Opinion: Waterloo Region’s Syntax

The Waterloo Regional Economic Development Corporation has quietly dropped the “Regional” qualifier and started presenting itself as the “Waterloo Economic Development Corporation.”

The move has generated some controversy. It can be interpreted as amalgamation by stealth, as an obliteration of the Kitchener brand, and/or as an appropriation of the City of Waterloo name. It is, however, certainly a more accurate and more effective nomenclature.   

Part of the problem being addresses here is the awkward term “Region” that the province imposed on our communities 40+ years ago. The world understands what a city, township or county is, but “Region” applied to a municipality is a peculiar and therefore confusing usage.

W[R]EDC serves, represents and is supported by our lower tier as well as our upper tier municipal structures. The proper usage of the term “Waterloo Region” with a capital “R” is to refer to the regional municipal government, nothing more.

“Waterloo County,” on the other hand, meant the land within the boundaries set in 1853, the settlements on it, and the municipal government for rural areas, but not the separated towns and cities.

The original Waterloo, Upper Canada, was the township that was named after the famous battle a year or so after it was fought. This included the land where the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo now stand, as well where Preston, Hespeler and Blair once stood, but not the former City of Galt.

And yet, as you drive into Galt on the road from Blair, you pass by a building with large, faded letters that spell out “South Waterloo Agricultural Society.” It is a reminder that Waterloo County was once one of the most recognizable brands in Canada.

The fact is, Waterloo the village, town and city; Waterloo the former county, and Waterloo the university all appropriated the name in the same way the Economic Development Corporation is now doing.   

There are good reasons for saying “Waterloo region” (lower case “r”), “the Waterloo area,” or “Greater Waterloo” to refer to all communities within the former county.

This needn’t signify the annexation of Cambridge by stealth. On the contrary, it makes it clear that Hespeler, Preston and Galt are not being ignored, as they are with the long outdated term “Kitchener-Waterloo.”

One of the fundamental problems in the civic affairs of our Region is the persistence of a KW-centric bias. Myopia might be a better way of putting it: “K-W” not only overlooks the existence of Cambridge, but also erases the distinction between Waterloo and Kitchener. 

It is true that the communities of the two cities of North Waterloo have been integrated in a way that the North and the South never have. “K&W” would make it clear that the reference is to both places. “K-W,” on the other hand, is a mindset: It has no actual existence. There is no mayor of K-W; there is no council that the citizens of the two cities elected to serve and represent them.   

If the K and the W were separated by a comma rather than a hyphen — “Kitchener, Waterloo” —  these problems would disappear. It would signify that Kitchener is part of the Greater Waterloo area. It could be useful in the same way “Preston, Cambridge” or “Galt, Cambridge” can be.

We’re not ready for the term “Cambridge, Waterloo,” but there are times when our more southerly (or easterly) communities might want to underscore their association with what is undoubtedly our strongest brand.

If Waterloo, the city, feels slighted by any of this, it could start presenting itself as “Waterloo, Waterloo.” Not to claim that it’s the original — that would be a falsehood. However, a claim to being a double distilled manifestation of the spirit that makes Waterloo – i.e. Waterloo North, South, East and West — such a special place might be justified.

If amalgamation ever does come, it will be by provincial edict, not stealth. If we’re fortunate, they’ll leave it up to us to decide what to call ouselves. If we’re wise, we’ll leave all our time-honoured names exactly as they are.