In Kitchener-Waterloo, Oktoberfest was not established by royal decree, but with a noble motive just the same. In 1969, the founders of 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. Learn more about the first 40 years of Canada’s Greatest Bavarian Festival!
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 festival founders Richard Hermansen, Owen Lackenbauer and Darwin Clay. As a veteran Oktoberfest volunteer, Jack Bishop tells us, according to 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 was 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.
“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 Gemütlichkeit, 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.