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Block Magazine

Creativity has its place
Issue 25

Sparking a Revolution

How a single building transformed Kitchener into an industrial powerhouse.

BY: Sydney Loney

TOP: Image courtesy of: University of Waterloo Library, Special Collections & Archives; BOTTOM: Photo courtesy of: Allied REIT

When Reinhold Lang emigrated from Baden, Germany, to Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, in 1848, the Industrial Revolution was something that had happened elsewhere. Lang changed this. In 1849, he launched the Lang Tanning Company in a single frame building and began producing leather for saddlers and shoemakers. Four years later, the tannery burned, but Lang rebuilt it—bigger and better.

The site (now the Tannery District) grew to include an industrial complex of 15 interconnected buildings occupying two city blocks at 151 Charles Street West and 195 Joseph Street. Leather tanning became Kitchener’s first major industry, and the Lang Tanning Company was the largest producer of sole leather in the British Empire. During World War I, it supplied leather for saddles and in World War II produced linings for aircraft gasoline tanks. At its peak, it employed 600 people. Lang’s sons continued the tannery’s operations until 1954, cementing it as one of Kitchener’s longest operating businesses.

There was a brief hiatus in the building’s storied history (it was used for warehousing until 2008) before it was transformed into a chic space for high-tech tenants like Google and Desire2Learn. In 2010, Cadan Inc. won awards celebrating the building’s refurbishment, which included the careful preservation of its best features, from the decorative brickwork and wooden staircases to the arched windows with wood sashes and stone sills. Allied acquired the property in 2012 and, in 2017, installed LED lights around the building’s nearly 55-metre-tall smokestack to celebrate this historical landmark (it received heritage designation in 2015) and the beacon of industriousness that it represents.

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