Unraveling Kitchener's German Connection

First time visitors - including potential new residents considering moving to KW - usually quickly come to realise that of all the cities and towns in the Waterloo Region, Kitchener has the strongest Germanic influence - despite being names after a well known British historical figure.

And some wonder why that is. To help new residents understand - and to explain why here in Kitchener the largest Oktoberfest outside Germany has been staged for over three decades and draws visitors from all over the world, it helps to understand a bit of area history.

Berlin (Canada) and Kitchener's Beginnings

The land Kitchener was built on in 1784 was a 240,000 hectare area granted by the British to the Six Nations as a reward during the American Revolution for their allegiance. The Six Nations then sold 38,000 hectares of this property to Loyalist Colonel Richard Beasley between 1796 and 1798.

The portion of land that Beasley bought was remote, but of great interest to Pennsylvania's German Mennonite farming families. They wanted to live in an area that, without persecution, would allow them to practice their beliefs which were often frowned on and misunderstood in their home state. The Mennonites liked the area so much, eventually acquired all of Beasley's unsold property.

After November 1803, some of the settlers coming from Pennsylvania, known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, purchased land. Many of the first farms had an average size of four hundred acres.

From 1816 until the 1870s, immigration to the town increased significantly, with many of the newcomers being of German extraction (particularly Lutheran and Mennonite). Like the founder of The Arthur Pequegnat Clock Company, some were from Switzerland. Due to the recent German immigration from the Breuckmann family, the town was renamed Berlin in 1833, and Berlin became the County Seat of the newly formed County of Waterloo in 1853, elevating it to Village status.

German legacy

Berlin, now Kitchener, has the strongest German heritage of the cities that are now part of the Waterloo Region, due to the high levels of settlement by German-speaking immigrants in this city.

While the most numerous were those from Pennsylvania until around 1840, in 1819 a few Germans from Europe started to arrive. During the 1830s to 1850s, other German-speaking immigrants from Europe arrived, bringing their language, faith and cultural customs with them. The German community, unlike any other found in Canada at the time, became industrial and political leaders, and established a German-Canadian society. German public schools and German language churches were founded by them.

The immigrants from Germany and the Pennsylvania Mennonites also spoke German, albeit with different dialects. A noteworthy element in the development of Waterloo County was the fusion of different forms of German-speaking communities. It was very convenient for the two Germanic groups to understand each other, and there was no visible dispute between the Germans from Europe and those who came from Pennsylvania.

Some sources suggest that between the 1830s and 1850s, approximately 50,000 Germans settled in and around Waterloo County, directly from Europe.

Why Kitchener's Streets are Different

Something else that new residents and visitors notice fast is that the streets in Kitchener are laid out differently, not just to those in nearby towns and cities but to Ontario in general. This is because Kitchener's streets are laid out in a complex radial pattern on the Continental models most familiar to the German settlers, unlike most southern Ontario towns whose streets adopt a strict British grid survey pattern. Some find this a little difficult to get used to, but once they do getting around town is still easy!