Once upon a time, long long ago in a far away land known as Bavaria, a Crown Prince, who later became King Ludgwig I, married the beautiful princess Therese Von Sachesen-Hildenburghausen. The loyal soldiers in the Prince’s National Guard thought that the horse races would be a most fitting way to celebrate the happy event. King Max, proud father of the Prince, gave his consent to the races and so they became the finale of five days of wedding festivities on October 17, 1810. This was the likely beginning of Oktoberfest.
The horse races became an annual event and were combined with the state agricultural fair the following year. It wasn’t until 1818 that booths, serving food and drink, were set up at the event. In the late 1800’s, the booths had grown into large beer halls or tents, which are still set up each year on the Theresienwiese named in honour of Ludwig’s bride.
Today, a large mid-way and fair accompany Oktoberfest in Munich, the largest celebration of its kind in the world. The festival extends over two weeks and ends on the first Sunday of October.
In Kitchener-Waterloo, Oktoberfest was not established by royal decree, but with a noble motive just the same. In 1969, the founding fathers of the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest saw this Bavarian tradition celebrated at the famous Concordia Club in Kitchener as an excellent opportunity to benefit the entire community by becoming a civic festival that celebrated our local German Canadian heritage.
Click Here to learn more about the first 40 years of Canada’s Greatest Bavarian Festival! “The First 40 Years….Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest, 1969-2008”
On a wing and a prayer or $200 and a vote of confidence….
Where today there is a cast of thousands, at its inception on October 14, 1969, there were only a handful of dedicated Oktoberfest organizers, among them Richard Hermansen, Owen Lackenbauer and Darwin Clay. As a veteran Oktoberfest volunteer, Jack Bishop tell us, “Dar was chairman of the committee even before the organization became K-W Oktoberfest Incorporated (which happened in its second year). The first festival ran Tuesday to Saturday. “Dick was in my Lion’s Club, and he asked me to come along and help. I was president from 1972 to 1976 and have never looked back.
None of them could look back as they hit the ground running. Added Lackenbauer, “it was pretty exciting back then because we were flying blind. As part of the 1967 Centennial celebrations, the Concordia Club had a small Oktoberfest, and we had a mandate with the Chamber of Commerce to develop a tourism event to attract visitors. When we saw what Oktoberfest looked like, we said this is a great opportunity.” With a banner over King Street, posters here and there, and as much media coverage as could be mustered, the keg was tapped and history had been made.
“We got the enthusiastic support of the German clubs and a tourism official from Munich, Germany. All we had was $200 and a vote of confidence from the Chamber to get it going. It was a phenomenal success for the first five days, and we turned a small profit with just short of 75,000 visitors,” recalled Lackenbauer. The success translated into happy patrons enjoying 57,000 gallons of Bavarian-hopped Oktoberfest beer brewed for the occasion and washing down over 50,000 pounds of sausages along with pigtails, sauerkraut and other German and Waterloo County fare.
It was a small band of volunteers doing just about everything. Bishop’s presidency even included fundraising and selling souvenirs, which originally were bought on 30-day consignment and paid for after, but he liked that aspect of the festival so much that nearly 40 years later Bishop retains both the fundraising and souvenir chairs.
Those early years reveal the significant evolution the festival has experienced but one that has been true to the founders’ intentions for Canada’s great Bavarian festival. “There’s been big changes in many ways. There was a lot of community enthusiasm because Oktoberfest was new, and now we’re a much more mature festival with an incredibly wide range of events and activities,” Bishop said. What has stayed constant, in Bishop’s view, is the tremendous amount of money that is raised and goes back into the community. “Service clubs have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars each year since the beginning, and turn around and give it to various organizations in the community. That’s an untold story that the general population may not realize. And for the German clubs, the money goes back into their clubs to carry on their rich cultural heritage.”
“From the initial success 40 years ago, we knew we had a tiger by the tail. We took steps to make sure the festival belonged to the municipalities of Kitchener and Waterloo. And that is where it has remained—a community-owned festival. The present organization has maintained the festival’s traditional identity and the integrity of the model that was first developed while today representing new generations and different interests. That’s the key to Oktoberfest’s success, and I think they’ve done that very well,” noted Lackenbauer.
Since 1969, Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest has developed its own traditions, becoming the largest Bavarian festival in North America with the greatest Thanksgiving Day Parade in Canada. Thousands of visitors celebrate annually in our Festhallen, and by attending one or more of our 40 family and cultural events. Through the celebration of this Spirit of Gemuetlichkeit, the local economy is stimulated and over 70 charities and not-for-profit organizations raise funds to support the high quality of life enjoyed in Kitchener-Waterloo. Willkommen to you, your family and friends.
Enjoy the many exciting experiences of our nine day celebration, and if someone asks why you are here… tell them Ludwig sent you.