Victoria Park Pavilion (1902-1916)
A black and white photograph of Victoria Park Pavilion in Berlin, Ontario. Image credit: Kitchener Public Library. P000348. Waterloo Historical Society Collection.

Spring comes to Alert City

The ice broke on the Grand River, Robin Redbreast made his first appearance, and a young red fox trotted into town (he was quickly enlisted as the 118th Battalion’s mascot); all hopeful signs Berlin, Ontario’s cold, snowy winter would soon end.

The city’s renaming contest was in its final days, with submissions coming in from as far away as England and Switzerland. More than 20,000 suggestions flooded the city clerk’s office. Many entered as a lark, but some desperately needed a part of the $300 prize (almost $6000—see notes on conversion)—a little girl wanted to help her father whose planing mill burned down; a little boy wanted money for school. Alderman Cleghorn told The Berlin Daily TelegraphCavell”  appeared about two dozen times, which met with this (unsurprising) response: “There is little likelihood that the suggestion will receive much consideration.”

Fire at the Pavilion

Seven weeks after Parliament burned, Berlin’s Victoria Park Pavilion went up in flames. When Mrs Strome saw a heavy plume of smoke rise from the grand building, the morning of 24 March, she sent her sons to the call box. Gordon tried to rescue Fred Gregor’s (the restaurant operator) peanut roaster’s from the flames. The front door opened with the “slightest touch;” inside, flames ate away at the beams. He went to another exterior door and kicked in a panel for entry. The intense flames forced him to abandon his rescue mission. He could smell an accelerant—maybe coal oil, maybe gasoline, he wasn’t sure.

The Grand Trunk freight train delayed the fire brigade. The train stopped and blocked the street as the hose wagon approached. Not wanting to waste time, the driver changed direction to go down Edward Street, but the train backed up and blocked the second route (as many modern drivers continue to experience). The site was a “roaring furnace” by the time the firemen arrived. The blaze was in check by 9 am, but the structure that was only erected in 1902 was destroyed.

Fred Gregor told investigators the kitchen hadn’t been used since winter set in and the doors were firmly locked. Apart from the door that was kicked in by Strome, there was no other sign of forced entry, but there were fresh footprints in the snow. Who had keys? That was hard to say—they jangled in so many pockets, Gregor often braced the door from the inside, to prevent entry.

A disused kitchen. No running electrics. The smell of something petrol-like. Unlocked doors. Footprints in the snow. Theories started to fly.

True to form, Colonel Lochead immediately declared a pro-German plot. Perhaps some enemy supporter tried to get back at the Battalion (the bugle band practiced there a few months earlier). Maybe an enemy alien ally retaliated for destroying the park’s Kaiser Wilhelm I Monument. Then again, it could have been a good British patriot incensed that a German immigrant was the Park Board’s superintendent. Maybe the fire had nothing to do with the war.

A couple of members of the 118th told Fire Chief Guerin about an anonymous note received a few weeks earlier. The author threatened the Park Board that unless “certain things were done, destruction of the property would follow.” The Park Board appointed a special constable, but he was let go because of lack of funds (and City Council refused to pay). I can’t help but wonder if this note was the threat the Battalion attended to when they were fired upon a couple of weeks earlier.

Participation ribbons to fend off the finger of scorn

Fit young men avoided Berlin’s downtown to dodge being accosted by military recruiters. According toThe Daily Telegraph, “one physically fit-looking fellow…said he was stopped 11 times while walking two blocks.” He needn’t have been so concerned about being challenged on the streets: a new door-to-door campaign and a new push in the churches was about to launch.

A high percentage of young men weren’t physically fit enough to serve. Some observers surmised many young men signed up knowing they wouldn’t pass their medical exam—they wanted a certificate to wave in the face of recruiters. Others wondered if the population was actually that unfit. A plan was afoot to get schoolboys in a training regime (perhaps inspired by the Australian cadets’ visit in January?).

Given the number “who have the heart but not the physique,” The Berlin News-Record editors decided these patriotic men should be recognised equally to those who joined the 118th. They would publish this “participation ribbon” list (to bring it into modern parlance) every so often to remind readers that not every young man in civvies was bereft of patriotic responsibility. Approximately 40 names appeared on the first list—less than a third of the number of sign-ups at the first week.

While the boys may be hesitant to do their part, the women weren’t.

Many articles I’ve read focussed on women supporting the recruitment campaign: they hosted fundraisers, persuaded mothers to let their sons enlist or provided church suppers to the lads of the 118th. This week saw a tonal shift. Misses Hazel Dawson and Ida Kuntz, nurses at the Berlin and Waterloo Hospital, passed their physicals and were off to the front to serve in field hospitals.

The YWCA’s Emergency Corps registered skilled women for placement at local companies who lost men to the khaki. Twenty women went to The Dominion Tire Company to offer their services to replace enlisted employees. Company management accepted their offer.

Good help is hard to find

The war exacerbated the growing problem of girls shunning a life in domestic service. Married women used to take on housekeeping roles, but since war broke out, they were no longer available. In some cities, some employers “resorted” to hiring Chinese workers to take on household chores—they were more expensive than the usua skivvy, but they were adequate. The want ads held many domestic roles—in 1915’s first nine months, only a quarter of Toronto’s more than 2500 positions were filled.

The Ontario Commission on Unemployment found even an unskilled girl with few duties could be assured to earn at least $18.20 ($355.88) per month; if she left, employers feared it would be difficult to find a competent replacement. The report’s writers believed employers held the key to improving conditions, and suggested they form an association of women employers (domestics should have their own association, to act as a social club and job finding club). They also recommended to attract women to domestic service, it should be classified a skilled trade. It was, of course, “one of the best occupations for women.”

Conduct unbecoming. Again.

The 118th was in the papers again because a group took matters into their own hands and went on a spree through private property. Lochead said the men “acted on false information” and without permission or authority “did certain property damage and otherwise behaved themselves in an unbecoming manner.” Like spoiled children who promised to be better next time, they assured officers they will “never again attempt to molest anyone under any provocation without proper authority.”

Berlin was not alone. Soldiers from Brantford’s 125th Battalion brandished their bayonets and bullied the mayor’s daughter off the sidewalk, forcing her to walk down the middle of the street. The mayor wrote to the commanding officer, demanding this behaviour stop, as the city was not under martial law.

Bread just keeps on rising

Canadians begrudgingly expected price rises in their daily shopping but the price of bread was getting out of hand. The cost of a small loaf rose by 1¢ (20¢) and a large loaf now cost 12¢ ($2.35). Flour prices recently dropped and retailed for $3-$3.50 per 100 pounds ($58.66-68.44), so grocers were unable to account for the rise. Bakers pegged mounting labour costs, which reminded shoppers that more than just flour went into crust and crumb. Hamilton, Ontario’s women threatened to boycott local bakers if they didn’t reduce prices–they’d import loaves or simply bake their own.

Hope for a further drop in flour prices seemed futile. Growers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario planned to plant smaller fields than in 1916—the war lured away many men from farms, which impacted sowing and harvesting. To help plan 1917’s harvest, Ottawa advertised for itinerant labour in thousands of US newspapers. Texan wheat crops ripen one or two months before Canadian crops, so farmhands could head up north for our harvest, if they wished. Canadian wheat cultivation grew fantastically in the past few years and established the country as a major producer in the Commonwealth. That said, growers would only seed as much as they could reasonably harvest until they were assured of labour.

And the piccolo player supposedly skimmed $50,000

Meanwhile, a profiteering scandal brewed in Ottawa, linking Militia Minister Sir Sam Hughes  to a scheme featuring Colonel John Wesley Allison, two US associates, and a web of middlemen who skimmed at least $1.86 million (more than $36.37 million) from $22 million (more than $430 million) in contacts for time fuses. Some Conservative members of the joint committee “were threatened insurgents” and demanded the session be adjourned. When that didn’t happen some got up and left, forcing the meeting’s suspension. Prime Minister Borden  cabled Sir Sam. If he didn’t provide a satisfactory explanation, he would be immediately recalled from Europe to face the music.

Want a bit more information?

The Recipe

160330 German Roast Pork 3 908x480

I looked for something that represented the German side of our community, whose ingredients could (theoretically) be easily found here. And really, how more appropriate a recipe than one for roast pork? This one is simple and delicious. As a side, I sautéed some tart apple slices with onions and garlic and a few spoons of the gravy.

Roast Pork , No. 2 Recipe source: German National Cookery For American Kitchens: A Practical Book of the Art of Cooking as Performed in Germany by Henriette Davidis. © 1904 p140:

After rubbing the meat the evening previously with salt, pepper and mace, put the kettle on the fire with water and enough vinegar to impart to it a decided sour taste; these should be enough of this liquor to cover the meat about one-third; add plenty of finely sliced onions, peppercorns, a few cloves and bay leaves, bring the broth to a boil until it is quite half done, turning it once. If the broth should then not be wholly cooked away it will make no difference—it can poured into a separate vessel; put the fat back with the roast together with a little kidney suet if necessary, and then keep the roast on the fire until it is done and of a medium brown colour, adding from time to time a little of the broth instead of this a few tablespoonsfuls of boiling water.

The gravy, which has been thickened as directed in the previous receipt [“skim off the superfluous fat from the gravy and cook the latter with the addition of a teaspoonful of flour and a little water and salt, if necessary stirring with it all that remains in the pans”], should be strained before it is served. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk to the gravy if it should be too sour, provided it is brown enough.

Braised roast pork (Modern equivalent)

Yield: 4 servings

750g 750g 1-½ lb Pork loin, trimmed
3.75ml 3.75ml ¾ Teaspoon Salt
5ml 5ml 1 Teaspoon Pepper
1.25ml 1.25ml ¼ Teaspoon Mace (see notes)
2-3 2-3 2-3 Onions, finely sliced
      Oil, for frying
2 2 2 Bay leaves
5ml 5ml 1 Teaspoon Whole peppercorns
4 4 4 Cloves
60ml 60ml ¼ Cup Apple cider vinegar, as needed
      Boiling water (chicken stock or vegetable broth (see notes))
30g 45ml 3 Tablespoons Flour
40g 45ml 3 Tablespoons Butter


Rub the loin with the salt, pepper and mace, then tie it up in the usual way. Let sit for anywhere from an hour to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F.

In a hob-safe and oven-safe roasting pan, sear all sides of the roast in some oil and remove the meat to a plate. Add the onions, with some salt and pepper and caramelise, being sure to scrape up any fond that develops. Make a nest of some the onions and place the roast on top. Layer the onions around the meat. Mix the cider with about a litre (four cups) of water and pour into the pan, adding more until the liquid comes up about one-third of the roast. Add the peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves. Cover tightly and pop into the oven.

After about 30 minutes, turn the meat so the part that was submerged is now on top. Top up the braising liquid to the one-third mark, if necessary. Cover tightly again and return to the oven.

After 30 minutes, remove the meat to a plate and dredge the onions from the pan (leaving enough to sit the roast on. Decant all but about a cup of liquor into a saucepan. Place the meat and any accumulated juices back in to the pan and continue to roast until done (see notes). Check to ensure the pan hasn’t boiled dry. If it has, add more pot liquor. When the roast is done, remove the meat and tent in foil for about 15 minutes before slicing

Meanwhile, skim off the fat from the pot liquor and return the onions and spices to the saucepan and reduce, uncovered. Balance flavours to taste.

Make the gravy by making a beurre manier with the flour and butter and mix with about a quarter cup of the pot liquor before stirring into the gravy. If the roast is done, add the pan’s onions and liquor remnants. Taste and balance again.


  • Each country has its own recommendations as to the safe internal temperatures of cooked meat. Follow whichever guide you use, but here’s Health Canada’s guidelines.
  • If you don’t have mace, use about ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg with a couple of ground allspice berries.
  • The original recipe called for water, but I used vegetable broth. As to the quantity, it depends upon a number of factors, including the volume of the caramelised onions and the pan’s dimension. Start with a litre (4 cups) of water and adjust from there.
  • What I’d do differently:
    • Add more flavour: Add some minced garlic and sliced apples to the onions

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