Greetings! Welcome to the WRX Property Group website and blog. Over the past few days, we’ve been looking at some of the fascinating, historic properties that can be found here in Kitchener-Waterloo.
Due in no small part to the fact that, like most cities, both Waterloo and Kitchener’s earliest population centres were the in the Uptown and Downtown areas, most of the properties we’ve discussed have been, well, in the Uptown and Downtown areas.
So it is with great pride, and a tremendous sense of fairness, that the property we’ll be covering today is decidedly not in the Uptown or Downtown areas.
Today, we’ll be heading to the far east of Kitchener and taking a look at a lovely residential property on the bank of the Grand River. Today’s property is: the Sims Estate!
Where It Can Be Found
Most homes stand on a named street, and their addresses consist of a number (and possibly a unit number) followed by that street name. Not so with the Sims Estate– or not entirely. The Sims Estate is such an important place that the street it stands on actually shares its name.
The Sims Estate stands on Sims Estate Drive. And that’s not even the only Sims Estate street; there’s also the nearby Sims Estate Place. As street names go, these ones are pretty easy to remember.
Sims Estate Place juts off of the much longer Sims Estate Drive, near its intersection with Morrison Road / Waterbend Crescent. Fairway Road North, a major arterial road for this part of Kitchener, is a short drive further to the northwest.
The main attraction for the Sims Estate Drive/Place area lies to the east, though: the Grand River is a short walk from the Sims Estate’s front door, as is the seemingly endless green stretch of Grand River Natural Area. But we’ll get into that more shortly; let’s take a look at the property’s history first.
We can’t really talk about the Sims Estate without talking about the Sims, now can we? Well, we can – but where’s the fun, and sense of historical discovery, in that?
Before we get started,though, note that although we will be discussing the construction of homes, and the characters that live in them, we’re talking about the Sims family – not the much-beloved, PC-based Sims life simulation game.
Harvey J. Sims
Harvey J. Sims was born in what is now the City of Waterloo, but was then the Village of Waterloo, on December 25th, 1871. His parents may have remarked something cute like “Harvey’s the greatest gift Santa has ever brought us,” but unfortunately, such things must remain speculative.
Sims attended Suddaby Public School, where he met and befriended another famous local boy – a very, very famous local boy.
Sims next completed his law course at Osgoode Hall, and then went to Trinity College, in the University of Toronto, from 1894-1897 – the same period his Suddaby School friend was there. Sims earned a gold medal for his academic performance in 1896.
Of Lyons and Kings
It’s time we introduced Harvey Sims’ friend: it was none other than Berlin (Kitchener)-born William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s tenth Prime Minister! King served throughout World War II, and he remains the longest-serving Prime Minister in Canadian history.
We won’t say much more about William Lyon Mackenzie King for now, but to conclude: King and Sims were close friends, and they wrote to each other extensively. And whenever King came to Kitchener, where do you suppose he was wont to stay? If you guessed “the Sims Estate” – you’re correct!
Sims’ Simplest Summary
Back to Harvey J. Sims: it would not be an exaggeration to say that Sims was a leading figure in Kitchener for much of the early to mid-twentieth century.
He was an expert on municipal law and life insurance contracts (he was, in fact, general counsel to the local Mutual Life Assurance Company, a company whose headquarters has its own article on our blog); he was a senior member of a prominent law firm; and he was extensively involved in local organizations and athletics.
If all that’s not enough, he was even the skip for one of Canada’s curling teams in the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid.
But there was something else that Sims was passionate about: landscaping. It is likely that love of landscaping, of having a vast, natural vista upon which to realize his vision of perfection, that led Harvey J. Sims to leave his handsome Downtown Kitchener home to the much less-developed eastern edge of the city.
It was 1920 when Sims purchased his eastern Kitchener lot; its name is one that’s likely familiar to Waterloo Region residents: Chicopee. Indeed, Sims 40 acres of property stretched from the base of today’s Chicopee Ski and Summer Resort (founded as the Chicopee Ski Club in 1934) to the banks of the Grand River.
There was, of course, the Sims Estate itself, a vast and impressive structure, Tudor-esque in its gabled roofs and ornate window frames. This tall and luxurious building, built in 1928, you can see to this day. The surrounding landscaping remains beautiful, although perhaps not precisely as Sims organized it.
In short: Sims spent years carefully designing the landscape of his dreams. There were ornate, colourful gardens; meticulously-groomed hedgerows; open lawns perfect for garden parties (potentially Prime Ministerial garden parties?); and more.
Sims was also something of a tree aficionado. He grew dozens and dozens of unique trees, and he likely spent almost as many hours researching the different varieties as he did planting them.
Harvey J. Sims passed away on June 8th, 1945, at the beautiful home he’d designed in Chicopee. After his death, the Sims Estate and surrounding lands stayed in the Sims family for several more decades, serving as home to two more generations.
In 2002, developers purchased the land in order to develop the land into 23 residential lots. The primary Sims Estate remains standing, and as of the writing of this article, has been sold.
The Sims Estate represents a large part of the legacy of one of Kitchener’s most accomplished figures. Eastern Kitchener, particularly the areas around the Grand River, is naturally quite beautiful, but we also have Sims to thank for his careful cultivation of, and appreciation for, this part of the city.
Next time you’re in the neighbourhood and spot a unique tree, you’ll know that it may well have been Harvey J. Sims who planted it!
Written by Will Kummer