Bridgeport Casino Kitchener
Greetings! Welcome to another edition of the WRX Property Group Real Estate Blog! Lately, we’ve been diving into the history of the Waterloo Region, finding what pearls of wisdom we might find. Today’s historical entry pertains to a specific neighbourhood in Kitchener: a neighbourhood that, not so long ago, was its own separate community, but now constitutes a diverse and growing part of the overall city. Our point of entry? A certain casino, which though no longer a casino, still serves as an important part of the neighbourhood. So, without further ado, let’s consort with Bridgeport (no need to contort, unless as a last resort)
River Port, Bridgeport
Waterloo and Kitchener (or, as it was known until 1916, Berlin [there’s a separate article on the Berlin to Kitchener Name Change; read it here]), along with several other nearby communities, were founded in the early nineteenth century by a group of adventurous Mennonite settlers from Pennsylvania. The earliest iteration of Kitchener dates back to around 1803. Bridgeport took shape a couple decades later.
Make or Breaker Shoemaker
First we must introduce Jacob Shoemaker. Kitchener itself expanded outward from the area around what today constitutes Downtown Kitchener (indeed, the oldest building still standing in the city is there; read more about it [Schneider Haus] in our Best Historic Sites in Kitchener article). Jacob Shoemaker was born in 1798, and despite quitting school at a young age, he would go on to become quite successful in the fledgling Waterloo Region.
Still in his early 20s, Shoemaker travelled from his birthplace in Pennsylvania up to the Region of Waterloo, where he came into contact with Abraham Erb (considered the founder of Waterloo – you can see his impact through everything from popular pubs to public schools). Within a few years, Shoemaker had married Elizabeth Schneider (yes, of the family that built the aforementioned Schneider Haus) and constructed a substantial dam on the Grand River, as well as an extensive milling complex on the west side of the Grand River (think of the general environs of the delicious Lancaster Smokehouse, currently the #3 restaurant in Kitchener on TripAdvisor, and you won’t be far off).
Jacob Shoemaker’s daughters and sisters
So that’s the west side of the river, and that’s why Shoemaker is, to an extent, considered the founder of Bridgeport. The east side of the Grand, directly across from Shoemaker’s mills and storehouses, became primarily residential. At this time, the Grand River here was shallow enough to be navigable by horse – thus the emergence of settled areas on both sides – but as early as 1847, the need arose for a wooden bridge connecting the two sides.
It is the eastern side of the Grand River that we shall now divert our attention to. Shoemaker’s side of the Grand River became known as Glasgow, and though both sides were rather interconnected, the east side did have its own name, and a claim to its own founder: John Urmy Tyson.
Sorry we are experiencing system issues. Please try again.
Urmy Tyson: You’re My Tyson
John U. Tyson, born in 1808, was ten years younger than Jacob Shoemaker. Like Shoemaker, he migrated from his birthplace of Pennsylvania to find his fortune in the Waterloo Region. He eventually moved to the east side of the Grand River, across from Shoemaker’s mills, and it was he who chose the name of Bridgeport (after a town in Pennsylvania). Bridgeport, though small, slowly grew, enough to support everything from a tavern to a church (the two pillars of society?). The church, it’s worth noting, was built on land donated by Tyson; it is called the Bridgeport Free Church. Bridgeport was hurt by a lack of railway connections, but it did benefit in 1856 when both sides of the Grand River consolidated: there was no more Glasgow, but Bridgeport was a little larger (and a lot better for it).
Onward and Upward (Or Downward?)
So: Bridgeport began its life as a village unto itself. Just like its fellow fledgling settlements in early nineteenth century Waterloo Region, residents here took advantage of the Region’s profusion of running water to set up a grist mill. Grist mills were quite important – they ground grain into flour – and most were powered by a water wheel; there’s more to say about grist, but that’s the gist of it. At the turn of the twentieth century, the village of Bridgeport expanded into, shall we say, other ventures…
Having been settled initially by devout Mennonite folk from Pennsylvania, the villages that grew into Kitchener and Waterloo were distinctly German early on, and comparatively conservative to a place like Toronto (no offence to Toronto). Church was central to life, and many people led chaste lives of puritanical virtue. Yet simmering beneath this (or rather, beside this) was an underbelly of thrills, spills, and chills: meet William Henry Breithaupt.
Breithaupt is a familiar name in Kitchener-Waterloo (there’s even a neighbourhood called Breithaupt Park), and William was a man with big plans for the Waterloo Region and, perhaps more importantly, the means to achieve them.
Bet on Bridgeport
Breithaupt worked hard to ensure Bridgeport would be connected to Berlin (Kitchener) and Waterloo via the impressive streetcar network that connected the two growing communities. In order to do so, he needed to find a reason for people to visit Bridgeport. And he did: Riverside Park (Bridgeport Edition). On a plot of land right on the Grand River, Breithaupt had a beautiful park built. And in that park was a building of particular note (finally!): the Bridgeport Casino.
On the left, the Casino. On the Right, the Church. A real ‘angel shoulder’ situation.
Although it seems that it wasn’t necessarily used for gambling, Bridgeport Casino became the ‘It’ spot for the Waterloo Region. There was dancing, there were shows, there was roller-skating, and you’d better believe there were picnics (hey, it was a less scandalous time). Perhaps it sounds tame by today’s standards, but Bridgeport became the place people went to let loose and have a good time.
The Bridgeport Casino changed hands several times over the following decades, but for a long time, it remained a venue that locals loved to visit. In latter years (such as the Swinging ‘60s), Bridgeport Casino did really live up to its reputation as a place people went to let their hair down, hosting everything from liquor-fueled dice games to strippers (for the younger readers, we mean ‘stripping paint,’ of course). In 1976, though, Bridgeport Casino took on its current form: Golf’s Steak House & Seafood. It remains a beautiful place, very much worth a visit. Bridgeport as a whole was annexed into Kitchener in 1972.
Bye Bye Breithaupt
Breithaupt is an important figure for reasons beyond building the Casino, though. He was a president of the Ontario Historical Society, and the very first president of the Waterloo Historical Society. He was involved with erecting the Pioneers’ Memorial Tower, which still stands proudly today (not too far from Freeport Bridge, in fact). And finally, he played a foundational role in Grand River conservation efforts.
And that concludes yet another tale of the opportunities for success in the Waterloo Region. Though it’s not quite as frontier-style, expansion-oriented as it was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Waterloo Region continues to grow. Numerous neighbourhoods in Kitchener-Waterloo are expanding rapidly, the local tech industry is positively soaring, and Bridgeport itself (both the Kitchener and Waterloo portions) is one of the most beautiful (not to mention community-oriented) places in the Waterloo Region to call home.
Whether you’re looking to buy or sell a home in the Waterloo Region (or Guelph and Wellington County), or you’d simply like to know more, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Written by Will Kummer