Mary and John Streets, June 2013

Friday, November 16, 2012

St. Louis Catholic School

The future of St. Louis Catholic School, located at the corner of Willow Street and Allen Street, has been a topic of considerable discussion since the City of Waterloo moved to purchase the building from the Separate School Board in early 2012.

As the first Catholic school in Waterloo, St. Louis is located on what was once referred to as the "Allen Street Sand Hill". At the time the hill was seen as having little to offer, and an early century historian mused: "One who looks at the site now can not realize what an unsightly hill it was, nor wonder that many would have preferred another place" (Spetz, 1916, p.181)

The school, which opened in 1891, originally consisted of 2 rooms in the basement of the St. Louis Catholic Church. School lessons were taught to 70 children by the Sisters of Notre Dame who commuted from Kitchener (Berlin) by train until a convent was built beside the church in 1895.

In 1905, a separate 4-room school building was constructed to accommodate the growing number of students. This portion of the building can still be recognized as the yellow brick portion of the school facing Allen Street.  

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The original St. Louis School.  The convent is visible at the far right.  Reproduced from the publication 100 Years of Progress in Waterloo County, Canada: Semi-centennial Souvenir 1856-1906.  Image courtesy of the Waterloo Public Library, Ellis Little Room of Local History.

By 1916, the school held 205 pupils and 4 teachers. Further expansion of the school led to the construction of the Willow Street wing in 1923. The date stone for the later wing is visible from the Willow Street fa├žade.

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St. Louis School after expansion.  Note how the original Allen Street window bays have been bricked over, and the original entrance has been updated.  Image courtesy of the Waterloo Public Library, Ellis Little Room of Local History.

A number of significant early townspeople attended St. Louis Catholic School. One St. Louis pupil was Edgar Jacob Bauer, son of Aloyes Bauer. Aloyes Bauer founded the nearby Bauer Limited Industries located on King at the corner of Allen Street (now repurposed as a market place at the Bauer Lofts). Edgar Bauer later became president and General Manager of Bauer Limited, and over his lifetime also served for 4 years as a Waterloo Councilor, President of the Waterloo Mutual Fire Insurance Company and President of the Globe Furniture Company.

The school was closed in 1983.

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St. Louis School pupils on the church steps in 1927.  Many have been identified.  Can you fill in any missing names?  Bottom row, l to r: Wilbert Bauer, Hubert Dorst, Louis Gies, Edward Hergott, Gerald Boppre, Kenneth Ball, Edward McCormick, Raymond A.J. Bauer, Bill Reinhart.  2nd. row, l to r: Gerry Moser, UNKNOWN, (possibly) Alice Bauer, Helen Hunt OR Cathleen Hauk, UNKNOWN, Virginia Wey, Quentin Dancer, Wilfrid ("Red") Erdel, Vince Oberholtz, Robert Dyer.  3rd. row, l to r: Chris Reitzel, Anne Kuntz, Patsy Lang, Mary Schnietzler, Clara Reidel, Rita-Marie Helm, Vera Reidel, Victoria Pinto.  4th. row, l to r: Evelyn Grey, UNKNOWN, UNKNOWN, Bernice Wingfelder, Marion Hauser, Bernice McErdle, UNKNOWN.  Top row, l to r: UNKNOWN, Delores Montague, Adine Sobisch, Caroline Longo, Eugenia Kuntz, Phyllis Koebel, Lloyd Helm.   Image courtesy of the Waterloo Public Library, Ellis Little Room of Local History; photograph F-10-3.

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St. Louis School pupils, no date. 
Can you fill in missing names?  Image courtesy of the Waterloo Public Library, Ellis Little Room of Local History; photograph H-10-2.

Johnston, Mary A.  (1975). The Trail of the Slate: A History of Early Education in Waterloo County, 1802-1912.
Spetz, Theobald. (1916).The Catholic Church in Waterloo County. Catholic Register and Extension,
Wells, Clayton W. (1928). A Historical Sketch of the Town of Waterloo, Ontario. Waterloo Historical Society, pp.22-67.
Waterloo Public Library, Historical Walking Tours,
Waterloo Catholic District School Board, Sir Edgar J. Bauer School website,

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mary-Allen Beginnings, Part I

In Waterloo Region, the story has often been told of how a group of Pennsylvania Mennonites bought a 60,000-acre tract of land on the Grand River that today contains much of the Kitchener-Waterloo urban footprint.

In 1806 two of these Mennonites, Abraham and Magdalena Erb, came north to take up their land purchase: hundreds of acres that would eventually become the site of the Waterloo city core. 

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Erb-Kumpf House in 2012.  The rear portion was built c. 1812 by the Abraham and Magdalena Erb family.  

Within ten years Abraham had built a sawmill and gristmill on Beaver (Laurel) Creek, and the Erbs had established Waterloo's first settler homestead.  Today, the former mill site lies along King Street, between the freight rail tracks and Erb Street, while the c. 1812 Erb home still stands as the rear section of the landmark Erb-Kumpf House at King and George Streets in the Mary-Allen neighbourhood.  The original front of the home faced north, towards the mill.

Fifty years later, to the north of Erb’s mill and today’s Erb Street, a small village had grown along the Great Road (King Street).  But the Erbs’ vast acreage south of the mill had remained undeveloped by the mid-1800s, even though it had changed hands when the Sniders, another Mennonite family, acquired the Erb mill, house and land in 1829. 

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A sketch of the village of Waterloo from a c. 1853 map of the neighbouring village of Berlin.  This is a view looking north along King Street, towards the junction with Erb Street.  The Erb/Snider mill complex occupies the left side of the sketch.  Laurel Creek is seen passing beneath King Street.  Image courtesy of the Waterloo Historical Society Collection, Kitchener Public Library, Grace Schmidt Room of Local History.

It was only after the Sniders finally sold the land that the village of Waterloo began to grow more quickly.  The way it happened makes for a good story…

By the mid-1800s, non-Mennonites – especially skilled tradesmen, merchants and farmers from the British Isles and German-speaking Europe – were streaming into Waterloo County, and would eventually help transform sleepy villages like Waterloo into busy towns. 

But by about 1850 the village of Waterloo, which included a hotel, Lutheran Church, general store, blacksmith, post office and several breweries, was home to little more than 200 people.  Berlin (Kitchener), just a short trip down King Street, was much larger, with a population of nearly 800.  Preston was larger still, with about 1,100 inhabitants, making it the largest village in Waterloo County.

One of the reasons Waterloo had remained small was the reluctance of Mennonite families like the Erbs and Sniders to subdivide their land; the Mennonite settlers were not primarily town builders.  Even so, by the 1830s the Sniders had begun to sell a few small lots to non-Mennonite newcomers, and the beginnings of a village with homes and businesses slowly began to take shape.

Enter John Hoffman, Berlin furniture manufacturer and one-time miller.  Hoffman was eager to buy, divide and sell the somewhat wet land that lay to the south of Jacob Snider’s Waterloo mill. 

Hoffman saw his opportunity when Snider sold the mill and adjacent land to his son Elias in 1853.  Although at first Elias Snider refused Hoffman’s appeals to buy the 300-plus acres of mostly undeveloped land (centered around King Street, between today’s Erb and Pine Streets), he relented the following year, keeping the mill but offering the land to John Hoffman and Hoffman’s son-in-law, Isaac Weaver, for $37,500.

The Snider/Hoffman sale would lay the groundwork for what was likely the first “building boom” in Waterloo, and would also lead to the creation of the first house-sized lots in today’s Mary-Allen neighbourhood. 

Hoffman set to work immediately.  In 1855 the Sniders moved to a farm north of Waterloo, and the Hoffmans moved into the old Snider house (mentioned above).  The land was then surveyed, divided, drawn up onto a tidy map, and auctioned off. 

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Part of the 1855 Hoffman Survey of Waterloo.  Buildings in the village are concentrated to the north of Erb Street.  Hoffman’s house, today’s Erb-Kumpf House, is clearly indicated along King Street.  Note the area labelled "orchard" behind the house, and note that Allen and George Streets are not present.  Image courtesy of the City of Waterloo Museum, 2004.14.1

One account of the auction sale described how it was conducted from the back of an oxcart pulled from lot to lot, laden with complimentary food and drink for the bidders. 

The effects of the Hoffman survey and sale, though modest in scale, were immediate.  And although the number of new lots created by the subdivision proved larger than the demand, and many would sit undeveloped for decades, by 1856 Waterloo doubled in population to about 500 residents and spread south onto John Hoffman’s survey lands.  New shops and small factories were set up, houses were built, and the village grew steadily on.

Note: some of this article is adapted from a booklet I prepared for Bob and Margaret Nally about their house, 189 Mary Street, in 2005.  It was re-worked and reproduced here with their kind permission.