William John Hanna

Deceased Person

1862 – 1919


Who was William John Hanna?

William John Hanna was a lawyer and political figure in Ontario, Canada. He represented Lambton West in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1902 to 1919 as a Conservative member.

He was born in Adelaide Township, Middlesex County, Canada West, the son of George Hanna and Jane Murdock, and moved to Lambton County with his family in 1871. He graduated from Sarnia Collegiate Institute at 17 and for the next three years taught at a primary school near his home. He then studied law at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, Ontario, and was called to the bar in 1890 and set up practice in Sarnia. He married Jean Gibson Neil in 1891, in Point Edward, Ontario. They had one son, William Niel. He then married, in 1896, Maud MacAdams, in Sarnia, Ontario after the death of his first wife. In 1908, Hanna was named King's Counsel. He served as counsel and director for the Imperial Oil Company in Sarnia.

Hanna was unsuccessful in the federal elections of 1896 and 1900 before being elected to the provincial assembly in 1902. He served as Provincial Secretary and Registrar from 1905 to 1916. In 1915 Hanna initiated an overhaul of Ontario's prison systems, closing down facilities which treated prisoners harshly, and took special interest in improving the operations of prisons in Ontario to be more humane. This legacy remains in Toronto's Liberty Village whose name comes from the neighbourhoods's main road, Liberty Street, nearby the forced closure of Toronto's Central Prison. In 1916, Hanna introduced the Ontario Temperance Act which prohibited the sale of alcohol except for medicinal purposes or use in church services for the remainder of World War I. Hanna also served as an adviser to prime minister Robert Laird Borden. In 1917, he was named food controller for Canada, charged with dealing with food shortages and inflation near the end of the war.In ill health, he resigned from his position on 24 Jan. 1918. His condition did not prevent him, however, from assuming later that year the presidency of Imperial Oil, which he would infuse with an air of progressive management. In December, for instance, he initiated collective bargaining and employee benefits. A month earlier Hanna’s family life had been devastated by the accidental death in Italy of his son, William Neil, a lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. The shock, combined with his failing health, necessitated a trip to a warm climate for the winter. While in Augusta, Hanna suffered a stroke and died on 20 March 1919. Following a Methodist service, he was interred in Lakeview Cemetery in Sarnia.

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Oct 13, 1862
Mar 20, 1919

on July 23, 2013


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