Dr. John William Walden was born in Waterloo, Ontario in 1837 to parents, William Walden (1811-1873) and Susannah Rudd (1809-1881). He grew up with one sister, Mena (1849-), in Kitchener where his father worked as a bailiff, a gaoler and a Court Crier. Dr. Walden started practicing medicine in the early 1860s and one of his first positions was working as a coroner in Wellesley, Ontario.


1867 Wellesley Directory; Source: ancestry.ca

1867 Wellesley Directory; Source: ancestry.ca


He married Catherine Ernst (1842-1883) and they lived in Wellesley for a while before they moved to Waterloo City and then Yong St. in Kitchener in 1882. They had five children together: Emma Julia (1862-1943), Charles W. (1863-1894), William Ernst (1866-1886), Minnie Susanna Catherine (1873-) and Bertha (1875-). Dr. Walden was appointed the first Physician to the House of Industry and Refuge, earning $100.00 annually.

As Physician to the House, Dr. Walden was expected to hold office hours once a week and to be available in case of emergency. He had his own office in the House which was equipped with its own dispensary of drugs and medicine’s provided by the town druggist, William Henry Bowman. Below is a small glimpse of an average day for Dr. Walden at the Poorhouse.


"A Day at the Waterloo Poor House, and What I Learned" by William Jaffray; Source: Region of Waterloo Archives

“A Day at the Waterloo Poor House, and What I Learned” by William Jaffray; Source: Region of Waterloo Archives


In 1870, Dr. Walden petitioned for an increase in his wages. This was recorded in the Minutes of the Standing Committee.


Berlin 31st May 1870.

The Standing Committee on House of Industry & Refuge met this day –

All the members & the Warden present,

Hugo Kranz Esq in the Chair.

The Keeper submitted his Accounts and a number of bills and claims for audit.

A communication was read, from Dr Walden, Physician to the House, applying for an increase of Salary.


The Clerk having been instructed to prepare report to Council – referring the Communication of Dr. Walden to the Council without recommendation – and Estimating at $3000. As the amount that will probably be required for the maintenance & support of the Poor.

The Committee adjourned sine die –


Dr. Walden did begin to receive $200.00 annually in 1872. One of Dr. Walden’s other responsibilities as the Physician of the House, besides taking care of all ailments the inmates and staff had, was to make recommendations to the County Council on how to improve the sanitary conditions and the overall health of the inmates. The first time he did this was a year after the House opened in 1870. His main concerns were with the spread of contagious diseases and the sanitation of the House. He recommended being more diligent with who was allowed to enter the Poorhouse as an inmate and turn away those who are sick with a contagious illness, such as smallpox (which did come into the Poorhouse in December 1871, just months after the Pest House was built on the property) and typhoid fever (which occurred twice in November 1870, mentioned below in the Physician’s Report, and 1877).




Part 1, Journal of Proceedings and By-Laws of the Municipal Council of the County of Waterloo 1870; Source: Region of Waterloo Archives

Part 2, Journal of Proceedings and By-Laws of the Municipal Council of the County of Waterloo 1870; Source: Region of Waterloo Archives

Part 2, Journal of Proceedings and By-Laws of the Municipal Council of the County of Waterloo 1870; Source: Region of Waterloo Archives


Dr. Walden’s recommendation of isolating the disease and providing good ventilation and disinfectants to combat the spread of disease led to the Pest House being built in 1871. This was a small property just behind the House’s main building where people were sent if they were sick with a contagious disease.

Dr. Walden continued to work as the Physician to the House throughout the decade of 1870. In 1880, there was one incident of neglect of an inmate which was brought to the attention of the Standing Committee for the House of Refuge. James Milligan (inmate #857) entered the Poorhouse on September 30, 1880 and left 11 days later. There are no records besides the below Minutes of the Standing Committee about this inmate. It is unclear as to what happened with James as he was just listed as ‘sick’ when he entered the House.


House of Indy & Refuge

Berlin 1st Decr 1880 –

The Standing Committee met this day

Present Messrs Groh, Wm Jaffray, Kribs, Snyder, Walter & the Warden –

The Physician to the House was also in attendance –

Mr. Snyder in the Chair –


594 both inclusive were audited an allowed –

Dr. Walden then at the request of the Chairman addressed the Committee in explanation of a charge brought against him in a letter address to the Warden, of alleged neglect in the treatment of the Case of one Milligan sent from Galt and who was an Inmate of the House from [sic]


A few months after this hearing, the physician handed in his resignation to the Board.


Court House

Berlin 15th March ‘81

The Standing Committee met pursuant to adjournment.

Present Messrs Groh, Jaffray Wm Livingston, Snyder J.B. & Walter & the Warden

Mr Livingston in the Chair –

The following Communication was read: –

From Dr Walden (addressed to the Warden & Council) tending his resignation of the Officer of Physician to the House –

Bill No. 606 (Jacob Z Kolb for 20 [cords] wood @ $3.00)  was audited and allowed –

Moved by Mr William Jaffray and seconded by Mr Walter That this Committee recommend the acceptance of the resignation of Dr Walden as Physician to the House of Industry & Refuge and that the Committee do now proceed to appoint his successor ad interim until the Session of Council in June – And further that this Committee in parting with Dr Walden who has for the past Twelve (12) years held the position of physician to the House would desire to place upon the Minutes its appreciation of his services during his incumbency and their testimony to the skillful management of the patients brought from time to time under his charge –

Carried unanimously –


After leaving the House, Dr. Walden and his family moved into a house on Yonge Street in Kitchener. His wife, Catherine, died in 1883 of an inflammation of the lungs. Dr. Walden died two years later on July 11, 1885 from a ‘disease of the brain’ that he had suffered from for a month.


The main image is from the “First-year nursing : a text-book for pupils during their first year of hospital work” (1916).