Building the DOZR Office: Fire Hall #2

September 10, 2020

Although we are a tech company and operate all over North America, the DOZR team does have a Canadian home base headquartered in Kitchener, Ontario. Our office space has much more to it than just being known as the DOZR headquarters – its history dates back to the early 1900s.

The Beginnings of Kitchener, Ontario

38,000 hectares – or 380 square kilometers – of land was given to the British in 1784 during the American Revolution. Some time later an American Colonel from the war bought a big chunk of this from the British. Many German Mennonite families in Pennsylvania ended up learning about the land and realized that it could be an oasis for them to live their lives as they wished without persecution.

These Pennsylvanian Dutch people moved up to Ontario and began establishing farms. A small town formed. More German and dutch immigrants arrived. The village grew.

Finally in 1853, the town of Berlin was established. In 1912, it was officially designated as a city in Ontario. As the first world war began, however, tension arose within the city because Berlin is an explicitly German name. In 1916 during the first world war, the citizens voted to rename Berlin to Kitchener. This name comes from Horatio Herbert Kitchener – British soldier who died during the first few years of WW1. 

Why “Fire Hall #2” Was Constructed

The building that DOZR now uses as an office was first built to be a fire station. Fire Station #2 was constructed in 1913 not because of necessity, but because of possibility

The old town of Berlin had a railway that ran through it. In the early 1900s it was possible for a Grand Trunk train to stop pedestrians, bike riders, horses and wagons for some time. The trains were quite slow. 

There was a single fire hall in Berlin already, but it was on one side of the train tracks. City planners worried about the possibility – as rare as it may seem – of a fire breaking out on one side of the tracks while the fire department was stuck on the other. 

6 of the 20 firemen who worked in old Berlin would be stationed at this second fire hall to help start any firefighting efforts until the tracks were clear for the rest of the brigade to arrive. The idea was that Fire Hall No. 2 would ensure that firefighters could access any fire no matter where it was in the city.

Building the Fire Hall

The fire hall was designed and built in 1913 by Dunker Contractors, a carpenter-contractor company. The building is primarily made from red brick and was definitely built with purpose. 

The 75-foot-tall tower that still stands on the building is the original fire hose drying tower from the early 1900s. The old canvas hoses that were used to pump and spray water would literally be hauled up to the top of the tower and hung to dry. Proper drying helped to preserve the hoses and ensure that they lasted as long as possible.

Prince and Duke

In the early 1900s when the hall first opened, the fire station still used horses to help move equipment essential to fighting fires. In 1916, a famous pair of horses named Duke and Prince were purchased by Berlin Fire Hall #2 for $400. 

Eventually automotives took over the role that horses used to play. However, the two horses had become so popular within the neighborhood that the fire hall held onto them as a sort of mascot. Today, the two board rooms in DOZR are named after these two horses. 

This photo is the only known photo of the interior of the hall while it was still a fire station. It was taken in the late 19-teens.

The Dunker Brothers

Construction of the Fire Hall was done by the Dunker Brothers. The company was first called Dunker Construction and was first started in 1887 by Henry Dunker. He started his business as a house builder in Berlin – or old Kitchener. Later on, he married a woman named Marjorie and had three sons. William Henry, Frederick Charles and Albert all became involved in the family business. Henry changed the name of the business to Dunker Brothers to better reflect the family dynamic now involved in the business. 

Fire Hall #2 was just one of the major projects constructed by the family. They completed a number of other noteworthy projects including the Molsons Bank building in the 1920s. Dunker Brothers Construction was also responsible for demolishing the old Kitchener City Hall in 1924. Between 1929 and 1940, they also helped to construct the Freeport Sanatorium Main Treatment Building (which is now part of a major regional hospital), a Hydro Electric Power Commission Building, a reservoir pumping station and a regional Country Registry Office. 

It’s clear that the family contracting business was well known within the city and trusted enough to take part in major construction projects. 

Dunker Brothers Construction ceased operations in 1974.

A Diverse Building with A Rich History

The fire hall closed in 1965 when a newer “#2” hall opened a few streets over. Since then, the hall has been used as a storage facility, an auto body shop, an artist’s studio, and – now – home to DOZR.

The Fire Hall Today

The fire hall is now regarded as one of the oldest standing fire halls in Kitchener, Ontario. It was designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act in 2005. This means that any owner must make an appeal to the city to make any alterations or to demolish identified heritage elements of the property. 

Much of the history is still preserved within the DOZR office. The old loft that would store hay for Duke and Prince still exists – with the original flooring. The brick and beams are the same. The hose drying tower stands tall.

There’s something special about walking floors that you know so many other people have, too. Maybe we’re just sentimental. Or maybe the saying, “if these walls could talk,” has more meaning than we realize. 

A Construction Story Worth Sharing

Though our DirtStories series we have found a renewed respect for – and interest in – the stories that exist in our industry. After diving into the history of our own building, it really shouldn’t be that surprising that there’s a construction story connected to it. The Dunker Brothers are another example of a construction company that could easily be lost to history. 

There’s more to every building than brick and concrete. And if no one else is going to dig up these stories, then we are happy to lead the charge. It’s only fitting that we turn that attention onto ourselves and DOZR’s personal special piece of construction history.

DirtStories

DirtStories dig up the hidden gems in the industry to share untold stories with the world. From large companies and independent contractors to individual interviews and event coverage, DirtStories is challenging the way the world views construction by sharing the stories of the people who build and feed our world.

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