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Agriculture in Waterloo Region (Pre 1900)

The Mennonite settlers of the Waterloo Region established a rich farming tradition in the Waterloo Region, which was continued by the European German settlers who arrived soon after. The fertile farmland in Waterloo Region allowed for the cultivation of several important crops, notably flax, wheat, and other important grains. Due to this type of production, grist mills became some of the first businesses in the area, grinding wheat into flour. One of the first grist mills was established by a Mennonite named Abraham Erb in 1816. However, by the 20th century, as the Region developed key industrial centers in Berlin, Waterloo, and Galt,  farmers began to lose their  economic influence in the face of rural depopulation.

(McLaughlin, Kenneth. The Germans in Canada. Ottawa: The Canadian Historical Association, 1985; McLaughlin, Kenneth. Waterloo: An Illustrated History. Waterloo: Windsor Publishing Canada, 1990; Fifth Census of Canada 1911, Volume II and III. C.H.Parmelee: Ottawa, 1912.; Fourth Census of Canada 1901, Volume II and III. Ottawa: S.E.Dawson, 1902.; Third Census of Canada, 1890-91, Volume II and III. S.E.Dawson, 1893.; Second Census of Canada, 1880-81, Volume II and III. Maclean, Roger & Co: Ottawa, 1883.; First Census of Canada, 1870-71 Volume II and III. Ottawa: I.B. Taylor, 1873.)


Williams, Greene, and Rome Company (Tailoring) (1901)

In 1901, tailoring and the manufacturing of clothes was the second largest industry in Berlin, Ontario, after furniture and upholstered goods. Star Whitewear Manufacturing Co. manufactured bathing clothes, lingerie, bridal sets, and a variety of other clothes. The John Forsyth Company Ltd specialized in men’s shirts, as did the Williams, Greene & Rome Company.

Samuel James Williams established the Williams, Greene & Rome Company in 1881. In 1886, the company moved its plant from Toronto to Berlin when the company was officially incorporated. In the summer of 1914, Williams, Greene, & Rome was the first company to be contracted in the Waterloo Region to manufacture 10, 000 military service shirts.

(Waterloo Region Generations. “Charles August Ahrens.”; Celebration of Cityhood 1912. Berlin: The German Printing and Publishing Co of Berlin, 1912.; “Busy Berlin Jubilee Souvenir 1879,” published by the Berlin News-Record,


Ahrens Shoes (Boots and Shoes) (1910)

Charles August Ahrens was born to German immigrant in Berlin, Ontario, on 28 August 1856. Having previously worked as a harness maker, and then in manufacturing, Ahrens started the Charles A. Ahrens & Co Slipper and Shoe Manufactory in 1910. The building to the left housed the factory at 5 Michael St., in Berlin (Kitchener). At the turn of the twentieth century, Ahrens Shoes was one of the dominant shoe manufacturers in the Waterloo Region, along with the Western Shoe Company, theValentine Shoe Company, and the Berlin Shoe Company. In the summer of 1914, Ahrens Shoes was one of the companies contracted to produce boots for the Canadian military during the First World War.

(Waterloo Region Generations. “Charles August Ahrens.”;“Busy Berlin Jubilee Souvenir 1897,” published by the Berlin News-Record,; “Berlin Today 1806-1906;” Waterloo Regional Museum. “Region Hall of Fame.




Company Picnics (1911)

As early as the 1860s, local manufacturing companies began to hold picnics for their employees and other local people. In Berlin, picnics held by local distilleries became popular, and were often accompanied by a parade and musical entertainment. These picnics are a mark of industrialization and growth in the region, as companies used picnics for community outreach and to establish a close relationship with their employees. This relationship was maintained through these types of events, and became particularly important in 1911 federal election, in which industrial workers voted in favour of Conservative protectionism, rather than Liberal reciprocity, to protect the economic interests of their employers.

(McLaughlin, Kenneth. Waterloo: An Illustrated History. Waterloo: Windsor Publishing Canada, 1990; Argyle, Ray. Turning Points: The Campaigns That Changed Canada – 2011 and Before Hampshire:Waterside Books, 2011.)



Early Economic Development (1912)

Waterloo Region developed initially as an agricultural center. While the region as a whole never lost this feature, by the outbreak of the First World War, key industrial centers had developed, particularly in Galt and Berlin. These two centers developed at a relatively similar pace between 1870 and 1900. Galt, in Waterloo South, was industrially dominant until the turn of the 20th century, when Berlin superseded Galt’s industrial capacity, power, and population. By 1901, there were 2,360 employees in Waterloo South, and 2,993 in Waterloo North in the industrial sectors.

Waterloo South continued to produce flour, dairy products, wood products, woolen goods, and machine parts, amongst other manufacturing. Waterloo North, particularly Berlin, began producing goods of another nature, including furniture, men’s and women’s clothes, gloves, leather, buttons, shoes and boots, as well as trunks. By 1911, Waterloo South had 5,899 employees working in their 116 manufacturing establishments; Waterloo North had 5,785 employees working in their 147 establishments – 120 of which were factories. Many of Berlin’s factories were granted contracts to produce goods for the war effort in the summer of 1914. Here are a few examples of businesses in Busy Berlin.”

(Hayes, Geoffrey. Waterloo County: An Illustrated History. Waterloo: Waterloo Historical Society, 1997,; McLaughlin, Ken. Made in Berlin. Kitchener: Joseph Schneider Haus Museum, 1989.; Fifth Census of Canada 1911, Volume II and III. C.H.Parmelee: Ottawa, 1912.; Fourth Census of Canada 1901, Volume II and III. Ottawa: S.E.Dawson, 1902.; Third Census of Canada, 1890-91, Volume II and III. S.E.Dawson, 1893.; Second Census of Canada, 1880-81, Volume II and III. Maclean, Roger & Co: Ottawa, 1883.; First Census of Canada, 1870-71 Volume II and III. Ottawa: I.B. Taylor, 1873.)



Ontario Agriculture Ravaged by Army Worm (23 July 1914)  

Army worms, a pestilence that attacks cereal crops, were making their way through the farms of southwestern Ontario in the summer of 1914. The army worms, if left to multiply, moved in large ‘armies’ through fields eating everything in their path. While Waterloo region was keeping a watchful eye on the increasing tensions in Europe, the army worm issue was at a forefront of local concerns during the month of July.

On 23 July, the Waterloo Chronicle- Telegraph wrote:

“The army worm is today marching through the county, laying bare a path several miles wide and doing damage the extent of which it is difficult to estimate.”

At this point in the summer, the armyworm had attacked all of the surrounding counties, including Oxford and Brant, and had reached the borders of Waterloo County. The county remained hopeful that they could prevent extensive damage with the help of six agriculture experts who were graduates of the Ontario Agricultural College located in Guelph. With most of southwestern Ontario affected by the pestilence, wheat and other grains were expected to increase in price.

(“Army Worms Cause Much Worry,” Waterloo Chronicle- Telegraph, 23 July 1914; “How to Fight Army Worm,” Hespeler Herald, 30 July 1914)



Stock Markets Begin to Close (29 July 1914)  

Austria declared war on Servia on 28 July, Russia began to mobilize during the evening of 28 July, and the world waited anxiously to see if Germany would begin mobilization. As more countries got involved in the conflict, the Stock Markets became more strained. On 29 July, Stock markets in Liverpool, St. Petersburg, and Amsterdam closed until further notice.

(“Mobilization of Russian Troops Diminishes Chances of Maintaining Peace,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, 29 July 1914; “Bottom out of Stocks,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, 29 July 1914)


Stock Markets Begin to Close (29 July 1914)



London, England Stock Market Closes (31 July 1914)  

On the morning of 31 July, the Stock Exchanges in New York and London did not open. Although the New York exchange stated that the closure was only for the day, the London exchange was closed until further notice. Across England the public rushed to banks to exchange their bank notes for gold. Panic ensued around the world as people feared the effect the current war was going to have on world economy.

The Berlin Daily Telegraph told their readers to “JUST KEEP on working, Canada is not on the war map.” Although there was concern over the state of the international stock markets, Canadians were told to continue to work and keep the economy going, because Canada would be on the job when “Mother” called for help. Canada, and its cities, would support Great Britain if and when they were asked.

(“No Mobilization Order was Issued in Germany Today as was Expected,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, 31 July 1914; “Alternative Currents,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, 29 July 1914.)


London, England Stock Market Closes (31 July 1914)


Britain Needs Canadian Wheat (1 August 1914)  

On 1 August, the British War Office asked the Canadian Government how much wheat Canada could send Britain. Great Britain needed to rely on a Canadian wheat supply because the Russian wheat crop could not be counted on like it had been in previous years. Later in the month, Britain requested that they receive as much of the harvest as possible, that Canada did not export grains to countries outside of the empire and that it set reasonable prices.

Traditionally, Canada was not much more than self-sustaining in most of her foodstuffs, with the exceptions of grain production. Canada recognized that Great Britain would become very dependent on Canada for her grain supply, a challenge that Canada was prepared to meet. In addition to grains, Canada also increased her exports of bacon, cheese, and fish to Britain. Canada estimated the upcoming harvest to yield 180,000,000 bushels, which meant that 80,000,000 bushels could be exported. Other members of the British Empire, such as Australia and New Zealand, were also expected to send as much as foodstuff as possible.

(“Canada Will Send Regiment to Front,” Berlin Daily-Telegraph, 1 August 1914; “Can Feed Motherland With Bread and Cheese,” Berlin Daily-Telegraph, 6 August 1914; “War News,” Elmira Signet, 13 August 1914.)


Britain Needs Canadian Wheat (1 August 1914)