Historic Neighbourhood of Stories

Who would ever tell their 10 year-old child, how much their house costed? My father did. It was $19,000 back in 1968. It was a throwaway fact he told me after our whole family moved there .  Nothing more said.

Home for Growth.. and Repair
It was a bargain price because this 1883 house (year was not known to us until 51 yrs. later), was rundown with needed insulation, better heating and roofing plus the bifold wooden old garage doors required replacement.Dad

Autumn –best season for neighbourhood where Father stood. Waterloo, ON. 1981.  

Now, the neighbourhood is part of a downtown historic walking tour in the city.

Back then, I was more intrigued and relieved by having more space after living in a 1-bedroom apartment with my parents and 4 other siblings. Mother was pregnant with 6th child.

Looking back, maybe my father wanted teach his eldest kid something. Not sure, what the lesson was supposed to be. Except their first house ate into the family budget.

Never mind, the 3 bedroom house led to a repurposed den and living room into 2 extra bedrooms for 8 people.  It had a sunporch which was never used in winter but in warmer seasons, an extra place to hang out temporarily. We could hear backyard crickets on hot humid summer evenings. mascots

Oktoberfest mascots. Kitchener-Waterloo.  Annual 2 wk. long event of German-based fun. Including drinking as shown in red-faced mascot. Photo by C. Paradis

I hated going down into part of the unfinished basement:   this house still had cobblestone basement floors where we stored eggs and multiple 25-cent butternut squash in cool temperatures.

Poverty, Wealth and the Middle Thrown Together
However, unbeknowest to my parents, they chose a quiet one-way street, just 15 min. walk from downtown Waterloo, Ontario. The oldest house, the 1812 Kumpf House (below), was just half a block away. This heritage designated house was on

Kumpf House sale for over $3 million in late 2021. Clearly the heritage status will not protect it from being torn down.

Our street was lined with mature maple trees and older unique homes built mid- 1800’s to early 1900’s. Some homes were solid yellow or red brick with wood trim, while others like  our house were stucco. Several had large 2-storey wraparound verandas. As a kid, I dreamed of living in houses like that –to run around or lounge on a wide veranda to watch the world go by.

On our street was a Russian Mennonite church with grassy lawn and its little old parish like house. Later the house was torn down and an extension was built to house seniors in a retirement home.

Ideal Mix  to Raise Kids
Out of pure luck, my parents chose a mixed socio-economic class neighbourhood. A healthy place to raise a large family.2021 present

House now retrofitted with extra enhancements. Lawn still looks patchy as several decades ago.

We were welcomed into the neighbourhood since previous house occupants were reclusive and might have drank too much alcohol.  So says the rumour.

We were the only Asian-Canadian family on the block and probably for several blocks. The closest one we knew, was my mother’s friend who lived half hr. walk away. Several neighbours had German last names, either from marriage or family ranging from first to third generations. OKtoberfest dancers

Oktoberfest dancers. Kitchener-Waterloo has been hosting Canada’s biggest Oktoberfest festival for past 5 decades.  Photo by C. Paradis.

We played or knew kids from wide range:

  • a noisy next door working-class family with their overweight cocker spaniel and 2 short-leashed, terrifying German shepherds which the latter were chained perpetually in their backyard. The 2 older sons seemed to like their hotrod cars. Annoyingly, my parents insisted one of us trundle over with a store bought Christmas tin of cookies or chocolates –form of insurance they would be remain nice to us.
  • a German family of 8 kids. They kept the exterior of house beautifully painted and landscaped.
  • college professor and wife with 4 kidsuofW prez home

House built in 1883,  further up our street, occupied by former University of Waterloo President. Prior to him was a Mayor of Waterloo and owner of local small newspaper.

  • retired couple who had a son and family that visited. They lived in a nice big house.
  • cop who dropped by to help his friendly aging mother and do yardwork. There were fruit trees in their backyard where I picked up leaves for a science project.
  • a banker with wife and teen son. And yes, they were the Kleinschmidts.
  • vaguely Hispanic /Latino family with some kids
  • Hungarian elderly lady where her adult grandson also lived in a large, wonderful house
  • an unknown family of some financial means, living in a gracious patrician styled house. The attractive girl who lived there, got pregnant in her senior high school year.  The house was occupied decades earlier by one of Waterloo’s mayors.

king street

Along King St., Waterloo.  Facing a German Bavarian themed gazebo.  Behind it, First United Church where as children, went to Sunday School.  

Later we learned, further up the street, the president of the local university lived up a steep hill in his house.  Another house was occupied by a mayor decades ago.

In front of my bedroom was the maple tree that lit up a wonderful golden glow into my room, during autumn from its flaming leaves. When I lived elsewhere and even now, that’s what my memories are flooded with light of the place where we grew up.

red fall2

Mature maple trees  still line childhood street. Waterloo, ON 2021. 

voelker house

1 km. away from home, our family doctor’s  house, Voelker House  with office on lower level.  Dr. Voelker was our physician for several decades.  House built in 1849.  At corner of Alberta and  Young Street in Waterloo.  Always a signature Christmas tree with lights in evening , when walking home from  senior public school near by and then later, from university.  

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Pit says:

    Great places! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Unfortunately no recent personal photos for annual Oktoberfest celebrations. It’s Canada’s largest and most true Oktoberfect, to its roots festivities.


  2. Jane Fritz says:

    I love this post, Jean. It’s filled with history, memories, and a reminder to all of us of how things change, how they stay the same, and what’s important in life. Thank you for sharing all this. Btw, we bought our first house (an old farm outside of the town we still live in) in 1971 for $18,000. How things have changed everywhere!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      So cool, Jane! Generation X or is it Z, would be jealous.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jane Fritz says:

        Well, of course, salaries were FAR lower than today, but you could buy a house for 3-4X your salary, which is no longer true most places. You’re right, most young people would have a right to be jealous.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Graham Roe says:

    So cool, looks like I live around the corner from your home in Mary-Allen 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Do you still run your coffee shop? Or maybe pandemic has made it tough to have kept it running. Glad to have grown up in K-W even though diversity back then wasn’t the same as now. The fact that Waterloo has 2 universities and therefore people moving permanently for jobs and others studying, gives a different edge and helps expand local mind growth for a smaller city. The high tech economic influence in K-W is something that….Calgary is trying to cultivate to ease itself away from oil-gas boom-bust economic reliance.

      I felt very lucky to have grown up in a mixed socio-economic neighbourhood….with lovely mature trees, homes and a 1-way street which calmed road traffic from King St.


  4. Lani says:

    Sounds wonderful. I’m gobsmacked over the details that you remember from your neighbors and all the research you threw in – What made you decide to go down memory lane?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      One of my sisters took her teen daughter and son ..100 km. west of where the live to our childhood home and showed her children the house where our family grew up, her school,etc. It was last summer since my sister had an errand to deal with anyway. Actually my other 2 sisters they also have when they dropped by in town, have also each shown their children also same places over the decades. So a clear evidence of family history where grandparents, aunts, uncle grew up. You can imagine the significance for 3rd generation in order to relate to immigrant grandparents. Besides the town, itself has a very interesting history. We knew that even when we were teens ourselves. You’ve done your memory lane blog posts from several different angles and have done a good story spin, Lani.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lani says:

        Thanks, Jean. I’m glad you too, have kept in touch with your roots. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Jean, this is one of the most delightful posts I’ve read in a long time. I love the thought of that maple tree outside your room, and I love the shot of your dad standing on that beautiful street. I grew up in a similar neighborhood on a similar street. How lucky we were. I often wish I could somehow go back and just tell our neighbors and even the folks we didn’t know that well how much they meant to me. Great post, hope you’re well, love that shot of you in the header image, too. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      It’s a wonderful memory to have lived on such tree canopied street and individual older homes. As a result I like wandering in similar streets in other cities where I’ve lived since that childhood city. Thx for the good wishes and happy new year of the tiger, Mark!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a beautiful post, Jean — it is filled with such great history and wonderful memories. I know the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge area well. I grew up in Windsor, Ontario and later worked in Mildmay and then Pickering (and then BC and then Beijing…but that is a completely different story)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I’ve never heard from of Mildmay. I do meet former Ontariorians. I left Toronto in 2002. 1 of my most interesting history lessons was the series in Gr.8 from my history teacher on K-W’s Mennonite and early German history. When I lived in London, ON for university, I found the area..well, duller historically. 😀


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