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The Mary Allen neighbourhood is located within the Haldimand Tract: hundreds of thousands of acres along the length of the Grand River. The tract was defined in the 1784 treaty between the British and the Six Nations Haudenosaunee as reserved for the Six Nations and their posterity “to enjoy forever.” Non-Indigenous settlement of its northern half began c.1800, including what is now Waterloo Region. This land has been the territory of the Neutral, Anishnaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples since time immemorial. The Mary Allen Stories blog acknowledges this historical context and ongoing reality. Find out more, including more about treaties, in the sidebar under INDIGENOUS LINKS.

The Making of Mary Allen Park, Part 1

written and researched by Deb Ferguson

I’m sitting at the harvest table in my park – Mary Allen Park.
It’s right by my house, and, I’m guessing, close to the homes of most of the other people who are enjoying it right now. It is a great place to play and be active, meet with friends, or to throw a ball for the dog.

This park serves as a place to burn off excess energy on the way home from school, as a meeting spot for some well-needed social time with other parents, and as a destination for seniors in the neighbourhood. It is a place for people to hang out, chat, or observe. 
It’s the centre of our neighbourhood and it gets a lot of use. 
In front of me, and slightly to the right, are a variety of climbing areas, surrounded by older trees and newer bushes. There are large rocks and vertical logs to run across and balance on, a thick segment of a fallen tree trunk, a swing set, and a variety of climbers.

In the distance, by the north entrance, are round metal bike racks, small concrete tables with boards for chess or checkers, and an extremely solid ping pong table.

Beside me is a decorated metal storage box. Behind the box is a gazebo, with hefty steel supports.

Beyond that is a broad stretch of lawn, and some raised garden beds. There is a wide swath of concrete for strolling, riding or rollerblading (too wide a swath if you ask me!), and at the corner of Allen and Willow streets stands a mysterious wavy metal structure which announces: Mary Allen Park, 95 Allen Street East, The City of Waterloo.

Mary Allen Park did not always look this way. As you can read in an earlier blog post (What Was Here?... at Willow and Allen), the park is constructed on the former site of a furniture factory owned by local businessman Eben Oliver Weber; a factory that came to a fiery end in October, 1930. The land was sold to another furniture company but was not developed, and there is a record that in 1932, $56,000 in back taxes was owed on the land.

1930 (yesterday) . . .

. . . 2021 (today).

The charred ruins sat unchanged for several years, until being purchased, in the early 1940s, by the St. Louis Parish. The Parish and the Catholic School Board both used the land, and shared responsibility for it. It was referred to as St. Louis Playground and was used by St. Louis School across the street, and also by the public as a recreation area.

Click to enlarge. The big rink behind St. Louis School, with Holy Name Hockey Club, c.1928. This view, looking directly towards the intersection of Willow and Allen streets, shows the Willow St. elevation of the Waterloo Furniture Co. factory (R background) two years before it was destroyed by fire, making this one of the few known photos of the building. Not long after the factory ruins had finally been removed, St. Louis School and Parish, as well as the surrounding neighbourhood, began using the space for recreation. Reproduced from the book The Spirit Lives, 1890-1990: A history of St. Louis Parish, Waterloo.

One local area resident, Anne Herbstreit, recalls skating on an unlit “large frozen puddle” late at night, sometime in the late 1950s. Another neighbour has reminisced in a story on this blog, that from the late ‘40s to the late ‘50s, the land was used as a sports field, with a baseball diamond, soccer field, playground, and in winter, a skating rink. The City even erected a hut with a potbelly stove inside, where skaters could warm up, dry their mitts, and buy penny candy from a small tuck shop! The shack later burnt down, though no one was ever sure why.

Click to enlarge. A section of the 1942 fire insurance map of Waterloo, showing the future site of Mary Allen Park labelled "school grounds" at Willow and Allen streets. Image courtesy of Waterloo Public Library, Ellis Little Room of Local History.

When researching the last 50 years of what we now call Mary Allen Park, the name Roy Wuertele comes up frequently. Roy had lived in the neighbourhood all his life; he believed in the benefit of sports, and was active in the community. In the 1970s, Roy had been flooding the grass to create the ice rink at the park for several years. He had a friend, Chuck, a Waterloo Minor Hockey coach, who worked for the City of Waterloo. The story goes that Roy was chatting with Chuck one day, and mentioned that it would be nice to have a paved surface at the park. So, on a Friday afternoon, when Chuck had finished a City paving job, he brought over the equipment and some asphalt, and installed a pad for an ice rink  no permits involved!

In the 1980s, the Mary Allen neighbourhood was classified as a “parks deficiency area.” However, the grassy area owned by the St. Louis School had been designated a green space, where neighbours loved to come with their kids to play football and soccer. There were also two T-ball fields, one at each end of the park. Several of the neighbours, led by Roy, had been instrumental in keeping the skating rink up and running during the winter. The neighbourhood considered the land to be their park.

Park or Parking Lot?

In 1983, the Catholic School Board closed St. Louis School due to low enrolment. However, the school was resurrected a few years later as an adult education centre. In the late ‘80s, realizing that they needed more space for parking, the School Board applied to the City for a zoning change for their green space. While needs assessments and traffic pattern studies were being carried out, the Board went ahead and took down three large trees along Willow St., and also plowed the snow to use the lot for parking in the winter.

Click to enlarge. Waterloo Chronicle, 20 April, 1988. Image courtesy of Waterloo Public Library.

The neighbourhood was furious – this was the only green space available for public use.

Determined to keep their only park, a campaign to save it was started. William Shalinsky, President of the Mary Allen Neighbourhood Association, wondered aloud whether the School Board was going out of its way to “alienate” the neighbourhood. The School Board representative spoke up in the Board’s defence, claiming that the trees were unsafe, and that the school needed the land.

As Commissioner of Planning, Tom Slomke said, “School boards have historically provided green space with their schools for public use. They are public bodies, they are not private businesses. . . . However, when money becomes a crunch for school boards, as it has recently, they have to ask themselves what business they are in.” 

The neighbourhood association did not want to make any compromises. However, their wishes went unheeded and the land was taken over for parking.

The campaign was taken up again a few years later. In 1991, the Catholic School Board again applied for a zoning change, this time to add a 71-space parking lot. This was denied by the City, which offered to buy the land so that it could remain a park.

The School Board appealed the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board, saying that they only had wanted to build on half the land, and the rest would have remained green space. At the same time, they applied for a building permit, in order to erect five portables, for which they would not need a zoning change. The portables would be placed on the north end of the land, closer to the train tracks, with parking on the south, nearer to the school building.

Click to enlarge. Waterloo Chronicle, 27 March, 1991. Image courtesy of Waterloo Public Library.

Neighbours had strong objections to this plan. Area resident Tricia Siemens recalls how a note had been posted in the park calling for neighbours to band together to protect their green space. They spoke to their city councillor, Lynn Woolstencroft, who asked for a delay in the decision around the application for a building permit so that more meaningful discussions could take place.

The neighbours organized a march to Waterloo City Hall, into a City Council meeting, the crowd carrying protest signs and banners. Tricia spoke to the Council about the importance of the park area to the neighbourhood, and how it solidified and created a centre for the community. The standard for green space in new residential neighbourhoods was 5%. Even with the St. Louis playground, the Mary Allen neighbourhood only had 2%.

The Waterloo Chronicle reported that 75 people marched on Willow St. to obstruct the delivery of three portables, and that the placard-carrying residents planted a Manitoba maple in the middle of the driveway leading into the park. One of the former protesters recalls that the protest was broken up when the police arrived and told them to remove the tree.

Click to enlarge. Waterloo Chronicle, 8 May, 1991. Image courtesy of Waterloo Public Library.

The City and the School Board agreed to delay the application for a building permit, and discussions began.

Tricia Siemens had been nominated as the spokesperson for the community. She was present for many of the negotiations, which went on for weeks. Mayor Brian Turnbull outlined the main issues which included a recognition by the School Board that the St. Louis site was not a good long-term solution for an adult education facility.  

Mary Allen Park: It’s Official!

Tricia Siemens recalls how, seemingly out of the blue, the School Board negotiators presented an offer to sell the City 60% of the land. The land would be purchased for about $300,000 for use as a public park. The other 40% would be used by the School Board until a new site was chosen for their adult education facility.

The City came back with the caveat that when the School Board did decide to sell the property (and Mayor Turnbull was confident it would happen “in the short term”), the City would get first rights to the park and the school building. The neighbourhood somewhat reluctantly accepted this compromise, adding that they wanted to be able to contribute to any discussions about park design.

The transaction was finally agreed upon, and the City of Waterloo purchased the approximately half hectare of land closest to the train tracks. As they had promised, the City held design workshops, and in 1991, two sets of plans were created, one for half the park land, and the other for the full space, whenever it would be developed. Long-time Mary Allen resident Terry Stewart recalls working on a plan for a “beautiful park with ‘Victorian-style’ lighting.”

Click to enlarge. Plan drawings produced in 1991 by the City of Waterloo for the new city park at Allen and Willow streets. Note the label "St. Louis Park." The park landscape that was created resembled the upper drawing. Images courtesy of Terry Stewart.

The newly named Mary Allen Park was constructed close to where the current playground stands, with a chain link fence planted firmly between the park and the Catholic School Board land. At the time, politicians promised that when the rest of the land became available, the park would be developed as planned. The City said that the rest of the money, $300,000, would be held in escrow. Tricia Siemens was a Waterloo City Councillor from 1991 to 1997. When she left the position, she made sure the money was still there to purchase the other half of the park.

Improvements, Involvement and "Gillette Mach 3"

The playground went through several upgrades over the years. By the early 2000s, a community feeling had developed around it. Neighbourhood babysitters would tow wagons filled with toys and kids down the sidewalk to the park for their daily outings. Children regularly played manhunt and grounders. Many liked to climb the trees, sometimes to the chagrin of other neighbours, who felt that squirrel nests in those trees should be left undisturbed. On some long weekends in the summer, there were fireworks. Over time, a basketball net was installed.

The clumps of bushes in and around the park had become very overgrown. There was no Spurline Trail or lighting along the railway tracks, and people sometimes used the railway corridor for various, unsavoury activities. The ditch beside the tracks was filled with a variety of junk. Marg Gloade, a fairly new resident at the time (who moved away in 2019) remembers clearing out a campsite, an old car seat, and some tires. She thinks that this may have been the start of the annual park clean-up.

The Earth Day Park Clean-up became an anticipated neighbourhood event. Marg and her husband Curtis offered a prize for “the most interesting thing found.” Some of the “treasures” that were discovered included clam shells with button-sized holes drilled out of them (maybe relics from the furniture-manufacturing days, or the nearby Button Factory), an empty prisoner property bag, railway spikes, an old name tag from the Dutch Boy grocery store, and a metal “garden monkey.” The first few years of the cleanup were very busy, Marg recalls, but each year there seemed to be less and less litter to clean up.

The City installed lights, a water pump, and hoses, and every winter, wooden boards were erected for an ice rink, which the neighbourhood pledged to look after. Curtis, Marg’s husband, created a ramp to help hoist his snowblower over the wooden edges of the rink. Another former resident, Rick Goos, devised the “Gillette Mach 3,” a wide metal ice scraper. Every suitable winter night, these two, along with a group of others, dubbed “Rinkmeisters” by organizer Tom Reinhart, would discuss the best way to clear and flood the area for two rinks – a job that was sometimes carried out at very strange hours of the early morning. Little children learned to skate on the smaller rink, using “pushers,” and older children and their parents met to skate, socialize, and play (sometimes) competitive games of shinny!

In the early 2000s, Mary Allen residents still had a strong desire for their park to be expanded. At neighbourhood association meetings, people like longtime Allen St. resident, Roy Wuertele, would grumble that they were sure it was never going to happen. They had been waiting several decades!

Even after the Adult Education Centre at St. Louis School closed in 2005, residents would use the park amenities at one end of the field, while somewhat dejectedly eying the chained-off parking lot and single school portable sitting idly on the scrubby gravel field at the other end of the property.

One night, after working on the skating rink in the winter of 2009, the Rinkmeister crew started chatting. Someone mentioned that the existing park needed some improvement and the ice rink could use a new pad. The old one had a few degrees of a slope, which made it quite a challenge to flood. Brent Ellis, the chair of the Mary Allen Neighbourhood Association at the time, decided to check with the City to see what it would take to get a new asphalt pad. When he received the answer that it would be too expensive, he, undaunted, took out the yellow pages, used his contacts, and started calling around. Neighbours pitched in their time, and the neighbourhood association managed to raise $15,000. Several companies donated materials and services. Rick Goos and another neighbour, Al Wright, arranged to get new lighting and electrical connections. With the solicited donations of money and volunteer time, a second basketball net was added as well. After the pad was complete, the City installed the light standard.

A plaque recognizing all those who contributed to the upgrade stands at the north entrance to the park, near the train tracks.

Twelve-year-old Shane Hutchinson said at the time, “This is an old park and it's kind of a symbol of our community. A lot of kids play here, and I know I do all the time. So it's a great place to see people from around this area.” 

Another neighbour, Anna Janecek said, “I think without this space it's really easy to be isolated, even with kids living in houses around you. This really provides a focal point for the community.”

Over the years, many park events, organized by the Mary Allen Neighbourhood Association, have come to be regarded as traditions in the community: the winter skating party, the spring “Maryallenite Hunt” (where gold-painted rocks of “Maryallenite” are hidden around the park for “Minor Miners” to discover), the Earth Day Clean-Up, and, at the end of June, the Fun Fair (started in 2011), with its amusement park activities, good food, and local musical acts that attract neighbours old and young. 
The park space has been well-used and well-loved by the community. 

Click to enlarge. Poster for the first MANA Fun Fair, 2011. 
Design by Rick Klaver. Image courtesy of Steve Roth.

By 2009, many in the neighbourhood were frustrated that the land they had been promised was still not available for community enjoyment. 

Stay tuned to this blog for "Part 2" of the Mary Allen Park story, and find out how change finally happened. 


Many people helped create this history of our Mary Allen Park. I would like to thank Karl Kessler for sharing his inspiring expertise and enthusiasm for historical research, writing, and editing. This article was dependent on stories told to me by many people. Neighbours, former neighbours and friends of the neighbourhood, Anne Herbstreit, Terry Stewart, Tricia Siemens, Melissa Durrell, Brent Ellis, Steve Roth, Marg Gloade, Curtis Gloade, Emmett Gloade, Sheri Martin Soosaar, Rob Soosaar, Stephanie Snow, and Jeff Zavitz all took time to sit down and chat, or share their memories through thoughtful emails. It’s amazing what a group of people working together can accomplish!
– Deb Ferguson       


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