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Things to Know when Moving from GTA to Kitchener-Waterloo

Movin’ On Up

The feature common to all moves is that they start in one location and end in another. And in some cases, that’s moving from a familiar city to a brand new one. These days, more and more people are moving from Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to the surrounding cities in Southern Ontario. Let’s call it the ‘Toronto-Go-go,’ shall we? Or is that a no-no?

 
One increasingly popular destination for departing Torontonians is the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, and more specifically, the City of Kitchener, which is what we’ll be focussing on for this article. What do people moving from the GTA to Kitchener need to know? Well, let’s take a look!
 

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From 416 to 519

With a population of just under 3 million, Toronto is the largest city in all of Canada, and impressively, the fourth-largest city in all of North America. So the move to Kitchener is a move from massive urban area to a more modest-sized city. Kitchener’s population is 233,222 (the entire Waterloo Region stands at 535,154) – still one of the larger Ontario cities.
 
So, what can Torontonians and GTA residents expect from Kitchener? Well, just because it’s smaller doesn’t mean it’s small, nor that there’s not a lot going on. For one thing, Kitchener-Waterloo has two leading universities (Wilfrid Laurier University, and the University of Waterloo) and an increasingly impressive college (Conestoga College), which injects plenty of life and excitement into the city.
 
Kitchener has plenty to see and do, with art, cultural events, sports for playing and sports for watching (including the Kitchener Rangers, their top four -finishing OHL team), increasingly robust public transit, wonderful access to nature and parks, plenty of restaurants and cafés, a soaring economy, and a downtown core that’s growing rapidly.
 

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Why Move

Kitchener is significantly more affordable to live than Toronto, and it’s easier to get into the housing market as a buyer (particularly as a young, first-time home buyer) than the GTA. Furthermore, some might find the smaller city size less daunting than the enormity of a place like Toronto.
 

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What Goes On

First of all, be sure to check out our ongoing series of articles on ‘Things to Do around Kitchener-Waterloo’ – view the list here – to get ideas on places and events to check out. For new arrivals to the city, it’s a great way to find fun locally. Also, check out our Community Resources articles for everything from parking options to local services.
 
It’s also worthwhile to pay attention to the downtown libraries in each of the three cities, as well as whichever branch is closest to where you’ll be moving. You can check out their respective websites here: Kitchener Public Library; Waterloo Public Library; Cambridge Idea Exchange.
 
To cover the basics, though: first and arguably foremost is Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest. The Waterloo Region has deep German roots, and in part because of this, every October sees a massive, nine-day celebration come to the streets of Kitchener. It’s the second-largest Oktoberfest in the entire world!
 
There are many more festivals and events throughout the year, including the annual Kitchener Blues Festival in the summer, too, but for those looking to find their own fun, there are plenty of options. There are large arenas (like the Activa Sportsplex), theatres and concert halls (like the Centre in the Square), more specific locales like Chicopee Ski and Summer Resort and Bingeman’s (amusement park, water park, and more).
 

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Go Green

Every neighbourhood in Kitchener has at least a small park, and there are several much larger parks perfect for further exploration: Huron Natural Area, McLennan Park, and Victoria Park (the crown jewel of Downtown Kitchener), for example. Adding in the Grand River, which runs along Kitchener’s eastern border, residents truly have numerous beautiful paths and trails to choose from.
 

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Getting Around

The main thing to know is that public transit within Kitchener is handled by Grand River Transit (typically just written and referred to as GRT). GRT serves not only all of Kitchener, but also Waterloo and Cambridge, with a few routes (and accessibility service) to parts of the surrounding Townships.
 
As it stands, most GRT service is via buses, and the coverage is fairly extensive throughout the Tri-Cities. There are several iXpress lines with fewer stops, meaning faster service between popular destinations (like the major malls, campuses, and downtown). You can read our article focussed on GRT’s service and history here.
 
By the start of 2019, the Ion (or iON, as they write it) light rail transit service (often referred to here as ‘the LRT’) should be up and running. Also run by GRT, the LRT (so many acronyms) will revolutionize transit in Kitchener-Waterloo, providing rapid, regular transportation from northern Waterloo (Conestoga Mall), down past the university campuses and Uptown Waterloo, through Downtown Kitchener, and ending in Fairview Park Mall (for now). Read more here.
 
A major feature for Torontonians to be aware of is the Conestoga Parkway. Made up of Highway 85, Highway 8, and Highway 7, the Conestoga Parkway runs through several parts of Kitchener-Waterloo, running both north to south and east to west. It makes getting around the Tri-Cities quick and easy – it’s worth checking where the nearest on-ramp is to your work and your home. Furthermore, Highway 401 is accessible via Highway 8, at the southern end of Kitchener.
 

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There and Back Again

Intercity commuting is becoming an increasingly common fact of life for residents of Southern Ontario. Many people choose one city in which to live, for more affordable housing, and commute to Toronto (for example) for work.
 
However, the Waterloo Region has a uniquely high percentage of people living and working within the area: over 80% of Waterloo Region residents work within 30 minutes of where they live. It is possible to live in Kitchener and commute to Toronto or the GTA, but the truth is, the job market here is strong enough that you probably won’t have to. Downtown Kitchener is worth looking at in this regard.

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The Lights Are Much Brighter There

 
Downtown Toronto is incredible, and spread throughout the GTA are several urban cores with their own unique charms. However, those fearing that they’ll lose that benefit completely will be happy to hear that Kitchener’s downtown core is truly on the rise. In fact, it is literally rising, with over $1 billion in condo developments planned over the next year or so (including multiple high-rises).
 
Downtown Kitchener is the site of an absolutely thriving tech industry, with numerous startups, the bustling tech and entrepreneurial hub that is Communitech, and even a Google headquarters. More and more people are choosing to live and work in Downtown Kitchener, and as a result, it’s become a thriving urban centre with diverse restaurants, shops, bars, and so much more.
 
Shifting back briefly to public transit, Downtown Kitchener is a major hub, and it is from here that residents will be able to find several options to get back and forth from Toronto.
 

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Multi-Culture

Kitchener has a unique German history (indeed, it was called Berlin until World War I), but it’s also quite ethnically diverse. People from a wide range of ethnic, national, religious, or cultural backgrounds can expect to find community resources and people from similar backgrounds, here.
 
Beyond multiple cultural events, the diversity in Kitchener also means plenty of authentic restaurants of various cuisines. In the Kitchener Farmers’ Market alone, one can find food from multiple countries, for example.
 
Finally, the Townships surrounding Kitchener-Waterloo offer a change of pace from the city life. Much of Canada’s Old Order Mennonite population lives in and around Elmira and St. Jacobs, for example. North Dumfries, Wellesley, Wilmot, and Woolwich each offer many unique things to see and do, from Castle Kilbride and the Prime Minister’s Path in Baden to the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market.
 

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Conclusion

The Waterloo Region is growing rapidly, it’s become known as the Silicon Valley of the north, and it’s one of the largest cities in Southern Ontario. There are numerous reasons to move to Kitchener, but the best thing to do is to come and visit: stroll through the beautiful Victoria Park, then take a walk around the Innovation District of Downtown Kitchener.
 
The residential areas of Kitchener offer spacious homes with great access to green areas, and they’re much more affordable than Toronto homes. There are great schools here, two universities, and a college. The list goes on and on! So if you’re thinking about moving to Kitchener from the GTA, please don’t hesitate to contact us – we can go over anything you’d like to know, help determine which parts of the Region best meet your needs, and more.
 
Written by Will Kummer
 
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