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Memories of MacGregor / Albert Neighbourhood

“Location, location, location.” This real estate mantra was the reason we moved to the MacGregor-Albert neighbourhood in 1970.We were close to work, all manner of retail stores, public transportation, schools, public amenities such as a library and the city’s major park and recreation facilities.

And housing was moderately priced. But that was not enough to keep us here for over 40 years. We also wanted to raise a family in a neighbourhood of diversity, among residents of all ages, cultural background, work and life experiences.

An additional feature of the neighbourhood was to be able to inhabit and to enjoy the cumulative architectural and natural history of Waterloo’s earliest residential neighbourhood. The neighbourhood originated with the arrival of Abraham and Magdalene Erb in 1806, and the construction of Erb’s sawmill in 1808 and grist mill in 1816 on nearby Laurel Creek. In 1820, the Erbs donated land for the first school house —a log, one room school house—built at the northern end of the present neighbourhood on the site where MacGregor public school is now situated, for the children of a growing community of settlers. It was a generation later when the land was surveyed, divided into lots and sold, further attracting people sufficient to incorporate the village of Waterloo in 1857.

MAneighbourhood

Santa Claus Parade, 1974, corner of Central and Fountain; Photograph courtesy of John and Cynthia McMenemy

Fortunately, when no longer adequate for the population, the log cabin school was relocated to nearby Waterloo Park for all to appreciate. But regrettably, some of the architectural heritage of the last 150 years exists only in a replica of Erb’s grist mill and in pictorial images of lost buildings. Gone are the original city hall, fire station and market building—now the location of an office tower, public library and its parking area. But at this end of the MacGregor-Albert neighbourhood you can still see the Carnegie Library and a Gothic Revival house with matching coach house next to the library parking lot. At the northern end of the neighbourhood you will see several Italianate and Queen Anne houses; within its boundaries are examples of homes built from the mid-nineteenth to the midtwentieth century.

The neighbourhood is also one of mature trees and shrubs that enhance its character. The neighbourhood mix includes a wide variety of deciduous and coniferous trees. Its natural assets blend into the 111-acres of Waterloo Park, further enhancing the quality of life in the neighbourhood.

All of this means that the residents not only live in their homes or apartments, but, are connected to the larger neighbourhood, and have a strong sense of place.

What you will see in the MacGregor-Albert neighbourhood has been retained as a result of considerable effort on the part of its residents. This has been a neighbourhood of shared barbecues, Victoria Day fireworks, special treats for children on Hallowe’en and shared child-sitting. But it has also been a neighbourhood of civic engagement; as the city’s population and its nearby postsecondary education industry expanded exponentially since the 1970s, residents frequently advised the city on policies to maintain the neighbourhood’s physical and natural integrity. In 2004 the residents initiated the process that led to the neighbourhood’s designation in 2006, as the city’s first Heritage Conservation District.

Although residents encouraged conservation of the neighbourhood as a municipal asset, it is not a museum; it is a living, social organism. Since we arrived in 1970, our children have grown and left the neighbourhood; many friends have moved or died, and others arrived; significant demographic changes have occurred. In time we will be gone, too.

The historic MacGregor/Albert district has been recognized by the residents and the city as being a distinct neighbourhood and together will ensure its important architectural and natural features continue into the future.

by John and Cynthia McMenemy

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