1913 Berlin, Ontario Postcard. Image courtesy Kitchener Public Library. P9673 Kitchener Public Library Collection, Grace Schmidt Room.

11 February: “Should we not consult the people?”

Citizens who wanted to discuss changing Berlin, Ontario’s name jammed Council Chambers. Organized by the Board of Trade and some city councillors, the room was heavily lopsided—some hinted seeded—for change. A draft resolution was conveniently on hand. In amongst the requisite whereases and a therefore, its supporters felt it “absolutely impossible for any loyal citizen to consider it complimentary [for the city to be named after] the Capital of Prussia” and “City Council be petitioned to take the necessary steps to have the name “BERLIN” changed to some other name more in keeping with our National sentiment.”

Alderman WG Cleghorn took the selfless, patriotic path and argued shedding “Berlin” would be “out of consideration for the country as a whole,” since the current name “represents the degradations committed [by the Germans].” Some speakers took his cue and added comments about the “perpetration of unspeakable acts by the Hun enemy,” and the irreconcilable differences between Germany’s and Canada’s ideals. Others felt enemy foreigners were responsible for the Parliament Hill fire as well as the various munitions plants attacks—reason enough to change the name.

Not everyone was hot to agree, and some thought the process was ill-conceived. Among the two or three speakers who raised questions was former mayor and former MPP Louis J. Breithaupt, who opened with “I had no idea that the resolution was cut and dried before the meeting.” The former elected official also brought up the minor issue of democracy: “Also, what right have we to get it changed? We are only a small number of 20,000 […] should we not consult the people who certainly have some right to state their opinions? Are we going to give them a chance?” followed by “I don’t see why we, as manufacturers should endeavour to lay down the law. Let us remember there are workingmen whose opinions should be ascertained…”

These words must have irked Cleghorn and other Board of Trade men—these were the same folks agitating to replace local elected officials with commission government.

Regardless, the resolution moved by Benjamin Eby‘s great-grandson passed handily.

After publishing the pro-name-change petition’s 101 signatories, a peculiar and public he-said-he-said battle sparked between Breithaupt and GM DeBus, a local barber. Breithaupt claimed he signed a sign-in sheet, not the petition; DeBus argued otherwise.

13 February: “We must root out the element…”

SN Dancey, a journalist who saw action in Belgium as part of the 207th Canadian Overseas Battalion, delivered a fervid and eloquent speech supporting the 118th’s recruitment drive. His fieriest phrases were directed at Berlin’s German heart, the weakest link in the Dominion’s chain. He attacked those who were wishy-washy about the name change and was sure some “good old British name” would be selected. The rest of the Dominion knew Berlin was more than soft in its patriotism: “She must give of her men now that she is asked, or she will forever be d—– in the sight of Canada…”

His opinions of Reverend Tappert weren’t abstruse. “The time is coming when he will no longer be a ‘guest’ of Canada’s […] Let him get back among the Germans of the United States where he belongs,” and added those in Canada who cheered when Germans stilled “true British hearts” were disloyal to “the land that feeds them.”

15 February: “Britain’s blood will never stand for insult…”

At about 8:30 pm some of the 118th’s men took matters in hand. A dozen or so broke into Concordia Club (a prominent German club) to steal the bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I. It was stored in the clubrooms since it was pried off its plinth at Victoria Park and dunked into the lake, at the start of the war.

The men paraded up and down King Street, carrying the figure upside down as they sang patriotic songs such as God Save the King, Rule Britannia, and We’ll Never Let the Old Flag Fall. Every so often they played the drums on the Kaiser’s helmet before they marched to the Queen Street skating rink. There, they tried to deliver a recruiting speech to the skaters, but the rink’s band drowned them out. The men returned to King Street before they headed back to the barracks, and locked the figure in “The Clink.”

The soldiers returned to the Club, stole German flags and images of German royalty and went to the recruiting office. They smashed the pictures, ripped the flags to ribbons and stamped the fragments into the snow. Souvenir-seeking bystanders clamoured for shards and shreds.

Some soldiers returned to the clubrooms and sang Good Luck to the Allies as they removed a large picture of the Kaiser and imprisoned it with the bust.

While the portrait was in transit, other soldiers returned to the Concordia Club and searched for anything German missed by previous raids—bunting, a portrait of King George V draped with a German flag, hymnals, furniture, fittings, ornaments. Someone kindled a bonfire outside as artefacts rained onto the street from defenestrated windows. Two drums bounced down the steps, followed by beer casks—two empty and one partially filled with “local option beer” (a soldier snatched the latter and was overtaken by crowds, which caused the liquid gold to drain onto the snowy streets). According toThe Berlin Daily Telegraph, “the only things left untouched being a number of pictures of the city and of Britishers.”

The Commanding Officer, Colonel Lochead and other officers arrived at 10 pm and restored order. A double column of khaki marched back to the barracks.

By this time, hundreds of citizens poured into the clubrooms and continued the mayhem. They scrambled over broken furniture and pocketed what they could find—piano keys, ashtrays, tumblers, metal eagles, towels. Some stayed outside and fed the fire aided by soldiers who appeared after Lochead left. Colonel Martin collected those men, but more from the battalion arrived on scene. These new men went to the corner of King and Queen and delivered anti-German speeches. By 11 pm, not a single soldier was seen on the streets.

16 February: “We never dreamed that the lads would take the law into their own hands.”

The next morning, Lochead blamed “recent events” and “the inflammatory character of a speech delivered by an outside military officer last Sunday” for his lads’ actions. While he didn’t address the bust’s theft, the CO thought the sight of King’s picture draped in the German flag was the tipping point. Of course, the civil authorities would have to ascribe guilt for the property damage but as he told The Telegraph “…policemen were on the scene last night and did nothing to stop the disturbance,” and that it was one of his sergeants who alerted him to the kerfuffle, not the constabulary. Rather than point blame when talking to The News-Record, he made lemonade out of lemons and found the soldiers’ behaviour upon the officers’ arrival “the redeeming feature of the unfortunate affair. They all immediately obeyed my commands and in a few minutes were on their way to the [barracks].”

The public must have found solace when a military inquiry was called, led by Colonel Martin and Captains Fraser, Gregory and Routley.  Citizens must have been assured being told the guilty would be punished.

Sergeants and responsible privates had their permanent passes cancelled. An officer-led military picket of 25 men patrolled Berlin’s streets from 8-10 pm. Without a hint of irony, Lochead admitted he would have declared liquor stores and hotels (restaurants) out-of-bounds, but didn’t “see why the entire battalion any more than the entire civic population should be punished for the acts of a few.” Rumours Militia Minister Sir Sam Hughes was about to deploy General Sir William Otter to bring order to the 118th were simply codswallop.

The six-hour military court of inquiry found no soldier guilty because “civilians, as well as soldiers, took part in the destruction of the property and, as the military court has no power to examine private citizens, it is impossible at the present time to say who was to blame.”

That night, throngs of citizens wandered up and down King Street, in hopes of another battalion blow-up. They would be disappointed. Soldiers on recruitment duty were on best recruiting behaviour: they delivered speeches and only exchanged a few blows while expressing differences of opinion with citizens. These “little disturbances” were quickly brought under control by the patrolling military picket.

16 February: A warning to obstreperous alien enemies

In Parliament, Sir Sam read the Riot Act to Tappert and other “semi-apologists for German spies and Kaiserism.” He praised Lochead’s ability to restore promptly order during the other night’s misadventures and reminded the men in uniform that “neither wanton rowdyism nor ruffianly misconduct” had a place in the Canadian service.

The Justice Department was set to deploy General Otter to Berlin, to take charge of the situation. The 72-year-old was the first Canadian-born head of the Canadian Militia and founded of the Royal Canadian Military Institute. Although he left service six years earlier, he came out of retirement to command Canada’s wartime operations for the internment of enemy nationals. Apparently “old, stale soldiers” were needed after all.

Moon shining down on some little town

With all this happening, it’s little wonder that Bridgeport farmers thought they saw airships in the night sky that week. They weren’t Zeppelins or enemy aircraft in the heavens. They were Venus and Jupiter.

Want a bit more information?

The Recipe

160218 Potatoes Lyonnaise 1 980x480

Given the 1916 events, I thought it best to offer something easy and just this side of comfort food. It’s a bonus that this recipe is a solution for leftover boiled potatoes. At this point in 1916, potatoes were scarce and pricey, so I’m unsure how many spare cooked spuds would be rolling around in a bowl. Regardless of era, homemakers were probably looking for easy and tasty ways to deal with the odd lonely potato. Lyonnaise potatoes is such a dish: sautéd potato discs with onions. With a few tweaks, it can effortlessly transform into algamja-jorim, bratkartoffeln or patatas bravas.

Recipe source: The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896)

Cook five minutes three tablespoons butter with one small onion, cut in thin slices; add three cold boiled potatoes cut in one-fourth inch slices and sprinkled with salt and pepper; stir until well mixed with onion and butter; let stand until potato is brown underneath, fold, and turn on a hot platter. This dish is much improved and potatoes brown better by addition of two tablespoons Brown Stock. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley if desired.

Lyonnaise Potatoes (Modern equivalent)

Yield: 4 servings

40g 45ml 3 Tablespoons Butter
2 2 2 Thinly sliced onions, (see notes)
      Salt (to taste)
      Pepper (to taste)
500g 500g 1 lb Boiled potatoes, cold, sliced into 5mm/ 1/4” coins (approx. 3 large potatoes) (to taste)
30ml 30ml 2 Tablespoons Beef stock (optional)
      Minced parsley (optional)

Melt the butter and add the onions, salt and pepper. Stir while cooking, until the onions have wilted and are golden. Remove from the pan (if like mine, your pan can’t hold all the potato slices and all the onions).

Salt and pepper the potatoes and lay them in a single layer in the hot pan. Add more butter, if necessary, as well as the stock (if using). Let the discs sizzle until singed with brown. Flip the discs and brown them before returning the onions to the pan. Tip into a serving dish and sprinkle with parsley (if using). 


  • I increased the onions in the modernized recipe.
  • What I’d do differently:
    • Switch out the fat: Use olive oil instead of butter
    • Add more flavour: Add minced garlic to the onions as they wilt
    • Play with herbs: Thyme, rosemary, marjoram, savory
    • Make a variant:
      • Turmeric-cumin-mustard seed-chilli peppers (use coriander instead of parsley)
      • Make it into a snack and serve with dip: Spicy tomato sauce (as for patatas bravas), garlic or lemon aïoli or Korean chilli dipping sauce.

1 Comment on 11-17 Feb 1916: And the band played on

  1. DawnM
    5 March 2016 at 09:37 (8 years ago)

    We, the military, promise a full inquiry into how this is totally not our fault.