The Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower is an 18.9 m (62 ft.) tall stone tower constructed in 1925 to commemorate the original Pennsylvanian-German pioneer settlers who arrived in what is now Waterloo Region between 1800 and 1803. It is located along the banks of the Grand River in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, just over a 1-hour drive from Toronto, and lies on what was originally the territory of the Six Nations of the Grand River.
Name: Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower
Location: 300 Lookout Ln, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
Maintained By: Parks Canada
Features & Points of Interest: Stone tower, scenic lookout, historical sites, natural area, hiking trails, community park.
Although the Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower used to be surrounded by farmers fields and forests, the structure now lies at the back of a recently constructed subdivision. To get to the tower, simply follow the Parks Canada signs that begin to appear once you turn off of King St. and onto Deer Ridge Rd. On arrival, there is a small, and free parking lot available.
The tower is located within steps to the parking lot, and sits in the centre of a small clearing. At the site, there are a couple of informational plaques that recount the history of the area, and the historical significance of tower itself, of which I will briefly cover before continuing on to what else this destination has to offer.
In 1784, nearly 240,000 hectares of land, including that of which the Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower now sits on, was given as a gift to the Six Nations Confederacy for their allegiance and support to the British Crown during the American Revolutionary War. In the years to come, some 38,000 hectares of this land was then purchased and sold again, this time by German Mennonite Settlers from Pennsylvania, who were looking to escape the persecution and high land prices they faced in the United States.
As time passed, more and more German pioneer settlers travelled to what would eventually become Waterloo County. They established homesteads and farms, and began cultivating and developing the land; the first of which was located on this site, where the Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower now lies, in present day Kitchener, Ontario.
While today the city is known as Kitchener, Ontario, this wasn’t always the case. In the past, the city went by a different name; Berlin, Ontario. Beginning with the arrival of the original German Pioneer settlers, who established Berlin in the early 1800s, this area has maintained a prominent German cultural presence. Even today, the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany takes place here every year, attracting over 700,000 visitors annually.
However, in 1916 this heritage wasn’t as keenly celebrated. In response to the growing local anti-German sentiments caused by the outbreak of World War I, the city voted to change its name in support of the British Empire, and thus was renamed to Kitchener, Ontario, after Herbert Kitchener, a prominent Irish-born officer who served in the British Army from 1871 to 1916.
Following the conclusion of the first world war, to make amends for the damage done by the anti-German sentiments, and subsequent city name change, a petition was put forth to the local government to construct a monument to represent the historical significance of the original pioneer settlers, and German heritage. Thus, the Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower was built. It cost $4,500 to build, and was eventually designated as a historical site in 1989. While there have been some refurbishments to the original structure over the years, its exterior appearance has remained relatively unchanged since.
While at one point the interior of the tower was open to the public, today the front entrance is locked. However, if you’re interested in seeing the inside, you can contact Parks Canada ahead of time to gain access and schedule an official tour.
Nearby the tower there is also a small cemetery, inside of which you’ll find the headstones of some of those original German pioneers, including Joseph and Elizabeth Sherk, parents of David Sherk, who is reputed to be the first non-indigenous person born in what would become Waterloo County.
When you’re finished taking in the Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower, I recommend going for a short walk down Joseph Schoerg Crescent to explore the ruins of the Betzner Barn, and the Schoerg (Sherk) farmstead, the first permanent European settlement in inland Upper Canada. There are also several informational plaques which talk about the the history of the pioneers, and the local area which I described above.
The Betzner Barn is also the location of Clarica Lookout, which offers a view of the nearby Pioneer Tower Natural Area. This greenspace was created to protect the winter habitat of the king of the skies, the Bald Eagle. Since the 1700s, the local population of this majestic bird has been decimated due to hunting and habitat loss, and so this natural area remains one of the few refuges in the region.
While the Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower and surrounding structures offer a glimpse back into history, this area also features Kuntz Park, the Walter Bean Grand River Trail, and the Pioneer Tower Natural Area, as I mentioned above. These locations are great places to go for a nature walk, and while I only had time to walk the Pioneer Tower Natural Area section of the trail, there are more than 17 km (10.5 mi) of pathways to explore, stretching all the way from Cambridge, Ontario, through the City of Kitchener along the Grand River, and then further more on to Waterloo, Ontario.
The Waterloo Pioneers Memorial Tower, in combination with the Pioneer Tower Natural Area, and the Walter Bean Grand River Trail makes this destination well worth the visit. Whether it be the history, the nature, or simply being a great place to go for a walk, there is something here for everyone to enjoy.
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