Building resilience: Over a century for Waterloo Park

Cathy MacLellan

Matt Smith

My husband and I enjoyed our first kiss in Waterloo Park some 32 years ago. I was a UW student at the time and we spent lots of time in the 111 acres of green space in the middle of the city ¬an easy stroll from WLU and UW. Given the growth and changes to the surrounding area, Waterloo Park is proving to be a resilient green space, a significant factor in the quality of life for students and city residents and (still) a great place for courting.20150731-IMG_6493

I often take early morning walks in Waterloo Park and see runners, tai chi practitioners and any number of other athletes working out. It is easy to take the mix of natural habitat, like the small wetland that resides beside the creek feeding Silver Lake and the mature trees shading various sections, for granted as they compete with the constructed venues, such as the tennis courts and children’s play areas. These diverse, essential elements create a healthy space for our community and neither is expendable.

The farmland for this park was purchased from Jacob B. Eby’s widow, Elizabeth, in 1890 – making this year Waterloo Park’s 125th birthday. When’s the party? This “Jewel of the City” deserves to be recognized and appreciated so the City of Waterloo Museum is celebrating the event with a great new Waterloo Park exhibition. The excellent “History of Waterloo Park” essay on the City’s website also reveals a dynamic, hugely popular spot that was the heart of the community. Why not have a birthday party in the park?

20150801-IMG_6503As the day unfolds, people can take advantage of the park’s diverse offerings, including the enduring venues for tennis (celebrating 100 years), cricket and baseball. Other activities have moved to established locations: so instead of swimming in Silver Lake (the geese won!) we have a splash park, and newer sports like skateboarding have found a home. If this were a summer in the 1950s the park would be full of swimmers in Silver Lake, people playing tennis on the grass courts and rounds of croquet, cyclists enjoying the oval track, fishermen, shoppers purchasing flowers from the greenhouse, or people enjoying fries from the refreshment stand. There may even have been a cricket match happening if it was Sunday. Concerts, company picnics and family reunions created a festive atmosphere all summer long. The Park was not abandoned in winter – snow was cleared off Silver Lake and people skated to live music provided by the town band.20150731-IMG_6470

The fascinating and entertaining history of Waterloo Park (the tragedy of the little cannon is a must read!) describes the diverse features that have made Waterloo Park resilient and flexible over the last century. It also suggests the continued success of the park should the mix of natural and constructed venues endure. For instance, the many trees planted around the skateboard park fulfill this mandate well. The park is in transition again with the LRT soon to be running through its centre. While perhaps not as busy today as it was a hundred years ago, Waterloo Park is now an indispensable, green space in the centre of Waterloo. Take a mindful stroll alone or, like I once did, with the person you’ll spend the next 32 years of your life with, and appreciate this great, resilient public space.