Sometimes, there is little that our records can tell us about the people that stayed at the House of Industry and Refuge. We can piece bits of their lives together using census details, marriage records, and birth and death certificates, but none of that can truly capture the essence of who these people were. We are occasionally fortunate enough to hear from descendants of some of the people that stayed at the House and discover the missing pieces of their lives we weren’t able to find in our archives. Joachim Lustig is one such case. We had become interested in Joachim in 2015 when a research assistant working on this project came across his name when researching intemperance in the Poorhouse. Unfortunately, we don’t have many records of him as he was in and out of the House in the early 1870s. We had given up the search on him until his Great Granddaughter, Dawna (Lustig) Saba, reached out to us to find more information on him. Dawna introduced us to a whole other side of Joachim that you can’t get in the archives.

Below is story of Joachim Lustig (1807-1873) told by Dawna Saba.


While researching family history, the Poorhouse is not the kind of place you expect to find a relative. Yet as I read Joachim’s name I could feel his spirit rise from the documents.

With family stories and guiding our research, German records appear to trace our great-great grandfather back to Prussia.  Joachim Christian Lustig was born 1807 to Johann Joachim Lustig and his wife in Gramzow, Brandenburg which was part of the Prussian Empire at the time.

According to Brandenburg records he appears to have first married Marie Christine Blane in Nov 9, 1837, and then at 31 married Wilhelmine Mohr, age 25, daughter of Dan Mohr all of Gramzow.  Joachim and Wilhelmine’s son August Ferdinand Joachim Lustig was born Oct 13, 1841. Records show there were probably other children.

In 1861 Joachim Lustig aged 54, immigrated to America during the Franco-Prussian Wars. Six years later The Berliner Journal (Kitchener, Ontario) listed him as a labourer, living on King Street, with no other family members. A later census lists him as “married” but we could not find any further records of his wife Wilhelmine or other children.


August Lustig, the son of Joachim Lustig, circa 1866


The photo here is of August Lustig, Joachim’s son, displaying the Denmark War and Battle of Koniggratz metals he received during the Franco-Prussian Wars in 1866.  Two years later, August also moved to Canada at 27 years of age, to escape the wars and joined his father in Berlin, Ontario.

In 1869 The Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge (The Poor House) admitted father Joachim for vagrancy and intemperance.  Joachim was among the first “inmates” to the new County Poorhouse.  Due to the strict house rules, Joachim absconded days after admission. In the next four years he is admitted several times.

Joachim’s son August tried to settle and start a family despite his own string of tragedies. Working as a butcher, August met and married Elizabeth Kreutzer from Berlin on December 6, 1868. Elizabeth, age 28 dies of child bed fever in Jan. 31, 1871, after giving birth to Elizabeth Maria. That year’s Census lists August as a widower with a three month old baby. Family stories say the baby also dies shortly after. August then married Elizabeth Merner of Shakespeare, Ontario eleven months later, suffered a financial set back and moved to Listowel to set up another butcher shop. Trying to help a transient indigent father only added to the responsibility August must have already felt.

Joachim’s first grandson is born in Listowel in 1872, the same year The Waterloo County Jail record Joachim was arrested. The House of Industry’s research report that the Jail’s documents state “He was 60 when he was committed on June 29, 1872 for ‘Absconding from the House of the Poor’. He spent 11 days in jail, this being his second time. He was recorded as being unmarried, intemperate and a labourer with a good education.”


Joachim Lustig Waterloo County Jail Records 1872; courtesy of Region of Waterloo Archives


Joachim Lustig Waterloo County Jail Records 1872; courtesy of Region of Waterloo Archives


He was returned to the House where he lived until he passed away the following year. He died on December 28, 1873, from “dropsy and paralysis”, a common death due to intemperance and liver/heart failure.


1873 Joachim Lustig’s Death Record; courtesy of


The Poorhouse records state as no one came to claim his body, he was buried in the first Poorhouse cemetery, Tier 2, Grave 3, on the property. Almost 150 years later, we find records of his life and discover the House of Industry and his gravesite is only 10 minutes from my home.

We will never know the joy in Joachim’s life and can only glimpse the desperate situations that brought him to drink, life without means of support and die unclaimed. August, his son must have known of his father’s passing but may not have had the financial means to bury him or was too occupied with a second wife, a business, a growing family and his own life struggles.  They eventually had nine children and moved from Listowel to Chesley, Ontario. August himself died in his mid-fifties of throat cancer.

After August passed away, Canadian Censuses confirm his wife Elizabeth took in a house full of boarders for many years. It’s likely the knowledge of her father-in-law’s difficult life motivated her to keep her family out of the Poorhouse. No doubt William, their middle son who took over the butcher shop felt the weight of the family on his shoulders, did not marry till he was 39 and would not allow drinking in his own house.

Despite the sad circumstances, our family is thankful to the House of Industry and Refuge for taking Joachim in, feeding and caring for him, and providing a home for him at his death. They kept his body, spirit and records safe until we could claim him. We are eternally grateful. He and all the inhabitants of the House are the pioneers that built this country and deserve respect.

Now two hundred years later we still see the impact his life has had on us. His descendants are proud Canadians, independent, hardworking, compassionate and joyful families. Among us are mothers, fathers, farmers, butchers, business owners, soldiers, scholars, health care professionals, musicians, athletes, adventurers and community leaders.

Joachim Christian Lustig wanted a better future for his family and I think he would be proud.