City of Waterloo, Ontario Basics You Need to Know

Brand new to the City of Waterloo? Considering a move here in the very near future? Here's a look at some of the basics you'll need to know to begin getting to know this amazing city!

City of Waterloo Quick History

Waterloo was founded on land that was part of a 675,000 acre (2,730 km2) parcel assigned to the Iroquois alliance that made up the League of Six Nations in 1784.

The unusual donation of land from Britain to indigenous people took place just after the American Revolution to compensate for the tribe's wartime alliance. The First Nations groups started to sell some land almost immediately, albeit with much controversy. 93,000 acres (380 km2) were sold to Richard Beasley between 1796 and 1798, with the Six Nations Indians continuing to hold the mortgage on the land.

Mennonites from Pennsylvania made up the first wave of immigrants to the region. They bought the land from Beasley and, in 1804, started to move into the city. Abraham Erb, often called the founder of Waterloo, came from Franklin County, Pennsylvania, to the area in 1806. Upon arrival, he bought up 900 acres of bush land from the German Company and built a sawmill (1808) and a grist mill (1816); these were the area's focal point. The grist mill functioned continuously for 111 years.

The new township was named in 1816 after the site of the Battle of Waterloo (1815), which ended the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, in Waterloo, Belgium.

The new township became a popular destination for German immigrants following that war. By the 1840s, as the dominant segment of the population, German immigrants had overtaken the Mennonites. The small hamlet to the southeast of Waterloo was settled by many Germans. That village was named Berlin in 1833 (renamed Kitchener in 1916) in their honour.

The City of Waterloo Today

Waterloo is part of Canada's Technology Triangle of Canada, and many well known tech companies are either headquartered or have branch offices here, including PTC, Sandvine Inc, BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion ( RIM)), Maplesoft, Open Text and Google, with the latter recently having announced expansion plans for their presence in Waterloo.

These companies thrive here in part thanks to the wealth of talent attracted to the University of Waterloo, which boasts the world's largest undergraduate program in math and computer science. The idea of university co-op was pioneered by Waterloo, a situation where students alternate study terms with paid job experience. It boasts the world's highest co-op undergraduate enrollment today.

Owing to the large number of insurance companies which once had their headquarters here, Waterloo was once known as the "Hartford of Canada". Due to the presence of Manulife Financial and Sun Life Financial, insurance is still a major industry in Waterloo.

Outside the city limits, farmland is very close, and many Mennonites still live nearby. In the north of the city you'll find St. Jacobs, a small village known for its markets and shops that have become very popular.

The City of Kitchener is directly south of Waterloo. These two cities are independent municipalities, but are often referred to as "Kitchener-Waterloo" (abbreviated to "K-W"), but share a long, seamless boundary.

In comparison to Kitchener's, which is known as "Downtown," Waterloo's central business district is referred to as "Uptown." Note, however, that, relative to neighboring cities' downtowns, Uptown Waterloo is not especially large; Waterloo is essentially a suburban area. The distributed structure of the city ensures that a small-town atmosphere persists even in the face of so much technology!

Waterloo Demographics

The numbers provided below are from Statistics Canada and represent the workforce in Waterloo.

  • As of 2017, the population of Waterloo is 137,420 (includes students and temporary residents)

  • median age is 37.7

  • percent of population between 20 and 34 years old is 24.3%

  • number born outside of Canada is 26,155

  • median household income (before tax) is $83,045

Getting to Waterloo, Ontario From The Rest of the World

*Please note. COVID-19 has affected some of this information. Always check before you make travel plans right now.

By Air

Region of Waterloo International Airport (YKF IATA). is serviced by a limited number of airlines. WestJet has regular domestic service to Calgary, AB.

For travellers coming from afar, Airways Transit offers shuttle bus service between Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ IATA and Kitchener/Waterloo. Pearson Airport provides flights to and from many destinations, and is located approximately 1 hour away from Waterloo by car in good traffic conditions. Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF IATA) just outside Buffalo is an alternative to Toronto. It is about 2 hours away and requires a border crossing, but flights are often much cheaper, particularly if travelling to/from the US or Caribbean.

By Road

From Highway 401, take exit 278 (if coming from the west) or 278A (if coming from the east). Take Highway 8 North to Highway 85 North (the Conestoga Parkway). There are four exits in the City of Waterloo:

  • For Uptown Waterloo, exit Bridgeport Rd.

  • For universities, exit University Ave. E.

  • For destinations in north Waterloo, exit King St. N.

  • For destinations in north-west Waterloo, exit Northfield Dr. W.

By Bus

The Charles Street Transit Terminal in downtown Kitchener hosts Greyhound, GO Transit and Megabus (Coach Canada) intercity buses. From there, you can catch a ION light rail train into Waterloo.

After stopping at the Charles Street Transit Terminal, some Greyhound buses from Toronto continue on to Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.