In the last couple of years with international travel halted, I’ve returned to my travel roots and been exploring my hometown and province. There have been many highlights, including the 160 Unusual Ontario series, a surprise educational visit to Buxton, Ontario, several day trips with Guess Where Trips, and 6 local tours with STROLL Walking Tours.
I came across the best walking tours in Waterloo Region through another local travel enthusiast and tour company owner (my mother). She knew Juanita through business circles in town and had collaborated with her in the initial stages of creating Stroll. Somewhere along the way I learned Juanita was also linked to a family I taught, which made meeting her and going for a stroll feel that much more serendipitous.
I have had the absolute pleasure of joining several Stroll Walking Tours over the past year and a half, and have to admit I’m on a bit of a mission to complete them all! What can I say? I love a good travel (or chocolate) series! Whether you grew up in Waterloo Region, are here to visit family or on a work trip, or just enjoy trying new experiences, Stroll Walking Tours are definitely an interesting and exciting item to add on the To Do list. If you’re reading this in 2021, head over to the post I wrote on the best Ontario travel gift ideas to get a discount on 2022 tours!
About Stroll Walking Tours
Stroll Walking Tours is a relatively new travel company in Waterloo Region that combines all of the excitement, intrigue, and history a walking tour provides elsewhere in the world. The owner and founder, Juanita Metzger, has long been a hyperlocal travel advocate. With a travel column in the Community Edition, a resume full of community advocacy, and a deep passion for all things local, she is the perfect person to introduce these heritage walking tours to Waterloo Region.
Ironically, Stroll Walking Tours was created in the summer of 2020 at a time when travel (and life) was at a standstill. This didn’t stop Juanita, who knew the value her new tour company would bring to locals and visitors alike once things opened up again. Like with many others, just as she got things rolling, she had to put the walks on hold for the winter of 2020. Hopefully we don’t see a repeat of this pattern in 2022 so that more people can get outside and enjoy a wee stroll!
In addition to Juanita, there are 6 more enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guides. Each is an expert on the tour they lead, since they research and design them as well. The guides have a diverse range of educational and professional backgrounds, which include a high school history teacher, an author, a civil servant who lead Jane’s Walks tours, a photographer, an adult literacy instructor, and a restaurateur with a deep love of music.
At its core, Stroll is about connecting people to places, spaces, people, and stories, which is everything Travel with TMc is about too and just one more reason that I love the company. The intention behind each walking tour is to help strollers to see the details missed in our busy lives that surround us, and that connect us to each other.
Where are the Tri-Cities: Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge?
You may be wondering where to find the best walking tours in Waterloo Region if you’re not familiar with the area. On a good traffic day, the Tri-Cities (Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge) are located in southwestern Ontario, approximately an hour west of Toronto. Adjacent to the Tri-Cities and also in Waterloo Region are the townships of North Dumfries, Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich, which I’d also suggest checking out if you’re in the area. There’s plenty to do in St. Jacobs, at the historic Castle Kilbride, at a cryptic gravestone, and at many other neat places to explore nearby.
Which Tours are Available?
Murals & the Outdoor Gallery
A walking tour is the perfect way to learn more about the artists and ideas behind the outdoor galleries we drive and walk by every day. Located in Downtown Kitchener, the mural tour is 90 minutes long, follows a 2km circuit, and runs year-round. It covers between 10-15 murals and is an excellent way to explore some of the lesser-walked back alleyways, side streets, and nooks and crannies of Downtown Kitchener. It also inspired a post on this blog!
Brewers, Taverns, Saloons & Hotels: Drinking in Berlin’s History
This tantalizing Downtown Kitchener tour is 75 minutes long, covers about 1.5km, and is packed with exciting stories of the prohibition era, Canada’s first lager-making brewery, and a tax scandal! It runs on week day afternoons and weekends from September to December.
Fun Fact: Ask to have the tour extended to include the history of smoking and cigar shops and makers.
Berlin’s Great War Stories
World War I had a huge impact on the world, and Berlin, Ontario was no exception. Its identity morphed into the Kitchener we know today – but you’ll have to go on the walk to learn more about how and why this came to be. For 75 minutes from September to December, go back in time and learn about those who fought, those who refused, and the women keeping everything together at home. This tour is 1.8km long and starts in Downtown Kitchener.
This 75-minute tour of Downtown Kitchener covers 1.7km and a whole lot of history about the early days of Berlin (Kitchener) and the famous fires and firefighters that shaped the city’s landscape. Hop on a weekday afternoon or weekend tour from September to December.
Pandemic! Kitchener in ‘The Grip’ of the 1918 Spanish Flu
Talk about a “meta” experience. How many times in your life will you be able to say that you took a walking tour about a pandemic while living through one? This gripping 90-minute tour throughout Midtown Kitchener’s Mount Hope and Breithaupt neighbourhoods spans 2.7km and is a great way to spend your weekends and weekday afternoons from September to December. You’ll “meet” and pass by the homes of the patients and healthcare workers touched by the pandemic a century ago, and will leave the walk with lots to ponder about the similarities and differences between the 1918 Spanish Flu and our present day fiasco.
Pro Tip: There are no public washrooms along this route so make sure to go beforehand!
Historic Waterloo: The Story Buildings Tell
There are several different options for this Uptown Waterloo tour that touches on various periods in the city’s 200-year settler history. You can choose a tour that’s 60-75 minutes or 90-minutes long and each covers a 1-2km distance. The 5 different tour options include: the influence of Waterloo’s founding immigrant, Abraham Erb, the early industrialization of the city led by John Hoffman, the booming decades at the turn of the 19th century, Waterloo in the 1920s and 1930s, and a tour covering a more modern Waterloo in the late 1940s and as a shopping destination in the 60s.
Fun Fact: If you love architecture or history, you’ll really enjoy these tours. Each of them stop at listed heritage buildings and explore the stories behind them.
Famous Families, Fugitive Slaves, & a Forgotten Soldier: Mount Hope Cemetery Walking Tour
On Fridays and Saturdays from September to December, enjoy this 90-minute 1.5km tour through the historic Mount Hope Cemetery in Kitchener. Learn why and how Berlin became Kitchener, the stories of communities past, and the leaders that shaped this southwestern Ontario city’s humble beginnings.
Kitchener Got the Blues
NEW in December of 2021 is a very special musical tour starting at THEMUSEUM in Downtown Kitchener and led by Glenn Smith, a man with the inside scoop on KW’s music scene over the last several decades. This 1km tour comprises 60 minutes of incredible stories of some of the best rock and blues musicians ever to play in Kitchener’s backyards and community events.
Fun Fact: This fun extends before and after this walking tour with a sneak peek into the REVERBERATIONS exhibit at THEMUSEUM, as well as a 10% off promo for the UNZIPPED exhibit and another 10% off a weekend brunch at the snazzy The Walper Hotel Social restaurant across the street!
From “Busy Berlin” to Tech Corridor – Industry Clusters Then and Now
The Innovation District in Kitchener has lots of stories to tell. From July to September join this 90-minute tour and walk 2.1km along the buzzing (formerly-)Berlin streets. Learn about the industrious German settlers of the 19th century whose factories have since been converted into lofts and office spaces, and the various people behind today’s exciting tech companies in the world-renowned Toronto-Waterloo Tech Corridor, also known as the Silicon Valley of the north.
Helping Hands: A History of Social Services in Kitchener
Communities are only as strong as the supports they provide, and Waterloo Region is no different. This 90-minute tour throughout Downtown Kitchener introduces the individuals on both sides of the city’s social service support system and what brought them to interact with it. Stroll for 1.7km on weekday afternoons and weekends in September to December.
On the Move: Transportation in Berlin’s History
Using the oldest form of transportation (our feet!), learn about the history of Berlin/Kitchener’s transportation methods over the last century from biking, personal vehicles like horse and buggy, car, scooters, etc…, and public transportation like the railroad, the first electric streetcar, buses, and the newest addition to Waterloo Region’s city streets – the Ion. Meet in Downtown Kitchener for this 75-minute, 1.7km tour on weekday afternoons and weekends in September to December.
Historic St. Jacobs
The St. Jacobs tour runs on Thursdays and Sundays for 75 minutes and is a short but informative and interesting 1.1km stroll around the downtown area. A brand new walk created in 2021, this heritage tour is led by locals and there’s even a fun personal connection that Juanita shares as well! Learn how St. Jacobs came to be, the people who helped create this unique community, and see the beginnings of a huge well-known Canadian company.
Black Presence in Berlin
Waterloo Region is synonymous with German Mennonite settlers. However, it is a little known local fact that Black settlers worked, lived, and thrived here in the Queen’s Bush Settlement as far back as 1839. Cue Peggy Plet. Peggy is a local independent researcher and writer who has lived around the world and made Kitchener her home since 2007. Thanks to her curiosity, extensive experience as a researcher, and desire to bring Black stories to the forefront we now have the much anticipated 60-minute 1.5km Black Presence in Berlin tour. Due to popular demand, private groups for the winter are fully booked and public groups will have access to the tour again come the spring. Keep your eyes and ears out for the 90-minute extended version this summer!
MORE TO COME!
I’ve been told there’s a Cambridge tour in the works! Subscribe to the Stroll newsletter for updates.
Who Are These Tours Suited For?
If you enjoy the sun on your face and new information in your brain, these tours are perfect for you. Past strollers have included all ages, from babies in strollers to 80-year-olds! All tour routes have been created with accessibility in mind to accommodate unassisted bipedal folk, and those with walkers, wheelchairs, or other mobility devices. Sometimes construction re-routes the paths but except for the cemetery tour, all routes follow city sidewalks. In addition, tour guides use voice amplifiers to help everyone hear as clearly as possible.
If you’re a history buff, visiting from out of town, booking an out-of-office company event, or a Waterloo Region native, Stroll Walking Tours are a great way to spend a couple of hours. They’re not offered for schools at the moment, but I can see them being fantastic school trip options in the future too.
Based on your comfort level you can also join a public small group tour or arrange for a private “bubble” tour. Custom tours are also available by request.
How to Book the Best Walking Tours in Waterloo Region
Try to book 1-3 weeks in advance so that you’re more likely to secure the time and date you’d prefer. The best way to pay is via e-transfer, however cash and cheque are also accepted. Upon confirmation of booking, the full payment is required.
My Stroll Walking Tour Experiences and Review
When I say the best walking tours in Waterloo Region are with Stroll Walking Tours it’s because I keep on going back for more! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of the 6 tours I’ve gone on throughout 2020 and 2021. My introduction to Stroll was as a part of the pilot test run of the Downtown Kitchener Mural Tour prior to it being released to the public. Needless to say, I was hooked and have been strolling and learning my way through Kitchener and St. Jacobs ever since then. They’ve been a huge highlight for me during the pandemic, especially since international travel has been tabled for me. It gives me the perfect chance to get outside, see something familiar with new eyes, and feel like I’m travelling even while I’m at home. I’m quite grateful for these experiences and for the fabulous owner of MP TOURS who keeps inviting me to join their groups!
To date, the tours I’ve gone on are: Murals & the Outdoor Gallery, Brewers, Taverns, Saloons & Hotels: Drinking in Berlin’s History, Berlin Ablaze!, Pandemic! Kitchener in ‘The Grip’ of the 1918 Spanish Flu, Famous Families, Fugitive Slaves, & a Forgotten Soldier: Mount Hope Cemetery, and the pilot run for the Historic St. Jacobs tour. There was a 7th walk in the mix, however new restrictions were put in place and we decided to hold off. As someone who lives for live music, I’m really looking forward to the stories Glenn Smith has to share in Kitchener’s Got the Blues. Another 2 tours I’ve got on the radar are Helping Hands: A History of Social Services in Kitchener and Historic Waterloo: The Story Buildings Tell…though let’s be honest, I will go on all of them!!!
Which tours are you looking forward to trying or have you already been on? Have you been on walking tours before? I’d love to hear how you visit other places (or your hometown) too. Let me know in the comments below. Cheers and happy strolls!