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*Updated December 22, 2020*
It’s no surprise that tech is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Waterloo Region. It’s home to multiple start-ups and the offices of multinationals like Blackberry and Google. But Canada’s Silicon Valley wouldn’t be where it is now without the history of the Neutral and Six Nations people who first settled here, and the Mennonite immigrants who followed after. The region pays homage to its roots while staying thoroughly modern with new companies and tech spaces literally growing in and among its historic buildings.
WALK WATERLOO’S PUBLIC ART ROUTE – 9:00 AM
DAY 1 – 9:00 AM: WARM UP WITH A WHIRLWIND TOUR OF WATERLOO’S PUBLIC ART.
Start your romp through the Tri-Cities in the heart of downtown Waterloo. Over the years, the City of Waterloo has done a lot of work to beautify the city while creating landmarks and placemakers for residents and visitors alike. The city even provides an online guide to help you chart your course.
The first piece in this public collection is an ode to the agricultural roots of the city, a time before big tech was the economic engine of the region. The John Labatt Barley Field is a collection of hand-forged steel stalk forms of barley made by artist Jane Buyers. It’s an interesting commentary on how rows of barley have been replaced by city blocks and office towers.
Continuing along the route will take you past several other pieces of sculpture, landscapes, and murals, all leading up to Waterloo Park.
STOP BY the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Uptown Waterloo – 12:30 PM
DAY 1 – 12:30 PM: THE CITY OF WATERLOO IS HOME TO THE ONLY PUBLIC ART GALLERY IN CANADA THAT SPECIALIZES IN COLLECTING WORKS OF ART MADE FROM CERAMIC, ENAMEL, & STAINED GLASS.
The Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery* is housed in an award-winning building designed by Patkau Architects, right on the edge of Waterloo Park and next door to the renowned Perimeter Institute. The gallery itself has huge windows, flooding the spaces with natural light. Several stained glass windows create dazzling displays as the sun makes its daily arc across the sky.
The gallery’s collection features pieces from the traditional media of ceramics and glass work, but also incorporates new sculptural and material methods such as 3D-printing. A glance through their catalogue proves that there’s much more to the tactical crafts than tea cups and bowls.
Coming around Silver Lake, you might chance upon a modest log structure. This is the old Log Schoolhouse, built in 1820 by Pennsylvania German settlers. It’s the oldest school built in Waterloo and might be the oldest log house in the province. The building was actually dismantled and moved a couple of times before landing in Waterloo Park. It was designated a heritage site in 2012.
Continuing on from the schoolhouse, you can take one of the many paths through the park and find three more pieces of public art, all of which are sculpture. Keep your eye out for a cheeky pair of tables as you walk through the skate park by artist Ted Fullerton.
*NOTE: As of our last update, the Canadian Clay & Glass Museum has re-opened.
Check Out KITCHENER’S CIVIC CENTRE – 2:00 PM
DAY 1 – 2:00 PM: STROLL THROUGH CIVIC CENTRE PARK AND SWING BY KITCHENER-WATERLOO ART GALLERY.
Take a stroll through Civic Centre Park to discover a remarkable monument. The Kitchener Fallen Firefighters Memorial stands as a solemn tribute to firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty. Civic Centre Park really is a main hub of Kitchener, with easy access to the Kitchener Public Library, the aptly named Centre in the Square, and Waterloo’s Regional Headquarters.
Continuing on through the park, you’ll arrive at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. The gallery* boasts over 4,000 works in its permanent collection, including works by major Indigenous artists like Kent Monkman and Shelley Niro. If you’re travelling with someone with sensory needs, then make this an early stop. Between 10 AM and 12 PM KWAG hosts Sensory Friendly Saturdays, where the galleries and public spaces have reduced light and volume levels.
*NOTE: As of our last update, the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery has re-opened.
EXPLORE DOWNTOWN KITCHENER – 3:00 PM
DAY 1 – 3:00 PM
Spend the remainder of your afternoon exploring downtown Kitchener, and check out the former industrial buildings that remain a fixture in the city. Highlights include Kaufman Lofts, a footwear factory turned residential building. There’s also the Tannery Building that now houses several tech companies, as well as a brewery: Abe Erb. The name of the brewery is an ode to Abraham Erb, one of the first Mennonite immigrants from Pennsylvania.
There’s also the Walper Hotel, a red brick beauty built in 1893, right in the heart of downtown Kitchener. Among the hotel’s many illustrious guests are names like Eleanor Roosevelt, Louis Armstrong, and maybe even Al Capone…
Discover New Ideas and Experience at THEMUSEUM – 10:00 AM
DAY 2 – 10:00 AM: VISIT THEMUSEUM FOR A VERY DIFFERENT MUSEUM EXPERIENCE.
You won’t always find famous works of art or paintings here. Instead, get ready to move your body and get creative. Permanent exhibitions include a virtual graffiti wall with a “light-powered” spray can, a stop motion animation studio, and a six-foot piano you can walk on. THEMUSEUM* is completely wheelchair and stroller accessible.
After that, cut across town to Victoria Park where you’ll find the Clocktower of the Old City Hall standing alone in the midst of a garden and pond. It used to rest atop Kitchener City Hall, but that building was demolished decades ago. Fortunately, enough of the Clocktower survived, and with some much needed restoration, it continues to keep time for Kitchener’s citizens.
*NOTE: As of our last update, THEMUSEUM has re-opened.
Explore the Idea Exchange and Downtown Cambridge – 1:30 PM
DAY 2 – 1:30 PM: THE IDEA EXCHANGE IS CAMBRIDGE’S PUBLIC LIBRARY, BUT IT’S VERY DIFFERENT FROM YOUR USUAL LIBRARY SYSTEM.
You’ll find your first stop in Cambridge near the water. The Idea Exchange Old Post Office* is a public library housed in a former post office building from 1885. Designed by architecture firm RHDA, the new library opened in July 2018 and features a 9,000 square foot transparent pavilion that wraps around the original building and looks over the Grand River. You won’t find books here. Instead, it’s a digital hub and creative space with gaming areas, recording suites and more.
Across the water is the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture, which has the Design at Riverside* gallery on the ground floor. The gallery is a local hub, where you can attend lectures, concerts, and film screenings.
If you continue along the Grand River, you’ll arrive at the Cambridge Sculpture Garden. Among the carefully manicured gardens are several pieces of mind-bending sculpture, many of them commenting on the nature of their materials or the concept of structure itself. If you happen to come by at night, you’ll find the sculptures illuminated, revealing details you might miss in broad daylight.
*NOTE: The Idea Exchange Old Post Office will re-open on July 13th, 2020 with limited in-person services.
*NOTE: Design at Riverside is closed with no stated re-opening date.
SEE HISTORIC ESTATES IN CAMBRIDGE – 6:00 PM
DAY 2 – 6:00 PM: TAKE A RIDE TO THE LUXURIOUS SIDE.
Langdon Hall* was originally built as a summer home in 1898 by the great-grandson of the American real estate tycoon John Jacob Astor and has been there for more than 100 years. The estate is surrounded by gardens, all carefully arranged to reinforce the Victorian Era charm of its long-standing residence.
Nowadays, Langdon Hall caters to those in search of absolute luxury. There’s fine dining, high tea, a spa.
Exploring a little further afield will bring you past the Cruickston Park Estate, which has its own luxury home. The original English mansion was refurbished after its purchase by Matthew Wilks in 1858, and the Wilks family later expanded the estate to the nearly 1000 acres it currently occupies. You might recognize this Tudor-style manor house from shows & movies like RED, Cold Creek Manor, and CBC’s Frankie Drake Mysteries.
The area also sports easy access to the Walter Bean Grand River Trail, which closely follows the banks of its namesake waterway. You can follow the trail all the way to Devils Creek Falls, where you can get a close up view of a small, but stunning waterfall. You can also continue on to one of the many parks along the riverside.
*NOTE: Langdon Hall is currently open. Reservations are required.
YOUR TRIP AT A GLANCE
Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery – http://www.theclayandglass.ca/
Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery – https://kwag.ca/
THEMUSEUM – https://themuseum.ca/
Idea Exchange Old Post Office – https://ideaexchange.org/oldpostoffice
Design at Riverside – https://uwaterloo.ca/architecture/resources-services/design-riverside
Cambridge Sculpture Garden – http://www.cambridgesculpturegarden.ca/csg/Home.html
Taco Farm – https://tacofarm.ca/
Abe Erb – http://abeerb.com/
Cambridge Mill – https://cambridgemill.ca/
The Walper Hotel – https://www.walper.com/
Langdon Hall – https://www.langdonhall.ca/
The Regional Municipality of Waterloo provided information and/or assistance for the creation of this guide. All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Esther Lee.