20th Century, Miscellaneous

Kingston and Kitchener

I came across this bit of history from a link sent to me by the 18th Battalion CEF blog – be sure to check out the original post here!

As you probably know, the city of Kitchener was originally named Berlin, and the area has a strong German heritage to this day. However, when the First World War began and the evil doings of the Hun were being spread as propaganda, this German image became a little… uncomfortable. (A bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I in Victoria Park in Kitchener was at one point thrown into a lake, and later stolen for good. It’s important to note here that before the war, German culture was seen by many Canadians as admirable and significant – wealthy Canadians sometimes sent their children to Germany to finish their education. Once the war began though, love for Germany and love for Britain were seen as incompatible. Berlin, a proudly German-Canadian town, was therefore thrown into a deeply ironic and delicate position.)

People soon felt that Berlin’s name should be changed, but it wasn’t just erstwhile Berliners who were looking for a rebranding – Kingston city council was adamant that the name change be immediate and permanent. They sent the following petition to Prime Minister Robert Borden in January 1917, several months after Berlin’s name had been changed to Kitchener on 1 September 1916. If you read through, what it’s huffing about is that some people were showing “disloyalty” by continuing to send mail with the name Berlin instead of Kitchener. Kingston city council, who for some reason felt they had a say in this matter, wanted the government to force the Postmaster-General to rescind his proclamation that the name Berlin was still an acceptable address. The petition is as follows:

Library and Archives Canada, RG 3, series C-2, vol. 640, file “Asking that the name of the Berlin, Ontario Post Office be changed to Kitchener” (click image to go to source)

Library and Archives Canada, RG 3, series C-2, vol. 640, file “Asking that the name of the Berlin, Ontario Post Office be changed to Kitchener” (click image to go to source)

Although in hindsight the petition seems a little ridiculous, it’s important to remember that public sentiment of this sort was high at the time. In the midst of the most terrible war experienced in generations, people got a little (okay, a lot) paranoid. Still, I find it odd that Kingston, which is nowhere near Kitchener, was so caught up in the name change issue that it sent in this petition to the Prime Minister. Who knows what they were thinking? Did other cities do the same?

Now – this is a little off-topic for local history, but Kitchener wasn’t the only name option open to ex-Berliners. There was a long list of possibilities, including some really strange and interesting ones, a few of which I can’t help sharing:

Khaki – This would have gotten old fast.

Brief – Too many underwear joke possibilities.

Cosmos – Why?

Engada – Obviously a combination of England + Canada, this one actually has a nice ring to it. These combo names seem to have been popular.

Uranus – Perhaps submitted by the same person as “Cosmos,” this option was not chosen, to the disappointment of seven-year-olds everywhere.

Windigo – Uh, did they not know what the Windigo is?

Ontario – ????

Imperator – Clearly the best choice.

Click here for the full list. Unfortunately, the names were narrowed down to a fairly boring short list and Kitchener was eventually chosen (Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War, died when HMS Hampshire hit a German mine on 5 June 1916). However, I remember reading an article once on this subject that stated the vast majority of people didn’t even turn out to vote on the name change, so Kitchener was, statistically speaking, a minority choice. Sometimes I wonder whether the day will come when people file petitions to change the name back to Berlin – or has that already happened? Anyway, sorry for the short post this week, but hope you enjoyed it!

20th Century, Institutions

RMC a Century Ago

RMC circa 1920. Library and Archives Canada. (click image to go to source)

Throughout my time as a Queen’s student, I’ve sometimes forgotten that there are other institutions of higher education in Kingston. (Didn’t Queen’s have a mantra in the 60s that went, “Queen’s is the ONLY university”?) Except I’m being serious. While I sometimes forget about St. Lawrence College and its significant student population, I especially forget about that collection of buildings, over there in the distance across the Cataraqui River… Oh, right. It’s RMC.

This is perhaps not especially strange because RMC rarely makes the headlines in the paper, if you know what I mean, and you’re lucky to catch a rare glimpse of a cadet around town. (I retract this statement. I’ve had like seven come into my work recently.) It’s also on Point Frederick, physically separated from the city centre in a way that Queen’s isn’t. I used to go there quite often when I was younger, mostly for archaeology camp in the summer, but haven’t been back since I was fifteen.

My recognition of RMC was rekindled several months ago when I came across an article about its activities during the First World War. Since the blog was getting pretty war-heavy at the time I decided to file the topic away for a while, but now I think it’s been long enough that I can blow off the dust. So this is the last (?) of my unplanned series of posts on First World War activities in Kingston and the area. (The others are here, here, and here. Sorry, this stuff just falls into my lap.) The last two are about Queen’s students and there is some overlapping material. Continue reading

20th Century, Institutions, People

KFPL’s Home Town, Home Front Project

The 46th (Queen’s) Battery in England, several weeks before heading to the Front. Queen’s Picture Collection V28 Mil-FieldCo-5. Queen’s University Archives. (click image to go to source, where you can see a larger version)

This post has been a long time coming – and I should probably warn you I’ve turned it into a 2000-word saga – but I think I’m finally ready to present my account of the soldier I received for the Kingston Frontenac Public Library’s “Home Town, Home Front” project, which marks the centenary of the First World War. The idea of the project was to send postcards to older homes with the name of a soldier or nursing sister who once lived there. Then, the library provided resources for the current residents of the home to research their subject.

The house I live in is a 1986 bungalow so I obviously wasn’t counting on receiving a postcard. However, a request to the library gave me a name to research, after I specified I’d like someone from the area around Queen’s. (I didn’t care where the person lived in Kingston, but considering how much time I spend at Queen’s working and going to school, it seemed like a good option). After a short wait, the name I received was…

Continue reading

20th Century, Institutions, People

Wartime at Queen’s and Beyond

Probably members of the 50th (Queen's) Battery at Murney Tower. Canadian Letters and Images Project. (click photo to go to source)

Probably members of the 50th (Queen’s) Battery at Murney Tower. Canadian Letters and Images Project. (click photo to go to source)

The arrow on the above photo is pointing to Gunner Robert Gordon Brown, whose letters home to his family from the point he enlisted in the batteries then recruiting at Queen’s University until after the Armistice open an interesting window onto Queen’s involvement in the First World War. Battery recruitment was just one of the ways Queen’s was contributing to the war effort, so this view is a partial one, but at the same time it is personal and often quite detailed. (Thus, this post is quite long. I’ve tried to whittle things down to the essentials while at the same time maintaining some personality and background, which is not easy to do.)

NB: Unless otherwise indicated, all images and materials quoted in this post are from the Canadian Letters and Images Project. However, it’s an old website and some of the links no longer work, namely the Copyright link. Judging from the policy of the very similar Great War Archive, University of Oxford, my use here should be fine, but as with anything else on this blog, if you feel something should be removed or altered, please do let me know. I run a pretty tight ship on this blog.

Continue reading

20th Century, People, Surrounding Areas

Boy Soldier

Robert Clarence Thompson at age fourteen, scanned from the book xxxxx

Robert Clarence Thompson at age fourteen, scanned from the book Stories of Prince Edward County.

Robert Clarence Thompson of Prince Edward County surely must be among the youngest soldiers to serve (or who tried to serve) in the First World War. Not quite as young as twelve-year-old Sidney Lewis, who has been authenticated as the youngest British soldier to fight in the war, he still joined up at the mere age of fourteen and was on the Western Front by fifteen. I read about Thompson in the locally-published book Stories of Prince Edward County, which is a series of articles originally published in the Kingston Whig-Standard, written and collected by Alan R. Capon. I thought I had better investigate this one.

With this I stray a bit out of the realms of Kingston history, but I’m intending to include history from the surrounding areas of Kingston in this blog, so this is the first of a coming series. Anyway, it’s an interesting story.

Continue reading