Harrison Happenings: Kitchener and Waterloo hold special meaning, for good reason

Traveling back in time while visiting one corner of Ontario

A short drive from Mississauga leads you to Kitchener and Waterloo, two cities that are built close together and could, in the future, easily become one. Yet, so far they have decided not to join, perhaps because they are protective of their own distinct identities.  While Waterloo is internationally-known for its highly respected university, Kitchener has a history of its own.

Kitchener has been founded by Mennonites of German origin and has successfully kept many of its traditional customs. In fact, its original name was Berlin, in line with other cities in the area named after capital cities of Europe, such as Paris, London, Breslau, etc.  During the Second World War however, the “Berliners” showed their allegiance to Canada by changing their name to Kitchener, after an English war hero. But the history of the German Mennonite settlers lives on and even today one can see horse-drawn buggies on the roads, people dressed in old-fashioned clothes and more. Life, however, did not stand still for the people of Kitchener and, in a more modern way, Kitchener is known to host the best OktoberFest outside of Munchen.

But, there is more to Kitchener, for instance, a very large, excellent Farmer’s Market, which has been drawing record numbers of visitors week after week for years. This market, in a way, is the gateway to Elmira, St. Jacobs and Flora, which I call “The Market Trail”. These Mennonite villages are filled to the brim with foods, crafts, art galleries and studios.  Together with Kitchener, they have become a distinct destination point and, on any given weekend, it is hard to find a place to sit while listening to street musicians, or have a cup of coffee and apple strudel. Not to mention more substantial German delicatessen such as pork hocks (schwine haxen) etc.

While in St. Jacobs the focal point is three silos “fused” together to house a multitude of art and craft vendors and in Flora it is the old mill which has been changed into an elegant restaurant and hotel. All in all, the “Market Trail” has become a mecca for market and art lovers.

In Waterloo, meanwhile, the university is striving for excellence and innovation with joint agreements and partnerships in sixty countries world-wide. This university is also known for its highly successful co-op system which brings students and employers together to the benefit of both.

And then, of course, again not far away, is Stratford, the Festival City. Built along the river Avon, it was originally fashioned after, “Stratford Upon the River Avon”  in England and in true style, its first theater was also housed in a large, round tent. Unfortunately, time was running out for me during my recent visit to Ontario and Stratford was one of the places I missed. Hopefully, there will be another time — I am looking forward to it!

Some people have wondered why I am so fond and interested in this part (Ontario) of Canada. It is very simple, I say, because we lived there for thirty years. Both, my husband and I worked in Mississauga and our son was born there. We lived in Bramalea, now Brampton, where our children went to school.  Eric, our son, studied in Waterloo, Julia in Clarkson (now Mississauga) and Yvonne in Toronto. My mother, a true pioneer who came with us to Canada at age 56, found her final resting place in the cemetery of Mississauga and finally, my sister and some of my relatives still live there. And so, it truly pleases me to see these places again and see how they have developed.

And this, in a way, is true for all of us: whatever happens in any part of Canada happens also to us, because we all have a vested interest in our country!