Did you know that the cup holder in a Toyota is sized for a double-double? Or that Ontario Hydro started in the Waterloo Region? These facts and a lot more are featured at the Waterloo Region Museum, which is holding its grand opening on Nov. 12. The museum, located in Kitchener on Huron Road, is the largest municipally owned and operated museum in Ontario.
The focus of the museum is on the region’s three cities and four townships, covering the history of the area from 12,000 year ago to the present day.
Starting with First Nation’s history, followed by European settlers around 1800 and the black settlements in the Queen’s Bush in Wellesley Township, right up to current innovations and manufacturing companies, the museum provides a broad spectrum for visitors to enjoy.
“The region is very globally connected, and we represent that within the walls of our museum,” said curator Tom Reitz. “In terms of this region, the museum tells a broad-brush look at the region’s history, picking up various highlights; no other museum does that.”
With exhibits exploring how people make a living in the region both in the past and today, visitors can discover local industries, including textile making, boot and shoemaking, furniture making, agriculture, button making and car manufacturing.
“If you compare this museum to other history museums across the province there is no one doing quite what we are doing in terms of bringing a story full circle up to the present day,” said Reitz.” That makes us unique. The story of Waterloo Region is very unique.”
The museum is a sustainable building using locally-sourced, reclaimed materials. The main front hallway was built using an old 19th century barn that originally stood a mile from the museum’s site on the other side of the Grand River. The outdoor water feature, which has a metaphorical connection to the Grand River, also serves as a green feature as the water pumped into the building and works as the grey water in all the toilets and urinals allowing the building to use 60 per cent less municipal water.
The plans for the building date back to the mid-1990s, with construction beginning in 2006.
“We like to say the concept for the building started in 1912, the same year the Waterloo Historical Society was founded to collect the county’s history,” joked Reitz.
Construction is still ongoing inside the museum, with plans to have it finished and open to the public next Saturday.
The museum has been open for a year and half but the grand opening will see the two gallery spaces open to the public for the first time.
The long-term gallery that should stay the same for the next 15 to 20 years will house the permanent exhibit, while the short-term gallery will change once a year or every six months.
The first short term exhibit is called Unconventional Thinking: Innovation in Waterloo Region.
Entering the permanent gallery visitors are confronted by a large steam engine and are guided through numerous exhibits covering a wide range of items and events from the history of the region including the regions’ immigration story, a 1700s Conestoga covered wagon, an Ontario Hydro promotion truck, and numerous products manufactured in the region, including a 1989 Toyota Corolla, the eighth car off the assembly line.
“We are hoping that people are surprised at what was and is built in the area,” said Reitz. “It would be great to have visitors asking questions about all these exhibits and be surprised to learn that La-Z-Boy or Toyota are a part of the history of the region.”
The gallery does not have a specific flow: visitors are encouraged to go one way or the other.
“They can make their own choice and that was done quite intentionally so whatever catches their attention they can go off to see,” said Reitz.
With more than 20,000 square feet of exhibition space between the two galleries and a movie theatre that is used to host movie festivals and lectures, visitors have numerous choices to explore.
“This has been a real privilege to be a part of and an amazing project to see completed,” said Reitz.
The grand opening begins at 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 12 and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 13. The celebration features exhibits including What Makes Us Who We Are? – An exploration of more that 12,000 years of Waterloo Region’s history, 2012 Community Highlight Exhibit and the Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.
There will be a free shuttle bus running from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. over the weekend from the Fairview Park mall.