Jane’s Walk uncovers Kitchener’s buried history

In All, News by Linda Givetash

This piece was also featured in: Waterloo Region Record
Published: May 5, 2013 | [ WEB ] | [ PDF ]


Forgotten stories behind the many names of historic buildings and streets in the city are buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.

Looking at names like Gaukel, Rumpel and Lang carved into headstones at the cemetery, about 50 local residents learned about the people that helped shape the city they live in today.

“People enjoy making the connections between the factory names or the street names they’ve seen … it’s just neat to put a face to the story,” said Wayne Miedema.

Miedema was the guide for the walking tour — one of many Jane’s Walks held this weekend. A resident in the neighbourhood around the cemetery, he began the initiative five years ago hoping to learn more about his new home.

“It helps me to feel grounded in a new place when I have a sense of its history,” Miedema said. “It feels more like home, like I’m less of a newcomer.”

Whether participants of the walk were recently arrived residents or have lived in the city for decades, everyone gained new insight about their city.

Standing in front of a tall monument for Jacob, Mary Ratz and Emma Ratz Kaufman, Miedema shared more than just the story of the establishment of the well-known Kaufman Rubber Company.

While Jacob was an important figure in developing the region’s manufacturing sector with his successful rubber company — the remnants of which have since been converted into the lofts at King and Victoria Streets — Mary Kaufman had a role to play, too.

Mary (1856-1943) was the first president of the Berlin YWCA, serving 1905-1914 which operated out of a building owned by the Kaufman family. She helped the organization build its own building in 1915 and supported its expansion in 1937.

For Mary Kaufman’s commitment to social justice and women’s issues, Mary’s Place YWCA women’s shelter at Frederick and Queen Streets was named in her honour.

Less familiar names, but equally important figures, were also part of the tour.

Allan Huber became known as the Town of Berlin’s most outrageous mayor due to his unconventional approach to politics that included shouting at former mayors and councillors whose political views he opposed.

Huber ran for election in several times in the early 1900s and finally earned the honour of the mayor’s title in the 1908 election. That same year Huber ran in a byelection for a federal seat against William Lyon Mackenzie King — which Huber lost to the future prime minister.

Also signalling the politics of an era passed were the graves of escaped slaves who built their lives in the region. Many escaped slaves found freedom in the Queen’s Bush settlement, an area that is now primarily Wellesley but extended from Waterloo County to Lake Huron.

The Susand family whose graves lay in Mount Hope was among the escaped slaves the relocated from Queen’s Bush to Berlin in the 1850s. Peter Susand operated a number of businesses and his wife Elizabeth also ran Susand’s Taffy, a candy store.

A story forgotten for nearly a century was that of Bukkan Singh, a soldier in the First World War. Singh came to Canada in 1907, leaving his family and home of India, to work in British Columbia.

Singh enlisted as a Canadian troop — the first Sikh to do so in Ontario — in 1915 and was wounded several times in battles in Europe. Ten months after a bullet wound, he developed tuberculosis and was sent back to Canada where he died at Freeport Hospital in 1919; he was 25 years old.

Singh’s grave was rediscovered in 2007 by a documentary filmmaker and an amateur historian and war medal collector who were simultaneously doing research. Since the discovery of the grave site, annual memorials have been held for the soldier.

With many of the tour’s participants being residents of the surrounding neighbourhoods of the cemetery, the walk not only provided a history lessen but accomplished the true purpose of Jane’s Walks — connecting neighbours with each other and their neighbourhood.

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About the Author

Linda Givetash

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Linda Givetash is a Canadian-South African freelance journalist based in Vancouver, B.C. Her work has appeared in print, digital and broadcast media outlets around the globe.