The Long and Winding Road from Berlin to Kitchener

P000361 WHS

P000361 WHS Rescue of Kaiser’s Bust from Victoria Park Lake – August 1914

In the political, social and economic turmoil of the early years of World War One, our community changed. Bitter debates over loyalty and patriotism,  vandalism and theft of the Kaiser’s bust, unruly recruits from the 118th Battalion, and fears of economic loss over a “Made in Berlin” manufacturing identity, helped propel a name change few wanted, and for which only a handful voted. When the dust settled on September 1, 1916, we were no longer ‘Berlin’, but ‘Kitchener’. The city’s name change marked a defining moment in our history and identity – or did it? It has been said that “words have meaning and names have power” (author unknown). In this context, did the name change from Berlin to Kitchener hold historical significance or was it merely a casualty of wartime economics? Did we change as a community as a result of the name change or are we still Berlin at heart?

Join us at the Central Library on Thursday 15 September 2016 at 7pm in the Theatre to hear University of Waterloo professors, Geoff Hayes (History) and Mat Schulze (German Studies) and local historian, rych mills, discuss the nationalist divides, local stories, and how the bilingual nature of Berlin/Kitchener affected the controversy. Carl Zehr, former mayor of Kitchener, will be the moderator of this panel discussion entitled, Von Berlin to Kitchener, Connotations and Cultures. It’s a free event and no registration is required. Click here for more information on the event.

I’m looking forward to this discussion and I’m sure that you will too.

Cheers, Karen

KPL Genealogy Fair 2016

Full steam ahead for Kitchener Public Library’s 5th Genealogy Fair!

Kitchener Public Library 5th Genealogy Fair

KPL 5th Genealogy Fair – Saturday 5 November 2016, Central Library

The countdown to Kitchener Public Library’s 5th Genealogy Fair begins!  Please join us on Saturday 5 November 2016, from 9am to 3:30pm, at the Central Library for  learning, fun, and hopefully, a few found ancestors! It’s a free event and no registration is required!

Our list of speakers and participating exhibitors and vendors is now up! The schedule of workshops will be posted in October.

Jen Baldwin of FindMyPast will be our keynote speaker. She’ll be speaking on genealogy’s next generation and how genealogists of all ages can connect through a common passion for family history, preservation of the past and learning from one another.

We will update the Genealogy Fair webpage with new information and changes, so check back often!

Looking forward to seeing everyone on Saturday 5 November 2016!

Cheers, Karen



Joe’s Been Listening to the Past


Joe Pavia

In the Grace Schmidt Room, we are very lucky to have a volunteer named Joe Pavia. He is helping to digitize our Oral History Tape collection. He’s been listening to our past. I know because he tells me about the fascinating people, interviews and lives captured on those old audio cassettes in the GSR.

Joe takes home a box of cassettes every month or two and returns digitized copies to us. Each time, he has a new story – about a person, place or event retold in the tape. Joe’s love of a good story has been honed over a fascinating career in radio and news reporting. His blog, Station to Station with Joe Pavia, is a fantastic view into his world, career, interests and observations. And, you get to listen to Joe tell his stories through his podcasts.

Our oral history collection consists of over 1000 audio cassettes, containing over 500 interviews. As the collection ages, it becomes ever more critical that these tapes be converted to digital format. We’ll be uploading Joe’s work over the summer so that it will be accessible via the KPL website.

Oral History Cassette Tape in the GSR

Oral History Cassette Tape in the GSR

In the meantime, please join Joe in the Grace Schmidt Room on Oral History Program with Joe Pavia to learn about his oral history tape project. If you love a good story and learning about Kitchener and Waterloo Region’s past, Joe can tell you about the characters, adventures and events captured in the oral history collection at KPL. This program is part of the Latitudes Storytelling Festival being held at the Central Library.

Cheers, Karen.


Calling all GRCI grads and staff!

GRCI crest from 1968 yearbook

Grand River Collegiate Institute crest from the 1968 yearbook

Grand River Collegiate Institute will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in week’s time and we are on the hunt for any photographs of the ground breaking ceremony, construction of the building or its opening day. If you have any photographs that you would be willing to share, please contact Susan Letkeman, Grand River -Stanley Park Branch Manager at 519-896-1736 or by email

Thanks and cheers, Karen.


Rural Diaries – Help to “Write” History

Fountain pen on paper

Fountain pen on paper – Source:

Recently, I learnt about a new heritage project that seeks to unlock the lives of rural Ontario diarists. They are seeking volunteers to help transcribe rural diaries held at the University of Guelph. Why not join them in the work of transcribing the diaries and learn more about rural life in Ontario?

Below is the information about the project:

Come and escape into the past! Delve into the lives of real people who lived between 1800 and 1960. Learn about stories of love and loss, joy and hardship, all in Southern Ontario. Have you ever wanted to peak into someone’s diary? Now you can!

The Rural Diary Archive lets you explore 130 diaries of the young and old, male and female. You may even find one of your ancestors or their neighbours in a diary. It is simple to filter through the diaries to find different religions, counties and occupations. The Rural Diary Archive honours the daily lives of rural people. Please consider transcribing these diaries; it’s easy to do, with clear instructions provided. All you need is a computer and internet access. Transcribing these diaries online will let you immerse yourself in true rural Ontario history, fill you with a sense of accomplishment, and provide a rich resource for future researchers.

For more information visit: Rural Diary Archive at the University of Guelph

Thanks to Janice H. for the information!

Cheers, Karen.

Clothing, Displays

Pondering the “Juvenile Collar Question”

Juvenile Collar Question

The Juvenile Collar Question booklet by Williams, Greene and Rome

With the late arrival of spring, we’ve been thinking about fashion in the GSR lately. When liberated from winter outerwear, boots and sweaters, we gravitate towards summer clothing – often neglecting to realize that spring mornings can be quite cool and wet.

As for me, I’ve been pondering the “Juvenile Collar Question” posed by Berlin’s Williams, Greene and Rome shirt makers. I came across this booklet in the collection and have been enchanted by the idea that children’s collars could actually be a pressing fashion issue. Popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, children’s collars served to dress up an outfit and allowed for expression of style or status. Williams, Green and Rome, a clothing factory in Berlin, produced this booklet to advertise its products.

Children's collar styles - Williams, Greene and Rome

Collar styles for children from the Williams, Greene and Rome Co. of Berlin, ON

I was also fascinated by the multitude of traditional collar styles available for boys in their catalogue.

Collar styles - Williams, Greene and Rome

Collar styles for boys from Williams, Greene and Rome, Berlin, ON

Be sure to stop by the GSR to see our “Spring into Fashion” display. Many thanks go to my colleague, Karen, for her creative interpretation of Kitchener style!

Cheers, Karen


History By Postcard

P009635 KPL Ahrens Street from Queen St., Berlin, Ontario

P009635 KPL View of Ahrens Street from Queen St., Berlin, Ontario

If you are like me, you love postcards – especially old ones. There’s something about the combination of a phototograph, sometimes coloured, and a personal message on the back that intrigues me. It’s a window into a time, relationship or event, that gives a hint to the larger public and personal events in the lives of our communities, ancestors and neighbours.

Reverse of P009635 KPL postcard

P009635 KPL (Reverse side) Postcard addressed to Miss Enetta Stoltz of Galt from Louis

So when did postcards come about? In 1871, pre-paid government issued postal cards were introduced in Canada. They were printed on plain card stock and included postage. The backs were exclusively reserved for addresses and the other side for message. In the days before the widespread use and availability of telephones, postal cards enabled people to communicate with quick, efficient, and low-cost exchange of short messages, without the need of fancy stationary, envelopes and postage stamps.  In large cities with multiple daily postal deliveries, recipients might receive and reply to a  card on the very day of its dispatch. For several decades, these cards were the most popular and easy way to arrange meetings, advertise products and services, place orders with merchants, and keep in touch with family and friends.

In the 1880’s, European publishing companies started including small illustrations on postcards, in conjunction with fairs and exhibitions. A new industry grew to fill the demand for these ‘private’ decorative postcards. In Canada, private postcards were accepted at a reduced postage rate of one penny starting in 1895.  As time went on, the inclusion of pictures and photographs started to dominate the production of postcards.

P009679 WHS postcard - View of Factory District, Berlin, Ontario

P009679 WHS postcard – View of Factory District, Berlin, Ontario

German companies were known for their high quality cards and illustrations and were a major player in the North American market until 1914. In Canada, companies such as James Valentine & Sons, Warwick Brothers & Rutter, W.G. MacFarlane of Toronto, Cloke and Son of Hamilton and International Stationery Co. of Picton were major publishers of postcards. Divided-back picture postcards, where the image is on the front and message and address sections on the back, were widely adopted in the early 1900s.

P009679 WHS postcard - Reverse

P009679 WHS postcard – Reverse

With the development of camera for the masses, people were able to create their own postcards using their homes, families and communities as subjects. These postcards served to document and share personal and community histories, tourism and events. The ‘golden age’ of the picture postcards was from 1900 to 1920.

P009639 KPL postcard of Picnic Grounds, Victoria Park, Berlin, Ontario

P009639 KPL postcard of Picnic Grounds, Victoria Park, Berlin, Ontario

So what do postcards say about the history of Kitchener? Local historian rych mills will tell us at his upcoming talk called “Postcards Then and Photographs Now”. Come join me on Thursday March 31st at 7pm at the Central Library as rych explores Kitchener history by postcards then and modern photographs taken by fellow history aficionado and Waterloo Historical Society member, John Glass. It’s a free talk, but registration is required. Details about the talk and registration link can be found here. You can also call InfoLink at 519-743-7502 to register during library hours. If you have Kitchener postcards, please feel free to bring them to the talk for rych to identify.

I hope to see you there!

Cheers, K.