On Further Reflection: Waterloo, Waterloo, Waterloo

With minor revisions, as posted June 24, 2020 as part of a series entitled “What’s in a Name?”

Given that the first European settlers in this region were devout pacifists, and that the area has been peopled, over the years, by arrivants fleeing wars of one kind of another, including the largest Indigenous element, it is ironic that the two cities of North Waterloo and the County/Region itself are named after a battle (Waterloo) and a warrior (Kitchener).

If a name, or a motto, or a symbol like a crest, a flag or a statue associated with a body politic like a city, a province or a country becomes problematic, there are three choices: Leave it as it is and live with it; replace it with something more suitable, or modify what it symbolizes.

Waterloo the City, County/Region and University could simply declare that from now on, the name signifies peace, not the victory. Or that it signifies the defeat of the progenitor of modern military dictators, not the triumph of the British and their allies (it was the Prussians that saved the day).

The triple W could also disassociate from the battle altogether, and go back to the original meaning in my native tongue: Water + loo means “water, watery” + “forest, clearing in a forest, marsh”.

This could be accompanied with a declaration that henceforth the name signifies a commitment to sustainable development and holding the countryside line.

Another advantage of Waterloo as a name is that, unlike London, Cambridge or Berlin, we are the main Waterloo in terms of size and influence. When you say London or Cambridge to the world, you have to clarify that you mean that London or Cambridge, not the real London or Cambridge. For the main Waterloo, there’s nowhere near the level of confusion you get when you use most recycled names European names in Google searches.

The multiple meaning of the term does cause confusion in the local/regional context. When the Waterloo Regional Economic Development Corporation quietly dropped the “regional” qualifier and started presenting itself as the “Waterloo Economic Development Corporation” a couple of years ago, it generated some controversy. 

The move could be interpreted as amalgamation by stealth, as an obliteration of the Kitchener presence, and/or as an appropriation of the City of Waterloo name.

Part of the problem 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.

“Region” indicates a kind of re-colonization: Designating a county, and granting town or city status are a kind of separation; reverting to a “region” of the province is a step backwards. The equivalent would be the federal government turning a province back into a territory. 

The term also causes confusion among local/regional jurisdictions: 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 municipal governments for rural areas, but not the separated towns and cities.

The original Waterloo in Upper Canada is the township that no longer exists. This is Block 2 of the Haldimand Tract, including the land where the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo now stand, as well as Preston, Hespeler and Blair, 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, not so long ago, one of the most recognizable brands in Canada, as strong if not stronger than the Eastern Townships, Annapolis Valley or Cape Breton.

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 has now done.   

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. [note in 2022: I’ve started referring to the land and the habitations as “Waterloo Country”].

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 South Waterloo never have. “K&W” would make it clear that the reference is to both places. “K-W”, on the other hand, indicates 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 economic development and promotional 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 false. However, a claim to being a double distilled manifestation of the spirit that makes Waterloo such a special place might be justified.

One thought on “On Further Reflection: Waterloo, Waterloo, Waterloo

  1. Pingback: War and Peace | Martin de Groot

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