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The Civic Centre Area in Kitchener

Greetings, and welcome to the latest instalment of WRX Property Group’s ongoing series on the neighbourhoods of Kitchener-Waterloo. Today will be the penultimate article on the individual neighbourhoods of Downtown Kitchener (experts agree ‘penultimate’ is the fanciest way to say ‘second last). A quick note: downtown Kitchener is subdivided into several smaller neighbourhoods, though the individual neighbourhoods have a fair deal of interaction with one another, and the downtown core itself. Without further ado, today’s neighbourhood is: Civic Centre!
Also known as ‘Olde Berlin Town’ (you know it’s old when there’s an ‘E’ on old), Civic Centre is one of the most richly historic parts of Kitchener-Waterloo. Its location also puts it right along one of the most exciting parts of downtown Kitchener. Civic Centre’s boundaries are made up of Victorian Street in the north, Lancaster Street in the east, Frederick Street in the South, and Weber Street in the west.

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Where do Civic Centre’s names come from? Why, the past, of course! As you may know, Kitchener (and all of the Waterloo Region) started out as a settlement of German Mennonite settlers coming up from Pennsylvania, starting in the very early nineteenth-century (around 1803). Buildings and farms started popping up, and waves of settlers (primarily from Germany and Switzerland) poured into the area. By 1833, the new town was named ‘Berlin’ – a tribute to the population’s German heritage. The town was roughly centered around today’s streets of Queen and Weber – and thus, ‘Olde Berlin Town.’ As for the Civic Centre part of the name: as the population of Berlin grew, local Berliners began to wonder why they didn’t have their own county seat of government. So local landowner and innkeeper Joseph Gaukel donated some land, and in 1852 a courthouse and jail were built (two buildings required to become a county seat), and Berlin beat out Galt as the county’s preeminent city (despite being less populous at the time). And thus, ‘civic centre.’ If you’d like to see the jail that sealed the deal for Kitchener’s future importance, it still stands to this day (along with the Governor’s House, constructed in 1878) at the intersection of Queen and Weber, across from the Downtown Library. If you’re interested in more information about Kitchener’s past and present, check out the WRX article about the city itself here. Otherwise, let’s move back to present day Civic Centre!

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The neighbourhoods of Kitchener-Waterloo all shine in certain ways, and appeal to certain sensibilities and needs. With Civic Centre, three things stand out: it’s streets feel alive with history; it’s tapped in to the bustling energy of Kitchener’s downtown core; and it’s got beautiful architecture. Indeed, Civic Centre stands out as one of the most picturesque parts of Kitchener-Waterloo (particularly in terms of its buildings, but Civic Centre Park is nothing to shake a stick at, either [although with all the mature trees in the neighbourhood, there are plenty of sticks]). The homes here have character and grandeur.
Being so close to downtown means great access to two things: the wide range of local shops and businesses, and multiple public transit options. The downtown businesses are too numerous to name, but rest assured that exploring Downtown Kitchener is a delight – you’ll find restaurants serving food from across the world; hip cafés; the farmer’s market; niche, specialty shops; the expansive, gorgeous Victoria Park; and much, much more. Shops run all the way along Victoria Street in the north of Civic Centre, and are many more in the downtown core. In terms of transit, there’s a Via Rail station at the intersection of Victoria and Weber, and at Charles Street (just north of Queen) is the Grand River Transit (GRT) Charles Street Terminal, one of the primary transit hubs in Kitchener-Waterloo. Here, you can catch local buses going all across the region and the Tri-Cities, and you can access GO, Mega Bus, and Greyhound service outside of the region. Once the LRT is running (at some point in 2018), Civic Centre residents will be able to make use of the ION, as well.

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If you like to take advantage of what downtown Kitchener has to offer, then it’s probable that Civic Centre is perfect for you. The spacious Central Branch of the Kitchener Public Library is within the neighbourhood’s boundaries, so books, movies, the Hacienda Coffee café, and more are never far away. There’s just about always something going on in the Central Branch. Indeed, November’s event calendar lists at least one (and usually several) activities every single day, from free movies to conversation circles. And even if you want a change of venue, Civic Centre has you covered: both the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery and the Centre in the Square are in the neighbourhood, as well.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery (it refers to itself as KWAG, which I believe is deliberately close to ‘swag’) has been the region’s leading public gallery since it opened in 1956, and it features primarily contemporary, Canadian works, as well as international art – all free of admission. The Centre in the Square is a large, strikingly modern building (it’s attached to KWAG) that serves as Kitchener-Waterloo’s premier performing arts centre. It hosts many performances throughout the year – both local and international performers – and boasts a wide range of styles: everything from Christmas-themed symphonies (can you handle the Handel?) to Jason Bonham, son of John Bonham (Led Zeppelin’s original drummer) who, according to the Centre in the Square event description, “was playing drums by the age of five, with skill.” Sounds like a bon time!

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While there are no schools directly within Civic Centre’s boundaries, there are several close by. Suddaby Public School and Margaret Avenue Public School, for example, are one and two blocks away, south and north, respectively. Students in the public board (WRDSB) will attend Suddaby for Kindergarten to Grade 6 (French Immersion available here) and Margaret Avenue for Grades 7 and 8. For high school, Civic Centre residents living south of Queen Street will be zoned for Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute; residents north of Queen Street will be zoned for Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational Institute (read about them both here: Cameron Heights and KCI). Students in the Catholic board (WCDS) will attend St. Anne for Kindergarten to Grade 8 (Extended Day Care and French Immersion available) and St. Mary’s High School (bussing available).

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Civic Centre is a perfect place for anyone seeking an active, urban lifestyle, or a history buff looking to live where the city started. Being so close to downtown, and the numerous businesses that operate there (including Google and plenty of smaller tech companies), there are plenty of opportunities, no matter what you’re looking for. Access to the Conestoga Parkway isn’t too far away – just a few minutes up Victoria Street – but large chains and grocery stores (such as Wal-Mart and Zehrs) are a bit further from the neighbourhood. But with countless local options, and excellent transit nearby, that’s not much of a hindrance. Civic Centre (or Olde Berlin Town, if you prefer) has a lot of exciting things to offer – even if you decide not to live here, it’s worth coming to explore.

Written by Will Kummer

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