Thursday, June 24, 2010

Henry McCambridge guest-blogs: A Look at the History of Kitchener

[Henry, a student and writer in Kitchener, Ontario, otherwise unknown to me, got in touch to offer the site this guestblog. I like the idea of the occasional guestblog, so....]

Situated in southern Ontario, the city of Kitchener was originally known as the Town of Berlin from the year 1854 until it was renamed the City of Berlin in 1912 and eventually Kitchener in 1916. The area where the city would eventually be established had been originally set aside as a land grant to the Six Nations Indians by the British Crown as a reward for their loyalty during the American War for Independence. Members of the tribe later sold off several thousand hectares of land to a United Empire Loyalist, Colonel Richard Beasley. 

Nestled inland, the land proved to be appealing to a group of Mennonite farmers from Pennsylvania. Concerned that they would not be exempted from military service following the American War for Independence; this group of German Mennonites re-settled in Upper Canada in the 1790s. The lure of the freedom to worship as they wished and cheap land was of tremendous appeal. Members of the Sherk and Betzner families, both members of this group of German Mennonites, arrived toward the end of 1800 and established what would eventually become the City of Kitchener.

As more Mennonites arrived in the area they pooled their funds and were able to purchase the remainder of the land from Beasley and formed the German Company Tract. The land was divided into farms for the purposes of distribution.  By 1816 the German Company Tract had become the Township of Waterloo, further encouraging migration of German speaking families from Europe. The area continued to grow throughout the mid to late 1800s, the growth fuelled by area’s religious tolerance. In 1833, the township was renamed Berlin in honour of the German heritage of the local settlers. Within twenty years, Berlin had become the County Seat for the County of Waterloo and achieved Village status.

Due to the industrial knowledge and skilled trades of the German immigrants, Berlin became a significant industrial centre complete with tanneries, furniture factories, button factories and a foundry. Berlin officially became a city in the summer of 1912 and was largely considered by many to be the German capital of Canada. Berlin was not able to escape the anti-German sentiment that swept the country as WWI erupted. Under tremendous pressure to change the name of the city, Berlin became Kitchener in 1916.

The rapid growth experienced by the City of Kitchener led to the need for an orderly City development plan. The Adams-Seymour Plan was finally approved in 1925, featuring a comprehensive zoning system that allowed for distinctive industrial, commercial and residential districts.

Like many other cities throughout Canada, Kitchener was not unaffected by the Great Depression; however, the wide industrial diversification allow Kitchener to make it through the worst of the depression and quickly rebound beginning in 1936. Unlike during the First World War, Kitchener became an integral part of the war effort during WWII.

Growth of the city continued well after the end of the war and by 1965 Kitchener had become one of the fastest growing cities in Canada as well as a leading distribution, financial and industrial centre.

Today the population of Kitchener is nearing the 200,000 mark and the city has maintained a strong business and industrial base while remaining strongly rooted in its original German heritage.

There are several public high schools in Kitchener, including the Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School, which dates back to 1855. A number of new schools were built throughout the 1950s and 1960s to allow for the rapid expansion of the city. In addition, Kitchener is also home to Conestoga College, one of the premier Ontario colleges. A School of Pharmacy has also been launched through the University of Waterloo, with the campus located in downtown Kitchener. The city will also be home to a satellite campus for the McMaster University School of Medicine.

[Homer Watson House image from City of Kitchener website]
Follow @CmedMoore