From Berlin to the Trek of the Conestoga

Waterloo County History: Romantic Legend or Misconstrued Deception?


by rych mills, WHS publication committee chair / editor WHS annual volume

Reading local history for any locale puts one in direct touch with the stories that have created our communities’ founding folklore and traditions. Many of these stories assume a greater degree of ‘truth’ simply because of the number of occasions they appear. Because much local history began with – and in many cases continues to be the bailiwick of – amateur historians, those stories have been subjected to varying interpretations and, at times, subtle manipulating. Most local history writings have little or no peer review processes built in to ensure proper research and analysis, thus they are vulnerable to innocent – or purposeful – skewing.

All this is to say that local history writing – of Waterloo County / Region and elsewhere – needs to be approached with an attentive eye and a questioning mindset. In our special area of interest, the history of Waterloo County, one can pinpoint numerous themes and stories which have assumed the aura of unassailable truths. Often, these can be dismissed as not very important but others of these local history tropes, if not examined carefully, can create misunderstanding and perhaps lead to a misreading of what the historical facts actually point to.

One such area was pinpointed by University of Waterloo history professor Dr Geoffrey Hayes when he was researching the WHS-commissioned book Waterloo County: An Illustrated History in the mid-1990s. As a result of his explorations into the area’s story he felt some adjustments had occurred in previous tellings of the county’s history that needed to be pointed out. In a subsequent article titled From Berlin to the Trek of the Conestoga: A Revisionist Approach to Waterloo County’s German Identity published by the Ontario Historical Society in 1999, Dr Hayes developed his discovery in a form to help guide readers into what he felt was a more open and useful pathway of reading our history.*

Waterloo Historical Society invites those sincerely interested in studying and understanding Waterloo County history to read Dr Hayes’ 1999 article.

An alternative view to the well-known writings of the first half of the 20th century will prove valuable to all serious students of our region’s history. This article was distributed to delegates attending the 2012 Ontario Historical Society’s Annual Honours and Awards Ceremony at the Waterloo Region Museum on June 8 and 9, 2012. It appears on the Waterloo Historical Society website with the permission of Ontario Historical Society and the author.

* Gabriele Scardellato, editor, Ontario History, Volume XCI, Number 2, (Autumn 1999) pp. 131-149.

From Berlin to the Trek of the Conestoga by Geoffrey Hayes