I was taking a walk with the dog today around my neighbourhood – I moved back to KW just over a year ago. I was born and raised here. Did a 5 year stint in Toronto (Toronto proper, not the GTA – at Dufferin and St. Clair) and then spent 2 years in Manitoba – 4 hours north of Winnipeg (brrrr ☃️). When I moved back home, I chose to buy a condo in the core – I used to live downtown years ago and I really liked it – I lived in Victoria Park. The downtown core has been undergoing a huge revitalization the past few years and it keeps getting better. It really did need it, for years Downtown Kitchener (#DTK) was considered the less attractive twin to her sister, Uptown Waterloo.
I live in an area which is a combination of new technology and century buildings. A mix between the high tech and the history. Between one called the Heritage District and the other called the Innovation District.
KW (Kitchener-Waterloo, aka as the Twin Cities) has long been considered Canada’s technology triangle – the equivalent of Silicone Valley in the States. The area has earned itself a reputation for growing the minds, talent, and ideas of some of the brightest technology and IT minds in the country. Silicon Valley and Fortune 500 companies regularly turn to this region of Ontario to source new graduates and snap-up talent. Bill Gates is known to hire plenty a student from the University of Waterloo – where some of the world’s most brilliant minds come to go to school.
BlackBerry was invented and developed here in my hometown – despite contrary belief it is still alive and kicking. It wasn’t that long ago that the BlackBerry brand seemed stagnant, but devices like the KEYone and the more recent Motion seem to have gotten some people feeling the faith once more. Communitech, McAfee, Igloo also call downtown Kitchener home and right across the street from me – in the heart of Waterloo Region’s tech sector in downtown Kitchener, is Google’s biggest R&D office in Canada. Add to that the Region of Waterloo’s new rapid transit system, the ION light rail transit, which is set to launch in December (it has now been postponed AGAIN til Spring due to Bombardier), Kitchener is booming and it just keeps on a coming. Across the street is also the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy and McMaster School of Medicine and U of W School of Optometry and down the road at the old St. Jerome’s all boys high school – is a Wilfred Laurier University campus.
The core is in a boom phase with building permits for 20 new developments expected by the end of February 2019. That would add 1,000 apartments and 1,800 condominium units.
To juxtapose all of this new build, across the other street is one of Kitchener’s oldest buildings. The Tannery is a reclaimed factory building in downtown Kitchener, originally built in the 1850s as the Lang Leather Tannery. Currently the building markets itself to information and technology companies as well as local shops and restaurants, cafes and a microbrewery.
And on the other side are The Kaufman Lofts – converted into condominiums after Kaufman Footwear closed its doors. Interesting fact you may not know – The popular Sorel winter boots were created and made right here in #DTK (side note: in September 2000 the Sorel name became a division of Columbia Sportswear Company which still markets the boot).
Kitchener has an interesting past (tap, tap — are you still here? I haven’t bored you yet have I?) … one that starts with land given to the Six Nations by the British as a gift for their allegiance during the American Revolution. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Dutch (German) wanted to live in an area that would allow them to practice their beliefs without persecution, so they immigrated North carting their belongings in Conestoga Wagons. By 1800, the first buildings had been built. Other German-speaking immigrants from Europe arrived during the 1830s to 1850s, bringing with them their language, religion and cultural traditions. Kitchener was named “Berlin” – yep Berlin! Bet you didn’t know that! The 1911 Census indicates that of the 15,196 residents in Berlin, Ontario.
By the beginning of the First World War in 1914, Berlin and Waterloo County were still considered to be predominantly German by people across Canada. During World War I, there was some anti-German sentiment in Canada and some cultural sanctions on the community, particularly in Berlin. The anti-German sentiment was the primary reason for the Berlin to Kitchener name change in 1916 – named after Lord Kitchener.
The Kitchener–Waterloo Oktoberfest is a remembrance of the region’s German heritage. The event includes 9 days of fest halling and German entertainment – we dance to oompapah music and drink tons of beer while dawning lederhosen and dirndls – we do the chicken dance and shout out ziggy zaggy ziggy zaggy oi oi oi, Ein Prosit and Gemütlichkeit. It’s the second largest Bavarian Festival in the world, behind Munich, Germany. Ok, so there’s your 2 second history lesson on Kitchener lol.
(Photo above: Joseph Schneider, his wife Barbara and their four children arrived in what is now Waterloo Region in June 1807. They were among a small group of rugged settlers who trekked to the new frontier from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in search of good farmland).
I feel this blog may have diverted off course a wee bit … I was initially just trying to talk about the interesting diversity of living in the core these days … and it seems to have evolved in a history lesson on Kitchener lol – sorry about that!
It’s a great time to be living in the downtown core – for years it was an armpit. There was no housing, barely any restaurants, no parking and to be honest really no reason to come down here. Most shops were closed and businesses were leaving. People without homes and drug users filled the streets, but they are working on building affordable housing and safe injection sites. With the City taking an interest in re-developing the core, it’s bringing people back to the core to live, work and play – it’s definitely booming and is on the upswing. Can’t wait to see what the next 2 years looks like in #DTK.
What’s your hometown best known for? Kitchener is definitely best know for OKTOBERFEST! Hands down.