The Walper Hotel
Welcome to the WRX Property Group website and blog! Today we’ll be taking a look at one of Kitchener’s most iconic buildings: the Walper Hotel (or the Walper Terrace Hotel, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). It’s stood proudly at the corner of King Street and Queen Street, right in the heart of Downtown Kitchener, for over a century. But to understand the full scope of the Walper Hotel’s story, we must go back even further.
Joseph Schneider settled in what would go on to become the Waterloo Region that we know and love in 1806; he was part of the first wave of Mennonite settlers moving north from Pennsylvania. Schneider kept quite busy, but salient to our tale is that he purchased a fair bit of land (well over 100 acres). And he leased a large parcel of this land to a man by the name of Phineas Varnum in 1820 (courtesy of Schneider’s Biographi).
It was boggy and unkempt (what is today called Schneider Creek was in the neighbourhood), but it would prove to be incredibly well-situated as Berlin grew (check out the history of the Berlin to Kitchener name change here). So Phineas Varnum did what any sensible man would do with a leased parcel of boggy, unkempt land: he erected a blacksmith’s shop and an inn. And what did Phineas Varnum decide to name his inn, you ask? Varnum’s Inn. Branding is everything.
The Most Bustling Building in Berlin
As noted, Varnum’s Inn ended up having a fantastic location: the downtown core of the growing village more or less radiated out around from the inn (if you look at the Walper Hotel on a map today, it is impressively close to dead centre in the middle of downtown Kitchener). We must bid adieu to dear old Phineas Varnum, though: in 1836, he sold it to Frederick Gaukel. And what did Frederick Gaukel decide to name his inn, you ask? Gaukel’s Inn.
Don’t get too attached to Freddy G., nor to the name Gaukel’s Inn, as the building ended up changing hands three more times over the next few decades. First we have James Potter (unclear if Harry Potter’s father, pre-Voldemort of course), who named it ‘the Great Western.’ Five points for creativity, Mr. Potter! Next came John Roat, who took it in a slightly different direction. Gentle John Roat decided that the name ‘John Roat’s Commercial Hotel’ positively rolled off the tongue, so that’s the name he chose. Finally, in the year 1886, we arrive at the name we’ve all been waiting for: Walper. More specifically, Curry Walper.
The First Walper
Curry Walper – more often referred to simply as C.H. Walper – took over ‘John Roat’s Commercial Hotel’ in 1886. Unlike prior owners, though, Walper didn’t prioritize a name change (though with the clarity provided by hindsight, Roat’s name is most assuredly the worst of the bunch). After tragedy struck, though, Walper decided it was time for a fresh start. A fire broke out in 1892, and the building was utterly destroyed.
It was 1893 when Abel Walper, arguably the abler of the two Walper men, stepped in. He was not just determined to build a brand-new hotel… he was determined to make it the finest hotel Berlin had ever seen. And Abel was quite adept as a builder: the four-storey, red brick building, based on a Beaux Arts-style design by Jonas Knechtel, was distinctive, impressive, and entirely successful. Indeed, Walper’s original building remains the core of the Walper Hotel – over 125 years later. The price? $75,000, or just over $2 million in today’s currency.
The view up Queen Street in Downtown Kitchener, 1935. The Walper Hotel, and a couple classy cars belonging to its classy clientele, stands on the left. From the Record
Walper Walk Off
Abel and Curry Walper’s new hotel stood on the same patch of land that had hosted a local inn since 1820 (though Abel did make sure to stretch the building as close to the property line as possible). But despite owning the Walper Hotel during its formative years, and despite their name still adorning it today, the Walpers’ ownership didn’t last all that long. In 1908, a man by the name of Joseph A. Zuber saw the Walper Hotel for what it was: a beautiful building in the rapidly growing heart of a city on the rise, with so much potential.
Over the last century, the Walper Hotel has more than earned its reputation as a sophisticated, top-of-the-line establishment. And over the last century, the Walper Hotel has hosted many, many big names: from Prime Ministers to popstars, and from Duke Ellington to David Copperfield. Let’s take a quick peek at one of the ‘big names’ that graced the Walper Hotel’s famous Hofbrau…
I’ll Have What Al’s Having
We’ve mentioned the Seagram family here before – their name still adorns a couple large and impressive buildings in Waterloo, and the Seagram name became synonymous with high-quality whiskey – but here’s a new historical figure: Al Capone. Numerous articles and websites reference the fact that, during the Prohibition era, Al Capone himself would come to the Walper Hotel to talk shop and drink with the Seagrams. With so many sources, it must be true!
The Walper Terrace Hotel
As noted, the core of the Walper Hotel remains essentially what it was in 1893. But over the decades, there were plenty of additions. To list but a few: a fifth storey; more guest rooms (it currently stands at 92, ranging from more overtly historical to ‘Pocket,’ each elegantly modern yet distinctly historic); full renovations to the rooms, including suites with kitchenettes; a brand new lobby; and more. Did we mention the Crystal Ballroom? The point is, it’s a really luxurious place.
The Walper Hotel changed hands several more times over the ensuing decades, most recently to a group including the Perimeter Development Corporation. The Walper Hotel was recognized as a historical site under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1983. More recently – as in, in the past few years – the owners have invested heavily in the Walper Hotel, truly bringing it surging into the 21st-century while not sacrificing its historical dignity. One would not be wrong to compare the Walper Hotel’s recent renaissance with that of Downtown Kitchener in general; indeed, at least one has.
Downtown Kitchener is indeed on the rise, with ambitious new tech startups around every corner, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of condo developments, and an ongoing revitalization project. The Walper Hotel is a symbol of Kitchener’s past, one that we can all be proud of. But it’s also a symbol for the Region’s future: just as the Walper Hotel can compete with bigger city hotels in terms of elegance and refinement (not to mention clientele), so too can the Waterloo Region keep up with other tech hubs.
The Walper Hotel remains a popular spots for fancy meals out, weddings, haircuts, and so much more. Oh, and it is a hotel – you can stay here overnight, as well. Check it out here. Burger King may have its Whopper, but Kitchener will (hopefully) always have its Walper.
If you’re looking to buy or sell property in the Waterloo Region, Guelph, or Wellington County, please feel free to contact us!
Written by Will Kummer