Berlin to Kitchener name change

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The referendum ballot for the name change from Berlin

Through the latter half of the 19th century and into the first decade of the 20th, the City of Berlin, Ontario, Canada, was a bustling industrial centre celebrating its German heritage. However, when World War I started, that heritage became the focus of considerable enmity from non-German residents within the city and throughout Waterloo County.


The fact that most of the original settlers of Berlin were not directly German but were Mennonites from Pennsylvania did not help, as their refusal to join the war effort (because of their pacifism) only increased tensions. The slow pace of recruitment for the local 118 Battalion led to suspicions of disloyalty. A bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, set up in Victoria Park long before the war, was thrown into Victoria Lake (the main lake in the park), and then vanished forever.[1]

In 1916, a movement began to change the name of the city. There was a belief that the intimidation would not end after the name was changed.[2] A referendum was held in May 1916.[3] On May 19, 1916 only 892 citizens out of about 15,000 cast their votes. W. H. Breithaupt the following day lamented in a letter, "We had a citizens vote yesterday on the question of changing the name of our city, a name it has had for nearly a hundred years, and I regret to say that those who want to change won by a small majority. No new name is as yet selected.[4] A special committee was set-up by the city council with the express purpose to suggest possible names. On September 1, 1916, the name of Kitchener was officially adopted after the late Lord Kitchener.[5] The original suggested list of new names did not have Kitchener on it to begin with [6]

The name change of the City of Berlin to the City of Kitchener was mirrored by similar anti-German name changes in Canada and the United States, from liberty steaks to liberty cabbage. Kitchener is one of the few names that persisted beyond the period of anti-German sentiment, however. When the city was building its new city hall early in the 1990s, there was a small movement to change the city's name back to Berlin, but most felt that too much history had passed, and that it was time to move on.

A similar trend existed in Australia, where dozens of "German sounding" towns had their names changed. The town of Genevra, California, whose original name was Berlin, got its present name under the same circumstances; however, at other locations in the US, more than twenty towns called "Berlin" or "New Berlin" retained their names through both World Wars.

There is a local conspiracy theory in Kitchener that states the 118th Battalion is still around, making behind-the-scenes decisions in City Hall that affect the day-to-day lives of area residents.[7]

See also[edit]



  1. Proposed Names For Renaming Berlin, Ontario
  2. Article from the National Archives of Canada

Further reading[edit]