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Kitchener > Travel Guide > History of Kitchener

The land on which the city of Kitchener sits was part of a large tract set aside by the British Crown as a grant to the Six Nations Indians for their loyalty to the Crown during the American Revolutionary War. Between 1796 and 1798, the Six Nations Indians sold off a portion of land to Colonel Richard Beasley, a United Empire Loyalist.

While located far inland and isolated from centers of commerce, the land owned by Beasley appealed to a particular group of Pennsylvania German Mennonite farmers who were looking for inexpensive land and freedom of worship and beliefs.

It is reported that a small group of Mennonites, members of the Betzner and Sherk families, learned of Richard Beasley's tract of land, and by the end of 1800 the first permanent non-native settlement was established in what is now the city of Kitchener.

Soon afterward, a group of Mennonites pooled resources to purchase all of the unsold land from Beasley, forming the German Company Tract and dividing the lands into 128 farms, each for distribution.

At the time of the pioneer settlement, Kitchener was a land abundant with dense bush, swamps and sand hills. Streams found throughout the area would become very important in supplying the power for saw and grist mills, in what was a farm-based economy.

In 1816, the Township of Waterloo was created. The establishment of the Township marked the beginning of a steady migration of German- speaking Europeans to the area. The German language of the Mennonites and their tolerance for other religions and cultures attracted many German-speaking immigrants.

Population growth and improvements made to roads helped establish the beginnings of a town center that would become a hamlet named Berlin in 1833, in honor of the settlers' German heritage. In 1853 Berlin would become the County Seat of the newly created County of Waterloo and with that so came the status of Village.

Three years later in 1856 the Grand Trunk Railway was extended to Berlin, opening up the area completely to Upper Canada society and to future industrialization.

The increase of German-speaking immigrants from Europe also contributed greatly to Berlin's industrialization, with their industrial knowledge and skilled trades. By the end of the 19th century, Berlin had established itself as a major industrial center, boasting furniture factories, tanneries, a foundry and button factories.

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 came anti-German sentiment and an internal conflict ensued as the city was forced to confront its cultural distinctiveness.

There was pressure for the city to change its name from Berlin, and in 1916 following much debate and controversy, the name of the city was changed to Kitchener, after the British field marshal Lord Kitchener, who was Secretary of State for War until his death on June 9, 1916 in the mine sinking of HMS Hampshire.

The diversification of industry enabled the city to weather the worst years of the Depression era. The tension that had marked the City in the First World War did not reappear during World War II. By 1965, Kitchener had become Canada's fastest growing city and one of the country's leading industrial, financial and distribution centers.

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