Jacob Y. Shantz Residence(s)
Greetings! Welcome to the WRX Property Group website and blog. Today, we’ll be flipping through the annals of Kitchener’s history once more. And again, we’ll be in the environs of downtown Kitchener. Somewhat distinctly, today we’ll be looking at not one residential property, but two! If you love history, you’ve got an interest in Kitchener, or you’re filled with joy every time you see a two-for-one deal – then read on!
Where We’re Looking
As noted, we’ll be heading to Downtown Kitchener again for today’s historical exploration. More specifically, we’ll be looking at two intersections: the intersection of Cedar Street South and Church Street; and the intersection of Ottawa Street South and Maurice Street.
Both of the houses we’re concerned with today (indeed, just about every property on the Kitchener Heritage Properties list) were constructed in the nineteenth-century. At this time, Kitchener wasn’t Kitchener – Kitchener was Berlin. Berlin became Kitchener during the First World War, as tensions with German-Canadians were quite high (a statue of Kaiser Wilhelm was even heaved into Victoria Park Lake).
The Properties, and Who Built Them
Today’s Heritage Properties were both built by the same man, one year apart from each other. That man was: Jacob Yost Shantz. Shantz built the first home, at 138 Church Street, in 1855, and the second home, at 5 Maurice Street, in 1856. We’ll get into more detail about the homes, but first, while we have the chance, let’s take a look at Shantz.
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Take a Shantz on Me
Jacob Y. Shantz was born on May 2nd, 1822. His parents had come to the burgeoning Waterloo Region just over a decade earlier, as part of the first wave of German-speaking Mennonites emigrating from Pennsylvania. Up until 1830, Berlin was actually referred to as Ebytown, after Benjamin Eby, who was considered the founder of the settlement.
Like many of the settlers here, Shantz’s parents were farmers. Shantz got married at 21, and quickly began to take over his parents’ farm. He also ran the sawmill owned by his father. He set to work finding new markets to tap into like recent arrivals from Germany looking for building materials, and sidewalk construction projects for the growing village of Berlin.
Before long, Shantz was dealing in real estate, investing in a variety of businesses, and quickly becoming a pillar of the community. Indeed, you wouldn’t trust just anyone with the lauded position of ‘village fence inspector,’ now would you?
Shantz purchased multiple lots of prime real estate, basing many of his business decisions on the recent expansion of the Grand Trunk Railway through Berlin (essentially connecting the community to Toronto, Montreal, and more). But it wasn’t just the wood, real estate, and investment games that Shantz wanted to take part in; Shantz decided to get into buttons.
A Hot-Button Issue
In 1870, two men (John Jacob ‘Jingleheimer Schmidt’ Woelfle and Emil Vogelsang) commissioned Jacob Shantz to build them a button factory. And Jacob Shantz did just that: he built a big, bold and beautiful button factory. It was called: the Dominion Button Works. Within a few months, Shantz ended up taking over for Woelfle as Vogelsang’s partner, and five years after that, Vogelsang left, and the Dominion Button Works was Shantz’s (and his sons’). Shantz also felt it was time to get into felt manufacturing, too.
All of this combined to make Jacob Shantz one of the leading figures in all of Berlin from the mid to late-nineteenth century. He held various public service positions, supported the local community, a became a prominent member of the local Mennonite Church. Indeed, he was so prominent among the Mennonite community that the Canadian government recruited Shantz to promote immigration to Canada to European Mennonites.
Go West, Young Shantz
In what may one day become a heart-warming buddy road-trip film, Jacob Shantz travelled with Bernhard Warkentin, a Russian Mennonite, to Manitoba. The Canadian government seems to have believed Warkentin was an official Russian delegate, but nope, he was just Bernhard.
Shantz wrote about his journey to Manitoba, and the Canadian Department of Agriculture ended up publishing it under the creative title of Narrative of a Journey to Manitoba in order to promote Canadian immigration. Lines like “Cattle can be fattened in Manitoba, and driven to St. Paul without loss of weight,” while not exactly riveting, would surely be of interest to farmers considering a move out west (Shantz, J.).
To wrap up with Shantz, the Dominion Button Works became quite profitable indeed, reaching a maximum work force of over 300, and even expanding to a second location in Buffalo, New York (the Civil War had helped the garment trade between Ontario and the northern United States). However, Shantz eventually found himself in some financial difficulty. He sold properties, took out loans, and ended up retiring in 1891.
But he wasn’t done yet: Shantz once again journeyed out west, this time to Alberta, where he decided that, at the age of 70, it was time to found a new colony: Didsbury, Alberta. Shantz journeyed west multiple times in his life, and two of his children ended up moving to Disbury. Shantz died in 1909.
The Shantz Homes
Whew! That was a lot of background information. Now, as for the two homes that served as the basis for this article: they’re quite nice. Built in the Victorian style, they are lovely properties with sleek, lightly-coloured, rectangular facades and twin rows of rectangular windows that served as home to Shantz himself, as well as his family. The home on Maurice Street Jacob Shantz had built initially for his parents (he called it the ‘doddy house’ at that time), but he ended up living there, too.
And just like that, we flip to the end of yet another fascinating chapter of Kitchener’s history. As with many of the properties and past residents we’ve looked at, you can still see echoes of the distant past in present day Kitchener, whether it be the houses themselves (still standing, albeit with newer cars in the driveway), recognizable names on street signs (Shantz Lane, for example, is off of Weber Street East, where the Conestoga Parkway branches off in three directions), or the entrepreneurial spirit driving Kitchener-Waterloo’s economy.
If you’re interested in buying or selling a home in Kitchener-Waterloo, we’d love to help! Maybe one day, a century or so in the future, it will be a Heritage Property, too!
Written by Will Kummer