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


The Boy from Berlin

Mackenzie King, 1926

William Lyon Mackenzie King, 1926

Born 140 years ago today, 17 December 1874, in a home on Benton Street, Berlin, Ontario, William Lyon Mackenzie King grew up to become Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister.  As a person and politician, Mackenzie King has been source of inquiry, speculation and debate among academics and the public. Raised at idyllic Woodside (now a National Historic site managed by Parks Canada) from 1886 to 1893, how did King’s early experiences in Berlin (now Kitchener) affect his later political decisions and thinking?

Join us tonight at 7pm for a free public lecture at the Central Library on King’s early life in Berlin by Dr. John English, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Waterloo and Founding Director of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History at the University of Toronto. No registration is required.  Displays, book sales and refreshments will be available in the Theatre reception room starting at 6:30pm.

The lecture has been organized by an informal committee known as the Mackenzie King Kitchener-Waterloo Legacy Network. The committee is non-partisan and promotes public discussion about King’s role in Canadian history.


New Year’s Greetings from a Century Ago


P9991 New Year’s greeting postcard sent to Martha (Mrs. Ion) Eby, Berlin, postmarked 31 Dec 1913


Reverse of P9991 New Year’s Greeting postcard sent to Martha (Mrs. Ion) Eby, Berlin

In this day and age of e-cards, Facebook and Twitter, the elegance of the handwritten word and card is often forgotten. This century old New Year’s greeting postcard reminds me of the pleasure of receiving notes by post, the thrill of recognizing familiar handwriting and a short personal message.  This card was sent from Superior, Wisconsin, USA to Berlin, ON. The 31 December 1913 postmark lets us know that it was received just in time for New Years.

The recipient was Martha (nee Polzin) Eby, wife of Ion Eby.  The Ebys resided at 25 Bingeman Street, Berlin. According to Martha’s grave at Woodland Cemetery, she died in 1939.

The reverse of the postcard is rotated below for easier reading:

Reverse of P9991 postcard

Reverse of P9991 postcard

The card reads: Many thanks for the Xmas [gift]. We are all well. Love to all from all. Yours Lizzie.

Best Wishes for a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year.


Happy Holiday Wishes from the Grace Schmidt Room

P9647 P9647r

As the holidays are upon us, I wanted to share this Christmas postcard, mailed 100 years ago today, from Berlin to Galt.  It was sent by Minnie Gerbig to Enetta Stoltz of Galt.   I love its simplicity and quaint message.

From all of us in the Grace Schmidt Room, have a happy, safe, and healthy holiday season!

P.S. for those of you interested in reading the message, I’ve rotated the postcard below:


P9647 Christmas postcard message

“Dear Enetta,

Just a line to let you know that I got to Berlin Mon Morn and will be down to Preston on Wed I think and I wish you could come to, I would like to see you very much so don’t forget wishing you a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.

Minnie Gerbig”


Food for thought

EJ Shantz store - Frederick Street, Berlin

P1497 Interior of E.J. Shantz Grocery store – Frederick Street, Berlin (KPL Collection)

Interior of EJ Shantz store - Frederick Street, Berlin

P1494 Exterior of E.J. Shantz Grocery store – Frederick Street, Berlin (KPL Collection)

In honour of the Forgotten Food Symposium this weekend, I thought that I would post these two photographs as ‘food for thought’.

The images, according to our early cataloguing records, indicate that this was the E.J. Shantz Grocery on Frederick Street, Berlin, in 1910.

However, there is no E.J. Shantz or E.J. Shantz Grocery in the 1908-1909, 1911-12 or 1912-1913 Vernon’s directories for Berlin. A quick cursory look at the 1911 Census of Canada in Ancestry revealed no clues for E.J.Shantz too.

There is an E.J. Shantz with a business at 48 Queen Street South, but he is shown in the 1912-1913 directory with an occupation of “commission” and I suspect from another photograph in the collection that he was, in fact, an auctioneer. I’ve made a note to do a bit more digging on this E.J. Shantz – perhaps he is connected to the grocery store in some capacity.

The other possibility is that an E.J. Shantz did operate a grocery on Frederick Street in 1910 for a brief time.  The image of the interior seems to suggest that is the Christmas season, given the garland and wreath strung across the ceiling beam. It’s also possible the date or location is totally off.  I’ll keep digging – the answer is in the GSR somewhere.

If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear from you. If I come across more information, I’ll be sure to post.

And, by the way, Happy World Day for Audiovisual Heritage! Each year, October 27th is proclaimed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as World Day for Audiovisual Heritage to build global awareness of issues on preserving audiovisual material, such as sound recordings and moving images.