The Walper Hotel celebrated 130 years of being a home away from home for visitors to Kitchener and Waterloo Region with an open house on Oct. 15, 2023.
Guests were treated to cocktails, snacks, live music, and tours of the hotel’s rooms and other amenities. Laura Meikle, the hotel’s general manager, said the open house was an opportunity to thank past guests for their support and showcase the hotel to the community.
“We had a space set up so people can imagine your corporate meetings here. We had a space that looked like you could have a shower, whether it was a baby or a bridal shower. The idea was to get people to imagine the possibilities from things that have happened over the last 130 years,” Meikle said.
The hotel opened its doors at the intersection of King and Queen Streets in downtown Kitchener in 1893. Over the years, the hotel has hosted heads of state and celebrities, including The Queen Mother, almost every prime minister, pianist Duke Ellington, singers Madonna and Lady Gaga, and horror author Stephen King.
In 2013, the hotel was purchased by a group including the Zehr Group, the Perimeter Development Corporation, David Strucke, and CK Atlantis Ltd for $4.6 million. The group completed a $10 million renovation of the hotel in 2019, which included upgrades to guest rooms, lobby, meeting spaces, and The Lokal, the hotel’s second-floor lounge. The hotel joined the JdV by Hyatt brand in May 2021 to enhance its marketing efforts and offer a loyalty program for its guests.
Meikle said that while the hotel has a great history full of stories and anecdotes, the ownership changes over the years mean they do not have a complete archive on site. The team used the Grace Schmidt Room at Kitchener Public Library to research the hotel’s history.
“It was a great exercise. We now have plans from way back in the ‘50s and ‘70s when different renovations were done. Hopefully, we can now keep on adding as great things happen,” Meikle said.
The open house brought back guests who stayed at the hotel and others who had or attended weddings in the hotel’s Crystal Ballroom, including one couple who used the occasion to renew their vows. Meikle added that the open house was an opportunity to invite guests back to share their own Walper Hotel stories, and the hotel hired local film production company Digital Sabbath to document those memories.
“We can’t wait to see what Digital Sabbath comes up with from all the things that they gathered and the stories they heard. We’ll have something at the end of this, and it’s going to be a legacy piece,” Meikle said.
Kitchener resident Lynsey Redman attended the open house with friends to get an inside look at the guest rooms. She said she had participated in events at the hotel and The Lokal before but had never seen beyond the lobby and second-floor lounge.
“We’ve always wanted to check out all of The Walper. I’ve been to paint nights and other events, but I wanted to see the whole building. I thought it was going to be a lot smaller, but it is huge. There are so many rooms, and they are gorgeous,” Redman said.
Redman said the hotel’s central location is perfect for exploring locally-owned businesses in the downtown core. The hotel is home to TWH Social and local businesses, including Talula Fields General Store, Abel’s on Queen Barber Shop, Coffee Culture and Romeo’s Salon.
“The open house had an oyster bar from TWH Social and I thought that was amazing—now I can’t wait to go to oyster night there soon. After the open house, we ended up exploring downtown Kitchener for more food and drinks after the event. It was a great time,” Redman said.
Meikle said even after 130 years, the hotel is always a work in progress. She added that the open house proved to her the important place the Walper Hotel has in the community,
“I think people just have so much connection to the building. We have couples coming who recently got engaged and tell us their mom got married here, or their grandmother, or even their great-grandmother. So many people have a connection to this place,” Meikle said.
With business travel increasing and events resuming after the pandemic, Meikle said she sees a bright future for the hotel. She noted that guest room and event bookings have started to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“That was a tough time, and the climb from the pandemic in our industry has been tough, but we’re well-positioned for the future. I see our future being as exciting as our past. The Walper Hotel has been an important part of this city and will continue to be an important part of it in years to come,” Meikle said.
Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Waterloo Region, Ontario. He's behind the TL;WR newsletter–Waterloo Region's weekly events newsletter. He's worked with some of Canada's most well known tech companies in roles including customer success, development, product management, PR, social media and marketing. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, Grand Magazine and more.