How Waterloo Got Its Start

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How Waterloo Got Its Start

A Journey into Waterloo, Ontario

Today Waterloo is known by many for its knowledge and service based economy (insurance and high-tech sectors as well as two universities) and as being home, along with its companion community of Kitchener, as home of what is described as the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany.

Waterloo also presents to us an interesting story concerning its origins.

Much like the surrounding areas the land that became Waterloo was part of a parcel of 675,000 acres (2,730 km2) assigned in 1784 to the Iroquois alliance that made up the League of Six Nations. The rare gift of land from Britain to indigenous people took place to compensate for wartime alliance during the American Rebellion, (later known[by whom?] as the American Revolution).

Almost immediately, though,  the native groups began to sell some of the land. Between 1796 and 1798, 93,000 acres (380 km2) were sold through a Crown Grant to Richard Beasley, with the Six Nations Indians continuing to hold the mortgage on the lands.

Different communities evolved depending on who those purchasers were. Here, the first wave of immigrants to the area comprised Mennonites from Pennsylvania, but were German speaking and with German backgrounds. Many German immigrants later followed (see below). To this date, many locals are of ethnic German descent.

It was in 1804 that the Mennonites bought deeds to land parcels from Beasley and began moving into the area. The following year, a group of 26 Mennonites pooled resources to purchase all of the unsold land from Beasley and to discharge the mortgage held by the Six Nations Indians.

The Mennonites divided the land into smaller lots; two lots initially owned by Abraham Erb became the central core of Waterloo. Erb is often called the founder of Waterloo, as his sawmill (1808) and grist mill (1816) became the focal point of the area.

In 1816 the new township was named after Waterloo, Belgium, the site of the Battle of Waterloo (1815), which had ended the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. After that war, the area became a popular destination for German immigrants. By the 1840s, German settlers had overtaken the Mennonites as the dominant segment of the population. Many Germans settled in the small hamlet to the southeast of Waterloo. In their honour, the village was named Berlin in 1833 (renamed to Kitchener in 1916). Berlin was chosen as the site of the seat for the County of Waterloo in 1853.

Waterloo was incorporated as a village in 1857 and became the Town of Waterloo in 1876 and the City of Waterloo in 1948.

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