Waterloo County, created in 1853 and dissolved in 1973, was the forerunner of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. It consisted of five townships: Woolwich, Wellesley, Wilmot, Waterloo, and North Dumfries. The major population centres were Waterloo, Kitchener (known as Berlin prior to 1916), Preston, Hespeler, Blair, and Doon in Waterloo township; Galt in North Dumfries; Elmira in Woolwich; and New Hamburg in Wilmot.
Waterloo County was once one of the most densely wooded sections in North America. Oak trees three to four feet in diameter, maple, beech, elm, ash oak and great pines were common. The county, located in the northerly edge of the Attiwandaronk or Neutral Indian country was excellent for hunting and fishing.
The British Government granted (at the close of the eighteenth century) the Grand River valley to its Indian allies of the American Revolution, the Iroquois confederation refugees from central and western New York State. The area was from Lake Erie to the Elora falls, and the width being six miles on each side of the river. The Indian soon offered almost half of the upper area for sale. It was divided into four blocks.
Settlement of the area started in 1800 by Joseph Schoerg and Samuel Betzner, Jr. (brothers-in-law), Mennonites, from Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Other settlers followed. In 1805 a company formed in Pennsylvania purchased 60,000 acres (240 km²) (most of Block 2, Grand River Indian Lands- later known as Waterloo Township). Settlers came from Pennsylvania typically by Conestoga wagons. Most settlers purchased land title deeds directly form Richard Beasley. However, it was later found out that Richard Beasley did not have clear title to Block 2 (he shared it with Joseph Wilson and John B. Roseau), hence the settlers deeds were invalid. The settlers were forced to ask for relief from their home country. Additional funds were raised to purchase outright the 60,000 acres (240 km²) of Block 2.
The first school was begun in 1802 near the village of Blair. The first teacher's name was Rittenhaus of Pennsylvania
In 1806 Benjamin Eby (made Mennonite preacher 1809, and bishop in 1812) purchased land consisting of a large part of what would become village of Berlin (named about 1829). Eby founder of Berlin, encouraged manufactures to move to the village. Jacob Hoffman came in 1829 or 1830 and started the first furniture factory in the village.
In 1807, 45,195 acres (182.9 km²) of Block 3 (Woolwich) was purchased by Pennsylvanians John Erb, Jacob Erb and others.
The war of 1812 interrupted settlement. The Mennonite settlers refused to carry arms so were employed in camps and hospital and as teamsters in transport service during the war.
William Dickson of Niagara purchased land in the township of North Dumfries and South Dumfries. With his land gent Absolom Shade the located a town site on the Grand River. This village was named Galt in 1827 for John Galt, the author and then commissioner for the Canada Company in Guelph. Galt was a friend of William Dickson. Settlers were attracted, largely form Scotland with the price of land being about four dollars an acre.
In 1819 European Germans arrived, with Fredrick Gaukel, a hotel keeper, being one of the firsts. He would build the Walper House in Berlin. Two streets in present-day Kitchener, Frederick and Gaukel streets, are named after him.
In the 1830 the village of Preston was a thriving business centre with Jacob Hespeler, a native of Württemberg and a prominent citizen. He would later move to the village of New Hope that was renamed Hespeler in 1857 in recognition of his public service and the industries he started there. Jacob Beck from the Grand Duchy of Baden founded the village of Baden in Wilmot Township and started a foundry and machine shop. Jacob Beck was the father of Sir Adam Beck.
The first newspaper of the county (first issue dated August 27, 1835) was the Canada Museum und Allgemeine Zeitung, printed mostly in German and partly in English. It was publish for only five years. (Source: Province of Ontario – A History 1615 to 1927 by Jesse Edgar Middletwon & Fred Landon, copyright 1927, Dominion Publishing Company, Toronto; Chapter IV, History of Waterloo County by W.H. Breithaupt. )
Waterloo County's founding in 1853 caused some contentious debate between Galt and Berlin (a ratepayer's vote in 1916 changed the name from Berlin to Kitchener) as to where the county seat would be located; one of the requirements for founding was the construction of a courthouse. When local merchant Joseph Gaukel donated a small parcel of land he owned (at the current Queen and Weber streets), this sealed the deal for Berlin. The courthouse and gaol were built within a few months and the county began operations. Though the courthouse has since been replaced with a modern structure, the gaol and neighbouring governor's house remain to this day under historical designation; they have been repurposed for further legal capacities (courtrooms and prosecutors' offices).
In 1973 the provincial government restructured this layout: this formed the current cities of Kitchener (which absorbed Doon) and Waterloo; the city of Cambridge was formed from Hespeler, Preston, Galt, and Blair; as well as the townships of Wilmot, Wellesley, North Dumfries and of Woolwich, which grew to contain the northeast corner of the former Waterloo township. All former village, town and city councils joined into the new township or city council; and an overseeing regional council handled the former county-level responsibilities, as well as now providing police service for the region as a whole.
Source: Province of Ontario – A History 1615 to 1927 by Jesse Edgar Middleton & Fred Landon, copyright 1927, Dominion Publishing Company, Toronto