Perspectives THE RECORD, Kitchener, Ontario
Joseph Schneider farmed and ran first village sawmill
(Feb 18, 2006)
In the years following the American Revolution in the 1770s, there was uncertainty and apprehension in the Mennonite communities of eastern Pennsylvania.
The pacifist Mennonites were concerned that if hostilities flared again, they would be pressed into military service.
So when the opportunity came to buy land in the German Tract, in British-held Upper Canada, many young Mennonites jumped at it.
Among them was Joseph Schneider. After purchasing 448 acres of forested land in what would become Ontario, he moved his wife, Barbara Eby, and their four children north to British North America in a covered wagon from Pennsylvania in 1807.
The Schneiders would have been among the very first non-native residents of the community that would eventually become known as Berlin, and then Kitchener.
At first, the family lived in the wagon while Schneider went about clearing his land. After building a log cabin, barn and stable, he cleared a road -- which is now Queen Street South -- from the cabin to the edge of his property at the Great Road, now King Street, where the Walper Terrace Hotel now stands.
In 1816, Schneider built the area's first sawmill on the stream flowing through his property -- Schneider's Creek. Then in 1820 (some sources say 1816), using timbers and planks fashioned in the sawmill, he built the barn-like home in the Pennsylvania German style that still stands at 466 Queen St. S.
Schneider, no relation to John M. Schneider who founded the J. M. Schneider meatpacking firm, prospered as a farmer and sawmill operator. He and his wife raised seven children.
"Joseph Schneider was a common person, a farmer, a humble man," says Susan Burke, curator at the Joseph Schneider Haus Museum.
"But he was an important man in this community, for sure."
Joseph and Barbara both died in 1843, before cameras were available so there's no photograph of either.
Their son, Joseph E. Schneider, took over the homestead, which still included more than 300 acres. Over time, the family sold much of the farm for housing lots.
A swampy area close to the creek was purchased by the Town of Berlin in the 1890s. Victoria Park was created, complete with a man-made lake.
The house and surrounding property remained almost exclusively in Schneider family hands until 1975 when the City of Kitchener bought it and conveyed it to the Waterloo Regional Heritage Foundation to begin its restoration as a museum.
Monday, June 25, 2007 , THE RECORD, Kitchener, Ontario
After 200 years, family legacy is still growing
Schneiders celebrate bicentennial
WATERLOO REGION (Jun 25, 2007)Two hundred years ago this month, Joseph Schneider and his brothers Jacob and Christian arrived at a wild tract in Upper Canada where they faced dense, old growth forests, swamps, ever-flooding creeks and the wildly beautiful Grand River.Could Joseph Schneider have imagined that through his influence and hard work, these traditional hunting grounds of the Huron Indians would eventually become Kitchener, a hub of industry and industrious people? This place became Schneider's legacy and there are still remnants of his influence, including a few thousand Schneiders, Sniders and Snyders, all variations of the same name.On Saturday, June 30, the clan will celebrate its illustrious ancestor with a reunion. The last gathering was in 1909, when news reports of the day claimed a couple of thousand people showed up, many from hundreds of kilometres away. That reunion was for the kin of all three brothers.This weekend's event will be just the family of Joseph Schneider.Vern Sherk is a seventh generation Schneider who was aware of his family history as a youngster, but a couple of decades ago his interest really piqued."There was more information available," he explained, citing documents and books by local historians.Suddenly, having all this accessible information gave Sherk a new appreciation for his family, for Joseph Schneider.He learned that his ancestor arrived in Waterloo County with his brothers, his wife Barbara and four of what would grow to be a family of seven children.They travelled with several other Mennonite families -- Erbs, Ebys and Webers, among others, whose ancestors had come to the U.S. decades earlier to escape religious persecution. This particular group came from Lancaster County, Penn., with four heavily laden wagons and a dream of finding inexpensive, fertile land.Waterloo County was divided into parcels of 448 acres for the settlers, but first they had to cut the trees, pull the stumps, plow the land and build homes and barns. Early settlers faced endless days of intense labour yet viewed it as an opportunity, not a hardship.The results of that labour are to be seen across the city today: the 1820 Joseph Schneider Haus Museum on Queen Street was the family homestead and Victoria Park was part of the farm that Schneider refused to sell, even as industry sprang up on adjacent properties.
One of the symbols of his family's success was a clock.Susan Burke, curator at Joseph Schneider Haus, explained that with their Swiss and German background, time keeping was important to the settlers. The Schneider family clock was carefully transported from Lancaster to their new home. Over the generations, the clock eventually was lost to the family until a Schneider descendant spotted it while visiting a Kitchener home. The owner sold the clock back to the Schneider family and it's now on loan to Schneider Haus. This clock is on the family reunion's logo and used in its catchphrase "Time To Come Home."Miriam Sokvitne, now in her 90s, is the family matriarch, a woman of considerable presence. The Schneider heritage is precious to the retired nurse who is also keeper of family heirlooms and history.Her father, Joseph Meyer Snyder, returned the clock to the family, wrote a book about their history and bought the homestead after it had been used as rental housing for several years. Sokvitne begged then-premier John Robarts to have the site declared a heritage site. "I not only cried, I bawled," she said, remembering her passionate outpouring.Once the homestead was back in the family, Sokvitne and her husband travelled the countryside searching for heirlooms. From spinning wheels to toys, these artifacts will be on display at the reunion with, of course, the clock as centrepiece, a symbol of the man known as Kitchener's founding father, Joseph Schneider.
SCHNEIDER REUNIONJoseph & Barbara Schneider 200th anniversary family reunion, Saturday, June 30, registration 9 a.m. First Mennonite Church, 800 King St. E., Kitchener.The day includes displays of family artifacts, speakers and video presentation.Afternoon program, 2:30 p.m., Joseph Schneider Haus & Museum, 466 Queen St. S., Kitchener.For information contact Vern Sherk 519-893-3075 or visit www.timetocomehome.ca.