Why Waterloo Region?

It’s been a few months since our family moved to the Waterloo Region…and what a fantastic first few months it’s been.

We could have moved anywhere in Ontario — and we picked this area. I’ll explain why in this blog. You may find it useful if you’re considering the region. I’m a former journalist and I can assure you this decision was over-researched and over-analyzed.

I’m not a computer programmer and I don’t own a tech startup company. I have no clients in the Waterloo Region — nor am I seeking any.

We chose this area for all the right lifestyle reasons.

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Tannery Building, Kitchener (Photo Credit: Anthony Reinhart Photography)

First some background.

My wife and I are experienced movers.

After almost twenty years at CBC News that took us across the country a number of times, we have boxes in the garage with five different moving company stickers on them.

But, this was the first time we were moving primarily for quality of life reasons.

You see, our strategic communications consultancy has grown progressively since I left the CBC in 2009. And, although we started local in our hometown of Sudbury, Ontario — our client base grew and spread out. They are everywhere and anywhere.

Commuting from the North became too arduous. So, we started discussing moving — and began seriously researching best options about a year ago.

We quickly determined three conditions for shortlisting the search for a new city:

  1. It had to be within 100 km of Toronto and Pearson International Airport (for work)
  2. It had to have both a full university campus and a college (for kids)
  3. It had to be relatively affordable (for wallet)

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Based on this criteria, my wife and I narrowed down a short list for consideration:

  1. Hamilton/Dundas
  2. The Waterloo Region
  3. Guelph
  4. Oshawa

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Over the next few months, we started researching and even took some long-weekend road trips to each community — getting a hotel, walking around, seeing the sites and driving around with real estate agents.

All four regions were fantastic and all worthy of settling down in.

But, at the end of the day we chose the Waterloo Region.We fell in love with the entire region surrounding Waterloo — from beautiful Elora in the north (seen above) to charming West Galt in the south — and Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge in between.

It has affordable housing (relatively speaking for a major region), it’s friendly and it has such an incredibly wide selection of things to see, do and enjoy when you’re not working.

So, we sold the Sudbury house in August, made it official — and moved.15002426_1072415122875491_1020721182873555371_oNow, most people know the Kitchener-Waterloo area for its place in the tech world — from being home to amazing places like Communitech (pictured above), Accelerator Centre, Dejero, VidYard, Aeryon Labs, D2L, BlackBerry, Perimeter Institute For Theoretical Physics, CIGI (The Centre For International Governance Innovation) and Google, just to name a few. And, most are within a couple of blocks of each other.

That reputation is undeniable and deserved. It’s the tech innovation hub of Canada.

But, the region is so much more than that.

It is a region that is rooted in wonderful, colourful contradictions.

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Kitchener Blues Festival (Photo Credit: Philip Walker)

Art and Culture

Amongst all of this tech and brilliantly technical people, there is an immense amount of arts, culture and sports. Festivals, cultural events, arthouse cinema, museums, hockey/basketball/baseball/football, Oktoberfest, concerts, theatre and the list goes on.

Live music is an institution here. Bars and pubs have live music pretty well every evening from singer-songwriters to full-on bands. There’s never a dull moment and it doesn’t have to break the bank to enjoy, which is the best part.

I guess what I’m saying is this community isn’t the one-dimensional tech city that it’s often perceived as being.

If you plan on coming for a visit, check out what’s happening here.

And, what’s entertainment without food?

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Roberts for the Globe and Mail

Food and Drink

So…ya….living here has already been hard on an already-challenged waistline. Food? You name it, they have it.

From the basic diners like Ethel’s, The Bent Elbow and the Lancaster Smokehouse to world-class restaurants like The Berlin with award-winning Chef Jonathan Gushue (seen above), The Bauer Kitchen and Red House. And, there are so many more to name it’s actually uncanny.

But, don’t take my word for it.

If you’re a foodie, there is only one person and one website to visit. The name is Andrew Coppolino and his site is Waterloo Region Eats.

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Now, if beer and spirits are your thing, there are lots of establishments. I’m more a whisky guy — with some great options at DVLB (Death Valley’s Little Brother, seen above) and White Rabbit. If beer is your thing, then this city is over the top with about ten craft breweries (and the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany).

West Montrose covered bridge (Kissing Bridge) at West Montrose in Autumn, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
(‘Kissing Bridge’ at West Montrose)

The Landscape

Another contradiction is the blending of urban and rural. Within minutes of being at Google’s offices, you are surrounded by corn fields at the largest farmers’ market in Canada — the St. Jacobs Market. We’ve spent entire mornings there.

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(St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market)

And, getting around this landscape is incredibly efficient. They have north/south and east/west thruways that pretty well make it possible to get anywhere in 15 minutes.

Then there’s public transit.

As I type this, the region is in the middle of a massive construction project, building a rapid transit system (LRT – light rail transit) from one end of the community to the other that will cost almost a billion dollars.

Waterloo made this a priority and got digging – while other Ontario communities either rejected it or are still bickering over the concept. This will get vehicles off the roads and make it easier for people to get around for work and school.

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(Photo Credit: CBC Kitchener)

Throw in the fact that this community has more bike lanes that I’ve ever personally seen in a community and it’s very impressive.

This is what progressive urban centres do.

Education

Although only a community of a little over 500,000 people, the Waterloo Region has post-secondary options that rival any major urban centre.

The University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College are all highly impressive. I’ve visited all three campuses and am astounded by what they have to offer my children. Not surprisingly, this region has one of the youngest median ages in Canada…somewhere around an average of 35 years old.

And, when they graduate, do you want to talk about jobs?

My kids were amazed how quickly they got pretty cool part time jobs (less than a day).

This isn’t surprising given the region’s unemployment rate is extremely low and well below the national average.

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(Photo Credit: Kitchener Waterloo Oktoberfest)

The People

You can have all the jobs, landscape, tech, universities, restaurants and festivals you want — but it doesn’t mean a lick without good people. That’s what makes a community.

Now, remember, I’ve moved a lot in my former CBC life. So, I know how hard it can be to integrate into a community as a newcomer.

But, I have to tell you that the Waterloo Region has been the fastest integration my family has seen in any of our moves. The people here are really friendly.

I already have a core group of friends (you know who you are) who have welcomed us with open arms. In just a few months, I’ve already been invited to become part of the Grand River Hospital Foundation Board, the Kitchener-Conestoga Rotary Club, the Accelerator Centre and the Elora Environment Centre.

There’s a strong foundation of volunteerism in this community — something that becomes evident the moment you get here. It’s not a chore here — it’s a responsibility that people take great pride in and it’s very refreshing.

And, a refreshing quality about this region is that, unlike some larger cities, there seems to be no culture here of being judged by what you drive, what you wear and where you live. If it exists, I haven’t seen it and neither have my children.

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McLennan Dog Park, Photo: City of Kitchener

And, they’re a healthy bunch here.

It seems everyone is walking, cycling or jogging — helped by the fairly moderate winters.

And, if you’re a dog owner, like us, there are plenty of large, fenced-in dog parks like the one seen above.

A recent report stated:

“Patients in the Waterloo Wellington local health network are more likely to have a regular doctor, smoke less often and are less likely to die in hospital as compared to other regions in Canada.” (Canadian Institute for Health Information)

This is a good sign…because with all the restaurants I’ve listed, I’m going to need to be surrounded by all these healthy people. Maybe it’ll rub off on me. Guilt works.

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Photo Credit: Anthony Reinhart Photography

Day Trips

Finally, there’s what I call the “day trip radius”.

Yes, the Waterloo Region has so much to offer. But, then there’s the proximity to explore other areas in a regular-length day.

And, in our short time we have explored a bunch of places and things to do, all within 2 hours of Waterloo (meaning no hotels needed and a picnic basket can cover off meals): Stratford, London, Guelph, Elora, Grand Bend, Sauble Beach (pictured above), Hamilton, Port Dover, Fergus, Orangeville, etc. — so much to see and do in a single day.

And, then when it comes to big events like the Toronto Blue Jays, big concerts, festivals, theatre, etc. — you can be in downtown Toronto in 90 minutes. Don’t want to drive? Take GO Train or VIA Rail.

It truly is the best of all worlds.I could keep going — but as you can see, there’s a lot going on here.

And, I know it’s not just me.

Increasingly, many of my Toronto clients are asking if they can come to Waterloo Region for our media coaching workshops and strategic communications planning sessions. They’re hearing the buzz (much of it coming via the communications team at Communitech) — and they want to come see what it’s all about.

In a charming sort of inferiority complex kind of way, many people who live here seem genuinely shocked that of all the places in Ontario, someone chose this Region when we could have chose anywhere.

I don’t believe people in the Waterloo Region truly appreciate how great a place this is and some may take it for granted.

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(Photo Credit: Tammy Bender)

As for my family, now our next set of exploratory fun begins.

When we moved here, we chose to lease for a year, explore the various communities and then make an educated decision on where to buy and settle down.

So, every weekend, we visit new parts of this incredible region, doing our research and narrowing down our options.

That’s another blog for another time. Let the next adventure begin.

If you’re considering a move, I hope this helps you in some way. If you have specific questions for me (as a newcomer), message me and I’ll do my best to help.

Cheers.

Conway