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In the past, our community has been known on the world stage as the home of global rubber plants, manufacturing powerhouses, and distilleries and breweries of some of Canada’s most iconic brands. Today we’re known as the hub of tech innovation in Canada. That’s not the only reinvention happening across the region. Investments in the ION light rail transit system and active transportation are reinventing the ways we move people and ideas. 

Here’s our choose-your-own adventure guide to experiencing the changes in Waterloo Region (or click here to download the itinerary version).

The tour begins at Evolv1 at 420 Wes Graham Way in the University of Waterloo’s David Johnston Research + Technology Park. Evolv1 is home to TextNow and Borealis AI and is a Platinum LEED certified building. The structure is full of some amazing innovative and environmentally friendly features including a living wall designed and built by local greentech startup Livescape, as well as solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations. 

After visiting Evolv1, head north on foot to grab a coffee at Matter of Taste inside Factory Square at 451 Phillip Street. This 530,000 square foot office space was previously home to BlackBerry’s manufacturing facility. Today, local tech companies including Auvik NetworkseSentire and Arctic Wolfare headquartered here.

Head out of Matter of Taste back towards Evolv1 and you’ll find yourself at the Research + Technology Park Station of Waterloo Region ION’s Light Rail Transit system. ION makes its debut in the Region in 2019, and from here riders can take the southbound train towards UpTown Waterloo. 

Take the ION three stops to the Willis Way Station and you’ll find yourself in the heart of UpTown Waterloo. Walk north on Caroline Street to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics located at 31 Caroline Street North. Created in 1999 by RIM co-founder Mike Laziridis, the Institute is one of the world’s premier centres for physics research. British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, a Distinguished Visiting Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute, was known to visit the Duke of Wellington Pub in the Shops at Waterloo Town Square. 

Head back south on Caroline Street to Erb Street and you’ll come to the former Seagram Distillery at 57 Erb Street West, now home to Shopify Plus. The world’s leader in e-commerce set up shop in the renovated space in 2016 and now employs over two hundred developers, designers and salespeople. Originally opened in 1857, the distillery was active
until the early 1980s. It housed a museum and then the Centre for International Governance Innovation before becoming home to the Shopify team.

From here, walk east on Erb Street towards King Street and make a left for a beautiful walk through the pubs, restaurants and stores of UpTown Waterloo. Continue walking south on King Street along the ION light rail transit route and you’ll pass the Bauer Building. This former headquarters of Bauer Hockey is now home to condos, restaurants and shops. It’s also where you’ll find great sandwiches. Vincenzo’sat 150 Caroline Street features daily pop-up vendors – but is best known for their sandwich counter. 

After you’ve enjoyed your sandwich, head out of Vincenzo’s on Caroline Street, make a right on John Street across Park Street and you’ll come upon the Iron Horse Trail. The trail is a 5½ kilometres (3.4 miles) section of the Trans Canada Trail connecting Waterloo Park in UpTown Waterloo to Victoria Parkin Downtown Kitchener. The trail is a much frequented walking and cycling artery in Waterloo Region. 

Continue south on the trail towards Kitchener through Belmont Village and you’ll arrive at Glasgow Street and Kitchener’s newest reinvention – Catalyst137. Catalyst137 is a 475,000 square foot campus and home to smart city tech leader Miovision and internet of things hardware developer Swift Labs. If the walk has you thirsty or hungry, you’re in luck as Catalyst137 is where you’ll find inspired food from Graffiti Market, locally made ice cream from Four All Ice Cream, freshly brewed java from Red Circle Coffee Co., and craft beers from one of our region’s newest brewers, Red Circle Brewing.

Head back out to Iron Horse Trail and continue on towards Kitchener. Make a left on Victoria Street and head east back to King Street where you’ll pass the Tannery building at 151 Charles Street. The building was the site of the Lang Tanning Company, founded in the mid-1880’s, and once the largest tannery in the British Empire. Over the years, the building housed everything from an indoor paintball course to performance rehearsal space. It’s now home to education tech leader D2L, the University of Waterloo’s Velocity startup space and Communitech. Communitech offers public tours on Thursday and they are a great way to see what attracts companies to the area. You can book tours at communitech.ca.

Continue on Victoria Street past the Tannery building to the intersection of King and Victoria. Here you’ll see some of Waterloo Region’s most recognized landmarks. To the west is the beautiful glass facade and renovated brick and beam factory building that’s home to Google Waterloo, and the colourful illustrations of medicinal plants that adorn the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy. To the east, you’ll see the Kaufman Lofts – former home to the Kaufman Rubber Company. It was a shoe manufacturing company built in stages between 1908 and 1925, then was renovated into the Kaufman Lofts in 2006. The Kaufman Lofts are the epicentre of the revitalization of the downtown Kitchener core – and now share the skyline with office buildings and condo towers.

From here, your next stop is up to you. The ION Light Rail Transit’s Central Station lets you take a train north back to Waterloo or take a south-bound train to explore more of Kitchener. You’ll find our growing community to be an amazingly welcoming group of people who love to share what they make!

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