it, now is your time. There will no doubt be a great number try for it, but amongst all that I have heard about, there is none that I consider would be so well qualified for the position as what you would be, both in the running of the farm and the Management of the House. I would do all I could in a quiet way to get you there.
Israel D. Bowman
- L. UMBACH, ESQ.
E L M I R A.
After Peter and Alvina resigned from their respective positions, they moved to a different part of Berlin with their two children, Lily May and Irvin Albert. Peter began to work as a carpenter again and started to build houses in 1911. Peter would occasionally do contract work for the County as well as the House of Refuge. He received $38.36 for carpenter work with the County in 1906.
He was also contracted to do work on the verandah’s on the outside of the House and various work on the inside in 1907.
Berlin, Ap. 18- 1907
The House of Refuge Committee met in special session at 2:30 p.m. to- day & qsoned. Tenders for the purposed improvements.
The Chairman, W m. Couran Esq. presiding & all the members present, also Warden Fischer.
The following tenders were received:-
Carpenter Work Verandahs Inside work P. Itter $310 $250 R. Bowman $520 Day work at 30 c
Peter and Alvina’s son, Irvin, died in 1909 of an acute dilation of the heart and Lily died in 1918 of paralysis of the heart caused by influenza. Peter died a few years later on January 1, 1920, also due to heart failure. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery along with his children and ex-wife, Susannah Clemens. Alvina lived with her granddaughter in Kitchener for a short time before she died in 1949. She was also buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery.
Peter had two streets named after his sons, Gordon and Irvin. Gordon Avenue, just down the street from the Poorhouse, is where Peter and his family resided after they left the House in 1893. (Source: Lynn Carrier)