Best Historic Sites in Kitchener
Hello, and welcome to a very special – a very historic – edition of WRX Property Group’s ongoing coverage of all things Kitchener-Waterloo! What will be the focus of today’s article, you ask? Well, if you missed the title, it is: the Top 5 Historic Sites in Kitchener!
5. Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower National Historic Site
This striking, stone tower stands proudly in a green, fielded area of southeast Kitchener.
Located just off of the gravel path of the Walter Bean Grand River Trail (another of Kitchener-Waterloo’s finest features), the Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower is a tribute to the German-speaking Mennonites who settled in the region at the turn of the nineteenth century.
At 18.9 metres high, the tower really stands out in its clearing, dwarfing the trees that serve as its picturesque backdrop.
It’s quite stylistically distinctive, with a pointed roof that would not look out of place in Switzerland (many Swiss people settled in the Waterloo Region, too), and a weather vane that depicts a Conestoga wagon (a covered wagon used extensively by Pennsylvania Deutsch migrants).
The memorial plaque (and a newer sign, with information and images) describes the hardworking lives of the early settlers. The nearby Pioneer Tower Natural Area and pioneer cemetery are worth exploring, too.
The tower was constructed in 1926 – an attempt at reconciliation with the region’s large German population after discrimination during the First World War – and is located right alongside the Grand River, west of the busy Sportsworld Crossing area of Kitchener.
4. Woodside National Historic Site
Not every city can boast a locally-born Canadian Prime Minister (there are, after all, only 23 of them so far). But Kitchener is proudly the birthplace of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s tenth and longest-serving Prime Minister (and some may say the quirkiest).
Woodside National Historic Site is his childhood home. The Victorian-era house (built in 1853) is quite something to look at, and its large grounds (over 11 acres) are beautiful throughout the year.
The best way to experience the historic site is by a guided tour: you’ll learn about William Lyon Mackenzie King, his family, the Victorian age, and old Berlin from an enthusiastic, accurately-garbed presenter, all for $7.50.
Special events include Victorian Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations.
Located near downtown Kitchener, just north of the Central Frederick neighbourhood, Woodside is quite easy to get to. It’s right off of the Conestoga
Parkway (between the Highway 7 and Highway 85 segments), on Wellington Street North.
Despite being right off the highway, and near Kitchener’s urban core, it surprisingly still manages to feel like a rural retreat in a densely wooded area (aided by nearby Springwood Park). Find hours and admission info here.
3. Victoria Park
Victoria Park really is one of the best parts of Kitchener.
It could probably rank highly in any Kitchener-related top 5 list (except, perhaps, Top 5 Places That Aren’t Victoria Park), but that’s just because it’s got a bit of everything: it’s historic, dating back to 1896; it’s got impressive historical monuments, including a statue of Queen Victoria and the old City Hall’s clock tower; and it’s just stunningly picturesque.
So head on over to Victoria Park: it’s beautiful and it’s free.
2. Schneider Haus National Historic Site
This is just about the closest we can get to seeing what Kitchener was like back when it was still called Berlin. You can find out about Kitchener’s early history (and its modern history, too) in our article on the city (check it out here) but in brief: German-speaking Mennonites migrated to the area from
Pennsylvania, built a village, and over time it prospered and grew to its current state.
So what is Schneider Haus? It is the oldest residential house still standing in Kitchener, for one thing! Way back in 1816, Joseph Schneider and his wife Barbara lived here – they’re two of the earliest wave of Pennsylvania Deutsch settlers in the area.
Joseph Schneider was an important figure in Kitchener’s early days, financing important building projects and roads (his roads would become the heart of downtown).
Schneider Haus has been a ‘living museum’ since the 1980s, when it was refurbished and inhabited by a quirky cast of nineteenth-century characters (note: they are actors, not the original inhabitants). When you visit, you’ll get a real sense of what life was like in Ontario circa 1850.
The house (haus, I suppose) itself is large and very convincingly furnished, and the staff are passionate and knowledgeable. A guided tour is the best way to really appreciate the historic site, but there’s so much to see that you’ll likely want to walk around for yourself, too.
It’s very educational, and importantly, quite fun: the costumed staff make learning about the region’s history entertaining. There are special exhibits throughout the year, as well: in 2018 there is a presentation of Ojibway Quillwork.
Schneider Haus is located in downtown Kitchener, just south of lovely Victoria Park, and west of the Cedar Hill neighbourhood. It’s closed from Christmas to mid-February, and hours vary seasonally. Find out opening hours and admission prices here.
1. Doon Heritage Village
Schneider Haus is awesome, and definitely worth repeat visits. But can it compete with an entire historical village? Well, yes, but there needs to be a winner, and the Doon Heritage Village is simply incredible.
The Doon Heritage Village transports you back to a very specific time and place: the place, as you may have guessed, is Doon (a former village that was absorbed into Kitchener); and the time is 1914.
Part of the Waterloo Region Museum, the heritage village is another example of living history. You can wander throughout the 60 acre area, which features over 20 buildings that were common in the era (such as a blacksmith, a sawmill, and a train station) –the buildings are open for you to explore, as well; you can interact with knowledgeable interpreters dressed in period costumes (and animals!); and you can even learn and participate in fun lessons and activities (including blacksmithing and wagon rides).
The staff is great, very friendly, and clearly dedicated to their roles as historians, guides, and in specific cases, skilled artisans. Come see what life was like in the Waterloo Region during the pivotal World War I era!
It truly is a delight for visitors of all ages, and its size, the large and passionate staff, and the immersive interactivity truly make you feel as though you’re setting foot in a bygone age.
The Doon Heritage Village is located on the opposite side of the Grand River from the Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower, just off of Homer Watson Boulevard.
Find admission details here.
Written by Will Kummer