100 years since Berlin, Ontario changed name to Kitchener
Published Thursday, September 1, 2016 12:21PM EDT Last Updated Thursday, September 1, 2016 7:00PM EDT
One hundred years ago, the true cost of the First World War was becoming apparent even to Canadians, an ocean away.
Two months earlier, more than 24,000 Canadian soldiers had been killed during the Battle at the Somme.
On the home front, tensions were flaring between French-Canadians, who were relatively underrepresented in volunteers for the military, and English-Canadians.
In a small but growing city of 15,000 people in southern Ontario, there was a very different sort of tension.
Berlin, as it was called, was primarily settled by Mennonite immigrants of German descent.
With Canada and Germany on opposite sides of the war, some Berlin residents of British descent were growing suspicious of – if not outright hostile to – their neighbours.
The city’s name also began to be questioned, with some people labelling it as unpatriotic.
In May 1916, a referendum was held on the issue. As a result, the city was required to change its moniker.
A shortlist of potential new names was developed. A second shortlist followed, after the first group of suggestions drew national ridicule.
Finally, five possible names for the city were selected. Kitchener was added to the list later, following the death of British military leader Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener.
At the end of June, another referendum was held.
The vast majority of eligible voters stayed home. With fewer than 350 votes, Kitchener was selected as the city’s new name.
The name change was made official Sept. 1. With Thursday marking the 100th anniversary of that milestone, the city’s current mayor released a statement on what he called a defining moment during “grim” circumstances for Kitchener.
“Through what was likely one of our first community engagement campaigns, citizens chose to ‘Make it Kitchener’ and we have been doing that every day since,” Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said.
“The decision made 100 years ago today reminds us that, like those who went before us, we must be visionaries – strong in our convictions and adventurous enough to begin the journey.”