Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

What began as a sunny spring day 50 years ago would end in a disaster causing millions of dollars in damages in the city’s downtown core, leaving lasting memories etched in the minds of many long-time residents.

 

The Grand River flood on Friday, May 17, 1974, lives on as a pivotal moment in Cambridge’s history because it showed not only the power of community spirit but the resiliency of local business leaders as they rallied back from this major disaster.

 

“Everybody was helping one another, no doubt about that,” says Murray Garlick, retired business leader and former board president of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. (The organization had been created in 1973 by the merger of the Galt and Preston Chambers of Commerce and the Hespeler Retail Merchants Association).

 

Murray, who owned the former Barton’s Men’s Shop at 51 Main St., recalls returning to work after lunch that day from his new home in Blair when he received an emergency message from the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA). Not only was he Chamber board president at the time, he also was serving as chairman of the Downtown BIA and was that organization’s key contact for the GRCA in case of an emergency. 

 

“I got the call in the early afternoon that we were going to have at least two to three feet of water on lower Main and Water streets,” says Murray. “Driving to the store, water was coming onto Blair Road and by the time I got downtown, the Main Street bridge was shaking because the water was so intense.”

 

The spring melt, plus a 50-mm rainfall across the top of the Grand River watershed had created prime conditions for major flooding.

 

Merchants warned about the flood

 

Springing into action, he began going door-to-door warning the downtown businesses about the looming disaster urging them to start preparing.

 

The Chamber’s general manager, the late Don Faichney, did the same after also learning of the flood around 11 a.m. and asked the Waterloo Regional Police if they had a megaphone to inform residents of the impending disaster. The police did not have one.

 

“I would say half the people I contacted told me I was out of mind,” says Murray, who went back to his store and began moving his stock onto higher racks and to the second level. “By the time I called my wife (Susan), the carpet at the front of the store was starting to get wet and the water began seeping in. We just locked up and headed to higher ground.”

 

According to a 2014 article in the GRCA’s GrandActions newsletter, by 7 p.m. that night, the Grand River was rushing through downtown Galt at a rate of 1,490 cubic metres per second, nearly 100 times the normal summer flow. Floodwaters engulfed parts of Paris, Caledonia, Cayuga and Dunnville, and left about four feet (1.2 metres) of water filling Galt’s downtown core.

 

Murray says many of the merchants who were affected ended up waiting out the disaster at the Iroquois Hotel, which had been located at the southwest corner of Main and Wellington streets and was destroyed by fire less than a year later.

 

He vividly can recall seeing the floodwaters pouring into the former Right House building located at 60 Main St. 

 

“I remember the floodwaters filling up the store and then bursting through the front doors dumping water all over the top of the lower end of Main Street,” he says, adding at that point, it became a matter of ‘wait and see’ until the floodwaters began to recede later that evening.

 

The cleanup began almost immediately, says Murray, describing how he and Don used snow shovels to remove the silt left behind in his store by the floodwaters.

 

“Everybody went back to doing business the best they could and got cleaned up as best they could, and did what they could with their merchandise,” he says.

 

In fact, in a Cambridge Times article Bill Couch, who was the ‘retail chairman’ of the Chamber for the downtown, was quoted as saying approximately 90% of the 45 businesses that were severely flooded were back in business with their doors open soon after.

 

Financial impact hits hard

 

“Many brought their merchandise on to the street since it was nice sunny weather. Some of the goods were very dirty, and they knew they would have to reduce their prices,” says Murray, adding he was grateful when the City finally closed Main and Water streets to traffic. “The silt was so bad on the roads and all these people driving by to have a look were raising all kinds of dust and the merchandise was getting filthy.”

 

During this time, the financial impact of the disaster was being tallied.

 

In a Cambridge Times article published a few days after the flood, Right House manager Elmer McCullogh estimated damage to the store was at least $750,000. Major financial losses were also reported by many larger downtown businesses and industries, including Dobbie Industries Limited, Mannion’s Quality Furniture, and Canadian General Tower Limited.

 

“The monetary figure on our losses will be substantial. Plastic material can be cleaned up, but General Tower got a hard kick in losses of some paper products, materials and cores,” said Gord Chaplin, former president of the company, in a Cambridge Daily Reporter article. The late Francis Mannion was also quoted in that same article stating his company suffered at least $100,000 damage to the building and stock.

 

Being located on a floodplain, many businesses did not have flood insurance.

 

“It was just too expensive,” says Murray.

 

In the end, the total damage amount in Cambridge was pegged at approximately $5.1 million (the equivalent of $33 million in 2024), with approximately $2.9 million suffered by small businesses and residences, with industries facing $1.9 million in damages. These figures do not include cleanup.

 

Calls for compensation surfaced almost immediately, as the scope of the disaster continued to unfold.

 

Former Ontario Premier, the late Bill Davis, toured the area four days after the flood and eventually heeded demands for financial relief by unveiling a compensation formula where the Province agreed to provide $4 for every $1 raised by the Grand River Disaster Relief Committee.

 

“The province feels a deep sense of concern for those whose properties who have suffered from the Grand River flood, and the measure of relief we are announcing today is a direct reflection of that concern,” he was quoted in a Cambridge Times article.

 

Public inquiry held

 

As well as compensation, calls for a public inquiry were also growing as anger over how the disaster unfolded grew, much of it aimed at how the GRCA handled the situation when it came to warning of the disaster.

 

To assist, the Chamber’s general manager sent out a questionnaire to all citizens who suffered flood damage to gauge how they were warned of the impending disaster. Of the 546 that were sent out, 320 responses were returned with the results indicating a severe lack of notice had been received.

 

“One can understand the bitterness of the large number of victims who had no notice or had inadequate notice. A flood warning system must be devised to give citizens reasonable notice of a threatening flood,” wrote the Hon. Judge W.W. Leach in the conclusions of his 1974 Flood Royal Commission Report. “I have been critical of the City Engineering Department, the City Administrator, the Police, and the Fire Department, for the role they played in the flood warning system. However, in all fairness to them, once the city was in flood, they performed outstanding services to the citizens. This extended right through the clean-up.”

 

Despite any controversary in the aftermath, Murray can still recall some lighter moments during the disaster, including how he found his friend, the late Aubrey McCurdy, wading through three feet of water in his flower shop trying to retrieve flowers for a Saturday wedding.

 

“I told him he had to leave, and he said, ‘No, I have to finish this’,” laughs Murray.

 

And even when Aubrey told a Cambridge Daily Reporter journalist a few days later his store suffered a $10,000 loss, he still found a reason to remain positive.

 

“The flood did have its good points,” he was quoted as saying. “It showed how unified merchants are and highlighted a spirit of co-operation never seen before.”

 

 

Grand River Flood facts

 

  • GRCA issued a prediction for Galt at 9:15 a.m. for a five-foot (1.24 metres) rise of water during the afternoon to a probable height of 16.7 feet (5 metres).
  • The flood affected at least 75 businesses and caused approximately $6.7 million in damage (the equivalent of $36.9 million in 2023) across the Grand River watershed, cleanup not included. 
  • By noon the Fountain/ Blair Road intersection was closed to traffic.
  • Highway 401 westbound was closed due to culvert washout and traffic was backed up more than 24 km. 
  • Highway 24 was closed by early afternoon.
  • Floodwaters flowed over the bridges at Concession, Main and Park Hill.
  • The low-level railroad bridge (Holey Bridge) on Water St. South was completely submerged.
  • Many of the dramatic photos taken during the flood occurred at its peak between 2:45 p.m. and 3:55 p.m.
  • Floodwaters crested at 6 p.m., reaching a height of 18 feet (5.4 metres) – 16 feet above the Grand River’s normal height at that time of year.
  • No major injuries reported, although 45-year-old Norm Taylor spent close to 10 hours in a tree before being rescued by a helicopter. 

 

Flood prevention measures 

 

  • The flood accelerated and added significant control elements to the development of a Grand River beautification program announced by the Cambridge Greenbelt Committee in September of 1973. The initial stages of the plan called for the creation of a park running along the east bank of the Grand River from Park Hill Road bridge to the old Carnegie Library at Dickson Street. Buildings standing along that portion of the river were to be purchased and demolished and replaced by parkland.
  • In 1980, city council approved an $8.2 million flood control project that would see earth and concrete barriers built along the banks of the Grand River. Two years later, council also endorsed a $317,220 flood control program calling for the construction of a berm from Mill Race Park to Dickson Street. Also, the GRCA introduced its extensive Grand River Water Management Plan which included improved forecasting and monitoring tools, taking into consideration the localized effects of climate change.

 

 

 

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Providing innovative programming that assists women business leaders reach their full potential as well as further their professional and personal goals is something the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce continues to do well. This will be especially apparent at our inaugural Women’s Well-Being Summit: Investing in Yourself to Achieve Your Goals on April 24 at Tapestry Hall. 

 

The summit features an array of expert speakers sharing their insight on areas centring on the theme of total well-being, focusing on both physical and mental health, emotional intelligence, as well as financial wellness.

 

“Helping to build a healthier community has always been an important role of the Chamber, and that includes not only economic prosperity but societal prosperity as well,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “Our Women’s Well-Being Summit fits right in with this role.”

 

Men are also encouraged to attend in hopes of creating more awareness and understanding in the workplace.

 

Greg notes that approximately 60% of Chamber Members are women and says the summit is the ideal extension of the many programs the organization already offers them.

 

Others include its popular Women Take Charge Breakfasts and Women’s Collective Series events, each featuring inspiring female speakers, plus the Chamber's annual Salute to Women in Business Luncheon which this year raised more than $13,000 for the breast reconstruction unit at Cambridge Memorial Hospital. To date, the Chamber has raised more than $143,000 from this event to benefit this important cause.

 

As well, its new Chamber Circles Program provides expert mentoring to women aimed at encouraging their professional and personal growth.

 

“Women business leaders play a significant role in our community and the Chamber is pleased to provide them with as many tools and supports as possible to ensure their continued success,” says Greg.

 

Summit speakers include:

 

  • Bridget Jensen of Better Bedtime will discuss the importance of good ‘sleep hygiene’ and how embracing your sleep-type sets the foundation for your day. 
  • Naturopath Dr. Henna Plahe will “break the silence” regarding menopause, offering valuable tips to navigating this natural life transition, especially as it pertains to the workplace. 
  • Ellyn Winters-Robinson, author, entrepreneur, mother, and storyteller will share her unique and positive insight on finding a transformative purpose in life after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Psychotherapist Carling Mashinter of Relationship Matters Therapy will look at self-acceptance surrounding the cultivation of emotional intelligence, providing summit participants with practical strategies to support personal growth.
  • Kathleen Beech and Jackie McMullen of Scotiabank will discuss the importance of encouraging women to build confidence in taking control of their finances and why a solid financial plan can benefit a women’s mental and physical health.
  • Chiropractor Dr. Mark Guker of ReAlign Natural Health Clinic will outline a comprehensive guide to aging naturally and gracefully and explore various aspects of women's well-being. 

 

Click here for more on the Women’s Well-Being Summit including information about the Early Bird registration price that is available until March 29.

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In the past year local businesses have faced many issues surrounding economic and labour concerns.

 

Despite these challenges, many have managed to prevail and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles which is why the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is encouraging local business leaders to recognize their success through a nomination at our annual Business Excellence Awards.

 

“The hard work of our business community is something we should all be very proud of and celebrate, especially during these current economic times,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.  “Our awards are an important way to show how much our business community means to all of us.”

 

The Business Excellence Awards is the Chamber’s premier event and has honoured the achievements and contributions of business leaders in the City of Cambridge and Township of North Dumfries since 2000. 

 

It features 11 award categories, most of whom require nominations. These include Business of the Year, Spirit of Cambridge, and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award presented to the owner or director of a new or existing business that has achieved great success this past year.

 

“We have so many dynamic and innovative young business leaders in our community,” says Greg, referring to this award. “This is a great opportunity for them to be recognized for their work at building a successful business.”

 

Also included among the award categories are the prestigious Chair’s Award which is selected among from among the nominees and the Community Impact Award which is presented to an individual who has contributed, or continues to contribute, to the overall prosperity, economic growth, or vibrancy of the community.

 

“These awards really speak to the calibre of businesspeople we have in Cambridge,” says Greg, adding the awards are great way to let others know what local businesses have accomplished. “This is the time to share your story.” 

 

The awards will be held May 29 at Tapestry Hall. Nominations close Feb. 23.

Click here to submit a nomination.

 

 

Award Categories and Criteria:

 

Spirit of Cambridge AwardThis award recognizes an outstanding effort and commitment to making Cambridge and/or Township of North Dumfries a better, more prosperous community through corporate leadership and social responsibility.

 

Business of the Year (1 – 10 employees)This award is given to a good corporate citizen who exhibits a competitive edge through technological innovation in one or more of three following areas: customer service; workplace environment, products and services, growth in business, employee retention.

 

Business of the Year (11 – 49 employees)Given to a good corporate citizen who exhibits a competitive edge through technological innovation in one or more of three following areas: customer service; workplace environment, products and services, growth in business, employee retention.

 

Business of the Year (More than 50 employees)This award is given to a good corporate citizen who exhibits a competitive edge through technological innovation in one or more of three following areas: customer service; workplace environment; products and services; growth in business; employee retention.

 

New Venture of the Year Award –   This award is presented to a new or existing business that through innovation of design and technology has significantly improved the esthetics and functionality of their operation.

 

Outstanding Workplace – Employer of the Year - The recipient of this award goes above and beyond to ensure it provides employees with the best overall workplace, with a strong focus on a happy and healthy work culture and environment.

 

Marketing ExcellenceThis award is presented to the business or organization that has best demonstrated excellence, innovation, and originality in traditional or new-media marketing.

 

Young Entrepreneur of the Year AwardThe recipient of this award is presented to the director/owner aged 18-40 of a new or existing business who has achieved outstanding results by successfully building it up to a new level.

 

WOWCambridge.com Customer Service Award - Each month the Chamber has recognized an individual at a business who has gone above and beyond, providing extraordinary service in everyday situations. These individuals and the businesses they work for exemplify service excellence. This award is presented to one of those monthly winners as the Grand Award Winner.

 

Community Impact Award - This award recognizes an individual who has contributed, or continues to contribute, to the overall prosperity, economic growth, or vibrancy of our community through their business, volunteer or philanthropic endeavours, and exemplary overall service to assist others.

 

Chair's Award - The Chair's Award recognizes an outstanding organization or individual who makes an exceptional effort which goes above and beyond the call of duty in any area of business and/or community development.

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This blog represents the second part of a two-part series on protecting your business. 

 

Operating a business is difficult enough in the current climate, especially as business leaders navigate ongoing economic, labour and supply chain issues. 

 

As a result, keeping their businesses secure and safe from potential criminal threats may not be front and centre, suggests John Burdett, President of Seamless Security Inc. in Cambridge.

 

“Times are difficult for everybody and there are cost pressures for everybody,” he says. “Security is typically not the first thing people want to spend money on, but at some point, if people are calling me, they realize they do have a need for it.”

 

That need appears to be becoming more apparent, taking into consideration local crime statistics. According to the Waterloo Region Police Service (WRPS), since January 2023 to the start of December 2023, officers responded to 21 reports of robberies at commercial properties – not including banks or financial businesses – and 338 reports of commercial property thefts, excluding shoplifting incidents. The WRPS’ 2022 annual report indicates a total of 286 robberies.

 

At the Chamber’s Conversations That Matter lunch Jan. 25 at Tapestry Hall (Tap Room), former Waterloo Region police chief Bryan Larkin, now Deputy Commissioner, Specialized Policing Services RCMP, will discuss the impact crime rates have on the local business community. 

 

“Many of my clients are larger warehouse and distribution facilities, but I’m seeing the issues with them going down and issues with smaller businesses going up,” says John. “There seems to be less internal theft issues and a lot more external theft issues happening these days.”

 

But when it comes to security systems for smaller businesses, he recommends operators may wish to start small.

 

“You really want to know how you’re going to use your security system, especially if you don’t have one already,” says John, adding having an expandable system is a good course of action. “You can always add to it later if you have the right system in place. People don’t have to necessarily spend the bank on their system. But, if you have millions of dollars of inventory to protect, you’re probably going to spend a bit more.”

 

He says deterrence is a key factor for many businesses when it comes to selecting a security system.

 

“Anything to try and get that person to ‘move on’ before they commit the crime is going to be the optimum outcome,” says John, explaining he works closely with potential clients to determine their specific needs. “A few tweaks to what you already have may be sufficient to achieve your goals. It depends on the issues you’re trying to combat.”

 

That ‘tweak’ could also include procedural changes to the way a business operates which he says could minimize the threat of potential losses.

 

“What do you keep on site? What is visible from the window? What type of lighting do you have? There are all sorts of these types of factors that come into play,” says John, adding a theft may be less detrimental to the business compared to the after-effects. “A business could be out of business for a couple of days while they replace windows, or if their point-of-sale systems have been smashed. This could have a bigger financial impact on the business than the actual theft itself.”

 

Security tips for businesses

 

1. Check Doors and Windows

Consider installing doors made from reinforced wood or steel. If your doors are made from glass, roll-down safety gates may be an option. You could also consider reinforcing frames with metal plates and reinforced strike boxes. If you have a room where a safe or other valuables are stored, consider investing in stronger interior doors for these areas.

 

?2. Upgrade to Smart Locks

For an added alarm system, smart locks can help as a measure for improved access control. As an additional benefit, smart locks can keep access records, so you know who is accessing which door at different times.

 

3. Install Alarm Cameras

With strategically placed cameras, you can capture important evidence against potential shoplifters, violent criminals, vandals, burglars, and employees that may commit crimes. Also, CCTV cameras offer considerable value because they are one of the most effective crime deterrents. 

 

4. Manage Valuable Assets

You could rethink your practices when it comes to handling cash. When you consider expensive equipment or high-value inventory, you need to think about how you store these items and anything of exceptional value should be kept out of sight from the windows when the business is closed.

 

5. Improve Exterior Lighting

Consider adding lights in areas that are dark and make sure your side and back exits are well lit. Installing motion lights in areas that do not see much traffic may also help. Smart lights can mimic the activity of an occupied structure, and this will give burglars the impression that there are people there when the building is empty.

 

6. Nightly Safety Protocols

Set a specific routine for closing time and teach it to any employee who may need to close the business for the night. Your nightly safety protocols should consist of checking and locking all doors and windows, securing valuable assets, checking different areas of the property for small business security issues, setting the wireless alarm, and more.

 

7. Install Affordable Alarm Systems

Even if your business already has an alarm system, you may want to consider its age. Surveillance system technology has come a long way in the last few years, and there could be significant benefits to upgrading to a smart alarm system that is customized for the needs of your business

 

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Our Chamber of Commerce over the years has not only learned how to pivot, but how to address the concerns, issues and needs of the small and medium-sized businesses in our community.

 

The events of the last few years have only strengthened our reason for being. We not only champion small and medium-sized businesses but are a source of information, guidance, and the most powerful connector there is.

 

We have now taken that connection to a new level thanks to ‘The Link’, a place where YOU, an SME business owner/manager can source solutions in a one-stop shop atmosphere. And since this is Small Business Week (Oct. 15-21), it's very important to always remember and celebrate the contributions SMEs make to our economy.

 

For the last seven months, our Chamber has undertaken this huge project (for us). To say we’re excited is a dramatic understatement because for you, we’ve invested and created an exciting, inspirational space that will not only knock your socks off but provide a place where you can share your troubles and find connections to help you navigate those issues that sometimes surface for every business.

 

At The Link you can source HR solutions, legal forms and information, access grant writing, and discover business services of all types that help you streamline, or even eliminate operational costs, and yes, of course, we also have direct access to financial resources only for business.

 

Another aspect to this renovation project is the creation of additional meeting spaces. We can now offer two boardrooms, one that can seat more than 20 and the other between eight and 10, plus a more informal meeting space for five and a private soundproof meeting “pod” also for up to five people. As well, have casual conversation areas and provide a wonderful coffee service.

 

The Link is modern, accessible, and a great place to have a coffee and share conversation all contained in little over 2,220-square-feet of prime real estate at Highway 401 and Hespeler Road.

 

Along with this incredibly cool and unique space comes some unbeatable programming to help you and your team get onside, get ramped up, and get excited for what comes next.

 

Programming at The Link has already been released and space is very limited, so you need to get in early and make sure there is a seat for you. Our Program Manager, (Amrita Gill), is already developing new and different ways for us to connect with meaning, with passion, and as always, with inspiring ideas.

 

The doors opened Oct. 1 and we already have some committed entities ready to set up shop at The Link, but there may still be room for you and your organization. Do you serve only small and medium-sized business? If so, send me a note and maybe, if all the checkmarks are in place, we may just have a spot for you at The Link, but you need to hurry. Yes, there is a cost because we are not a “funded” organization and our support comes from our membership.

 

Speaking of membership, did you know the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has NOT increased its membership fees in more than 25 years? Talk about an inflation stopper, wow! That is what serving business means to us. We will always find ways to support you and now we are looking for your support to continue the work we do.

 

So please share your expertise with us and book a pod at The Link, or come in and get help from organizations and businesses that are here for you. Even better, drop in and enjoy a coffee, latte, cappuccino, espresso, or my personal favourite, a mochaccino. Hey, I might even buy you one. See you soon at The Link, 750 Hespeler Rd., the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

 

 

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The following piece is one of several that appears in the special summer edition of  our INSIGHT Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.

 

As dignitaries gathered for the ground-breaking ceremony of Toyota Motor Corporation’s much anticipated Cambridge assembly plant on May 6, 1986, the Waterloo Record reported that four windsocks painted to look like fish hung outside the tent where officials had gathered.

 

Called ‘koinobori’ or carp streamer, Toyota Motor Corporation’s late president Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda explained the significance of the gesture, noting the fish is known as one that fights its way, even up a waterfall.

 

“The carp streamer is used as a symbol of vitality for parents who wish good health and strong development for their children,” he was quoted at the time. “We have hoisted the koinobori here in the hope that our company will grow to become a business appreciated and respected by everyone as a whole.”

 

Nearly 40 years later, it’s clear this ‘hope’ for success has manifested as Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. continues to be a major industry and economic leader, and community partner for Cambridge and southwestern Ontario as a whole.

 

From the moment the first Corolla rolled off the assembly line at its Cambridge facility shortly before 10 a.m. on Nov. 30, 1988, the company has continually succeeded creating hundreds of new jobs over the years through the expansion of new product lines.

 

Cambridge was selected from over 40 municipalities in Canada for the plant and federal government incentives were a consideration. Former Cambridge MP Chris Speyer, quoted in an article in the Dec. 12, 1985, edition of the Cambridge Reporter announcing the news, said there were incentives in the contract to encourage Toyota to buy Canadian parts and that the provincial government would contribute $15 million over five years toward a program to train Ontario workers.

 

“I’m extraordinarily proud of our community that Toyota would choose us to locate such a major enterprise. This is the happiest day of my political career,” he told the Reporter, before describing the “tremendous positive impact” the plant would have on the local economy, noting the average salaries at that time would range from between $25,000 to $30,000.

 

“Just think of what that means to housing in our area, to shopping and small business as well as the spin-off effect by other industries locating within our area in order to service Toyota,” said Speyer.

 

The Cambridge plant was expected, in the beginning, to produce 50,000 cars a year with the capacity to reach 100,000 when market conditions permitted, providing work for 1,000 employees.

 

In a Reporter article published a year before the plant opened, it was reported that a progress report indicated it would provide 1,000 direct manufacturing jobs that would result in another 2,000 new jobs in the automotive and service industry.

 

To date, TMMC now employs more than 8,500 people across its three production lines in Cambridge and Woodstock. In Cambridge alone, its North and South plants encompass three million square feet on 400 acres located at the corner of Maple Grove Road and Fountain Street North.

 

The company, which has won numerous awards recognizing it as a ‘top employer’ and ‘greenest employer’, continues to thrive and evolve.

 

In August of last year, it marked a special anniversary when a red Lexus NX 350h hybrid electric luxury SUV, rolled off the line in Cambridge representing the 10th million vehicle produced by TMMC.

 

“Today’s milestone speaks to how far Toyota’s manufacturing operations in Canada have come over the past three decades,” said TMMC President Frank Voss in a press release at the time. “In 1988, the year we opened our first plant in Cambridge, our team members built 153 Toyota Corollas and it took over 11 years to produce our first 11 million vehicles. Today, we’re Canada’s largest automaker and leading maker of electrified vehicles, building half a million Toyota and Lexus vehicles for the North American market every year. Our world-class team members have been trusted to build some of the most popular vehicles in North America and that’s something we’re very proud of.”

 

 

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The following piece is one of several that appears in the special summer edition of  our INSIGHT Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.

 

 

It’s been more than 50 years since the ingenuity and drive of two Cambridge men helped revolutionize filmmaking, setting the stage for millions of moviegoers worldwide to enjoy an enhanced experience every time they set foot inside a theatre.

 

It was the innovative vision of filmmaker Graeme Ferguson and businessman Robert Kerr, along with filmmaker Roman Kroitor and engineer William Shaw, which resulted in the creation of the IMAX film format and the success that followed.

 

Friends since childhood, Ferguson, and Kerr’s first ‘big’ collaboration was on a school newspaper at Galt Collegiate Institute. However, they took very different career paths with Kerr establishing a specialty printing company with his father called John Kerr and Son, and Ferguson, who developed a love for photography after his parents gave him a Baby Brownie camera at age 7, becoming a New York-based independent filmmaker.

 

Later, their creative drives would draw the pair together again when Ferguson reached out to his old friend, who at this time was serving as the youngest mayor of Galt (serving four one-year terms from 1964-67) and managing the printing company after he had sold it, to collaborate on a film for Montreal’s Expo 67.

 

The film, to be shown at the “Man the Explorer” pavilion, was entitled Polar Life and examined the lives of northern peoples in Canada, Lapland, and Siberia. It was to be featured on eleven 35mm screens and a continuously rotating audience platform. Kerr, who was known to enjoy making things with hands and discovering ‘elegant’ solutions to problems, welcomed the challenge.

 

“We had just enough experience to give us some confidence, and if didn’t go well, we still could recover,” Kerr once told a reporter. “We were very naïve, which probably saved us.”

 

The film was a success, along with another multi-screen film at Expo 67 called Labyrinth, co-created by Ferguson’s brother-in-law Roman Kroitor, who was also experimenting with screen technology.

 

When Kroitor received backing from film manufacturer Fuji to create another film for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan, Ferguson, and Kerr joined the project and the trio each invested $700 to form their own company called Multiscreen Corp. – the forerunner to what would later become IMAX Corp.

 

“We had two filmmakers, which was one too many, one businessman, which was right, and were short in the engineering department,” Ferguson was quoted as saying. “We said to each other, ‘Who’s the best engineer we could hire?’ And it took us about one tenth of a second to say, ‘Bill Shaw’.”

 

William Shaw, who was an engineer at bicycle-maker CCM, came onboard and began working out the technical aspects to fine tune this new technology.

 

Together, over the course of the next two-and-half years, the group invented the 15/70 film format, commissioned the first 15/70 camera, built the first 15/70 rolling loop projector, and produced a giant-screen film called Tiger Child which opened at what was considered the world’s first IMAX theatre at Expo 70.

 

Ontario Place first permanent IMAX theatre

 

However, it wouldn’t be until the foursome brought their technology to the 800-seat Cinesphere at Toronto’s Ontario Place which became the first permanent IMAX theatre, that the full potential of their creative dream thus far would be realized. The landmark theatre opened May 22, 1971, showing Ferguson’s now classic film North of Superior.

 

The sky really was the limit after that when Ferguson struck up a collaboration with NASA to bring moviegoers into space by having astronauts trained to use IMAX cameras. Several very successful documentaries would follow that established the IMAX brand.

 

But even as the company continued to flourish, the pair remained close, even working on their boats together after he, Kerr and Shaw retired to homes on Lake of Bays after IMAX was sold to two American businessmen in 1994.

 

Kerr, who had served as the company’s Chairman, President and CEO from 1967 to 1994, continued to dabble in large format film, and after retiring from IMAX formed a partnership with Jonathan Barker to form SK Films. But prior to this, he also managed to serve a two-year term (1974-1976) as mayor of the newly-amalgamated Cambridge before joining IMAX full time but proudly wore his mayoral ring for the remainder of his life.

 

Among his many municipal accomplishments was the development of Mill Race Park, following the Grand River flood in 1974.  At the time, his mayoral predecessor Claudette Millar – Cambridge’s first mayor following the amalgamation – was quoted as saying: “If it weren’t for him, it could have been a blank wall.”

 

Later during his retirement, Kerr fostered his interest in the arts and education by supporting local artists, as well as in 1997 by endowing the University of Waterloo’s Stanley Knowles Visiting Professorship in Canadian Studies. He also bestowed bursaries at Cambridge secondary schools.

 

“I believe it is important for Canadians to increase our understanding of ourselves, our history, our special institutions and those qualities that contribute to a more thoughtful and compassionate nation,” he once said.

 

Kerr passed away in April 2010 at the age of 80. Ferguson, the last of the four IMAX founders, died in May 2021 at the age of 91.

 

According to a news report published in the New York Times upon Ferguson’s death, despite reading bleak reports throughout the pandemic regarding a shift in viewing habits and the growing allure of streaming services enticing moviegoers away from theatres, the Cambridge native wasn’t worried about what the future held for IMAX.

 

“He was completely convinced it would flourish even if the rest of the exhibition industry was going to do much worse,” his son, Munro, was quoted as saying in the Times, “because he believed that if you’re going to leave your house, you might as well go see something amazing.”

 

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The following piece is one of several that appears in the special summer edition of  our INSIGHT Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.

 

When Adam Warnock left his native Scotland for Canada in the mid-19th century, eventually settling in Galt in 1835, he would forever change the economic future of this community.

 

Known as a ‘man of prominence’ throughout most of his adult life, Adam Warnock’s entrepreneurial drive led him down several paths, including forming a partnership with James Crombie in woolen mills they operated in Preston and Plattsville. The Preston mill, known as Geo. Pattinson Company, became one of the town’s largest employers and one of the largest woolen producers in Canada.

 

It also set the stage for the creation of the Galt Knitting Company, where Adam Warnock was one of eight men known as ‘The Syndicate’, which set up shop after purchasing the former Robinson and Howell textile mill on Water Street in downtown Galt.

 

The company grew to greater prominence when his two sons, James, and Charles, took over upon his death in 1902 and began manufacturing a variety of knitted underwear, and eiderdowns shoe linings. After James died at a young age, Charles remained in charge until 1930, at which point James’ son Edward took the reins.

 

He was at the helm during the Second World War when the Galt Knitting Company created underwear for Canadian soldiers producing annually 360,000 units of blended wool and cotton fleece underwear.

 

But following the war, the company faced closure in the early 1950s due to various market forces and went into voluntary receivership in 1954. At this time, James Adam Warnock, Edward’s son, joined the business after high school and upon graduating from Ridley College put a plan in motion to revive the company.

 

Salvaging three out of four knitting machines during the liquidation of the Galt Knitting Company, he began work on a new line of men’s cotton briefs and shirts after renting a third-floor space of a four-storey building and hiring a handful of employees.

 

The company, known now as the Tiger Brand Knitting Company, remained small but was became successful thanks to his use of machinery and insistence of maintaining low overhead. Even more success followed when Tiger Brand no longer relied on manufacturing winter underwear and moved into the T-shirt stream, fueled by a surge in the market.

 

As the newly amalgamated City of Cambridge was unveiled Tiger Brand remained an integrated garment maker by producing its own textiles and clothing. It created its own branded fashion line called Non-Fiction and had contracts with a variety of large retailers, including L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, Cotton Ginny, Nordstrom, and The Gap.

 

By the time Warnock opened a new factory in Pincher Creek, AB, in 1977, Tiger Brand Knitting remained a bonified success and its peak employed 1,450 people and generated approximately $80 million annually in sales.

 

The company opened a warehouse in Oakland, Calf., in 1979 to serve the San Francisco Bay area and expanded locally into the former Riverside Silk Mills plant on Melville Street South near Queen’s Square – home now to the University of Waterloo School of Architecture- as well as the former Sheldon’s Inc. on Grand Avenue in the early 1980s.

 

A strong proponent for his employees, James Adam, whose tough exterior wasn’t as tough as it seemed according to many, opened and subsidized ‘Tigger House’ – an employee care centre. As well, he encouraged many of his immigrant employees to become Canadian citizens and provided English as a second language courses at the company. He often hosted Citizenship Courts at the plant.

 

But he also maintained a strong interest in the community and supported many charities and projects, including financing and organizing the completion of the outdoor amphitheatre along the Grand River behind Galt Collegiate Institute.

 

Also, prior to Cambridge’s amalgamation in 1973, served as a Galt councillor from 1968 to 1972, and as a member of the local hydro-electric commission between 1972 to 1974, and the Waterloo Wellington Airport (now Region of Waterloo International Airport) commission. As well, James Adam was active in the Red Feather/United Way campaigns and fundraised for the local branch of the Canadian Red Cross.

 

By the late 1980s he had slowly passed the company ‘torch’ to his children and stepped away completely following a near fatal car crash in Egypt.

 

He passed away from a heart attack in September of 2006 while on holiday in St. Petersburg, Russia, a year after Tiger Brand Knitting sold its factory to a numbered company which closed the plant to source its branded clothing line in China.

 

The company had been in bankruptcy since the fall of 2004 and the closure left 300 people out of work, according to the United Steelworkers in a piece printed in the Globe and Mail in April 2005.

 

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A little over 50 years ago, the communities of Galt, Preston and Hespeler were, as the saying goes, three peas in a pod. Tremendous sports rivals to the very core of community pride.

 

Sorry, for those living in Hespeler and Galt, but I was a Preston kid. I grew up playing pool at Rusty’s, bought penny candy at Gravelle’s Variety, went swimming at ‘Eddie’s Pool (Ed Newland Pool), and sat on the wall by the Dairy Queen with a Dilly Bar.

 

But behind the scenes of this young man’s life, there was some interesting politics playing out. William Davis was the Premier of Ontario at the time and Darcy McKeough was his Minister of Municipal Affairs. I guess for some unknown reason, to me at least, they figured that we’d be better off together than apart and as of January 1st, 1973, the Premier declared, “thou shalt be conjoined into one harmonious community.”

 

Well, frankly, at that point in my life I was more interested in who was meeting at Rusty’s after school rather than what anyone at Queen’s Park was doing for, or with, my hometown of Preston. I can vaguely recall the community vote during the 1972 municipal election on what this ‘new city’ should be called, and it was narrowed to Cambridge or Blair. In the end, 11,728 residents voted in favour of the name Cambridge compared to 9,888 – most of those residing in Galt - who selected Blair. While the name Blair is not offensive in any way, it is hard for me to wrap my head around what might have been had the vote gone the other way.

 

We all know the end of that tale: Cambridge we shall be, and we shall be united, we shall be one. Sounds good in theory, but perhaps that ‘experiment’ didn’t exactly work out the way it was planned. My children, all born ‘post amalgamation’, still refer to the former municipal names, for the most part.

 

However, isn’t that what community is all about? When someone asks us today where we live, we identify, again for the most part, with the “old” community names.
Today, I live in West Galt. OK, so maybe the experiment wasn’t all bad, after all, my wife (a Galt girl), got me to move from Preston to Galt, and that was a good start. But let’s not underscore the collective challenges we all had in adapting, and ultimately embracing our new name and our new community.

 

The Chamber, however, had a much easier time adapting to this new reality and kind of bought into the whole concept in the early stage of amalgamation when the Galt Chamber, Preston Chamber and Hespeler Village Association merged to become the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

 

Looking back, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during those meetings, but I was too busy sitting on the wall by the Dairy Queen catcalling the hot rods driving down King Street. I know now, however, that there was likely some kicking and screaming but with the universal understanding that bringing business together was going to build a better community with opportunities for everyone.

 

The Chamber throughout the last 50 years has been the mainstay for community development and creating opportunities, filling gaps, and moving the agenda of positivity. It has also been here when the community was in need. Take the Grand River flood in 1974 as an example.

 

Although we are blessed to have two of Canada’s Heritage Rivers (Grand and Speed) running through our community, they can create issues - not just traffic trouble if one of the bridges is closed - that overshadow their beauty.

 

This was the case when the Grand River overflowed its banks on that fateful May 17th hitting downtown Galt very hard. You may have read or heard the official stories about the inadequacies of the emergency response departments that unforgettable day. But did you know that before the water arrived the Chamber President, the late Don Faichney, called the Grand River Conservation Authority to ask if there was an issue after hearing there was a dam incident at Conestogo?

 

The GRCA confirmed to him that they had let officials know. But hours later, as the river began to rise, Faichney called the City and of course the newly minted Regional Municipality of Waterloo, about what steps they were taking to alert businesses in the downtown core. Realizing not enough was being done, he then worked as hard as possible to get the message out himself by calling businesses - remember, there was no email or social media back then. In his Royal Commission Inquiry into the Grand River Flood 1974 report, Judge W.W. Leach credited the Chamber with providing an early response of warning that likely saved some loss.

 

Fortunately, all of that led to the GRCA getting funding to put up those infamous walls in downtown Galt in hopes of mitigating any future flooding, which also led to creating opportunities for revival. In hindsight, maybe we should have insisted on easy river access and raising of the water slightly so we could utilize the river in downtown for paddle boat rentals, or even freezing it to create a Rideau Canal-like experience in the winter. By the way, the GRCA is still a willing partner for that to happen one day, but I’m not sure the Grand River will freeze anymore thanks to climate change. Still, it might be worth exploring.

 

The Chamber of Commerce has also championed the industrial subdivisions and was instrumental in two very important community assets: higher education and professional live theatre. It was the Chamber who brought together the team – known as the ‘Cambridge Consortium’ - that eventually would get the University of Waterloo School of Architecture opened here AND, more formally, out of a tourism committee meeting came the call to establish a live professional theatre in Cambridge which led to the Hamilton Family Theatre which we now hail as a ‘community jewel’.

 

The Chamber has always taken the approach of fostering the building of our community by not saying no, but by saying yes and how do we get it done.

 

Again, putting political reasoning aside, back in 1973 our communities needed to band together since aging infrastructure was becoming an issue - especially in Hespeler – and getting new infrastructure was, and remains, a very costly ordeal. Preston, to its credit, had amazing infrastructure at that time and was in great shape and perhaps could have opted out. However, its leaders recognized that some work was needed to ensure its preservation and supported the move.


We know that preservation is always important, just look at the Gaslight District. Frankly, there would have been a time when those historic structures along Grand Avenue South simply would have been torn down but thanks to new investment, those revived old buildings have been adapted to last well into the next century.

 

Now, let’s be clear, I am not a big fan of forced amalgamations. Frankly, I think those moves are officially political in nature. However, I am a fan of working together for the betterment of all.

 

Today, many of us remember the dividing lines of those three former communities, but in time those too will disappear in the memory of its residents as change brings bigger, better, and bolder ideas to build a strong, vibrant, and genuinely prosperous community. In many respects, I believe we are the envy of our neighbours to the north which many think want to consume us since we are the only community in the region that fully straddles both rivers and Highway 401, North America’s busiest roadway. I think if we were to analyze the entire circumstance of Cambridge’s amalgamation we would probably agree, in the end, it was good for us. It certainly would have been better if we had all been on the same page at the time, but we’re only 50 years old and that’s a “young’un” in terms of community years. The best part is we’re still young, enthusiastic, looking forward, and optimistic on what kind of a community we can have. We aren’t done building this community yet, so any further craziness of amalgamation talks is off the table from my perspective.

 

What we have now is a community poised to explode, and you might not like that, but worry not, anyone reading this is unlikely to be here when that happens and the leaders of the day will care about what they are doing, just like the leaders of the past did.

 

They will care about being progressive in community development but also in building a city that is safe, healthy, and abundantly filled with opportunities. Let’s celebrate our 50th anniversary in style with recognizing we’ve come a long way in the first 50, so let us reach for the top in the next 50. After all, it’s all about the making of a community.

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It takes dedication and deep commitment to work in the not-for-profit sector, not to mention volunteering for charities and service clubs.

 

Luckily, in Cambridge and the Township of North Dumfries there are many people who have this dedication which benefits us all.

 

To celebrate their efforts during the past year, nominations are now open for our annual Cambridge & North Dumfries Community Awards which recognize the contributions of individuals and organizations in a variety of categories, including leadership, impact, volunteer of the year, as well as lifetime achievement.

 

“These awards provide the ideal chance to show our appreciation to these individuals and organizations for their contributions that make our community even better,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “Without them, Cambridge and North Dumfries would not be the same.”

 

There are 10 awards and new to the category list this year is the Arts and Culture Award which recognizes an individual, ensemble or organization that has contributed significantly to the local cultural scene in the past year. Also, the Best Event of the Year Award has returned after being sidetracked by the pandemic.

 

“There’s a variety of categories that should ensure the achievements of these organizations will not go unnoticed,” said Greg, noting organizations are encouraged to nominate themselves. “Sometimes, those who work in the not-for-profit sector are so caught up in the great work they do, they never take a moment to give themselves a pat on the back.”

 

Community leaders and their guests will be on hand Monday, Nov. 13, at the Hamilton Family Theatre for the awards ceremony which is one of the Chamber’s most popular events and has honoured the contributions and achievements of these community builders since 2012.

 

The deadline for submissions is Sept. 1. Click here to place a nomination.

 

The award categories include:

 

Community Collaboration Award

Nominees for this award stand out because of their exceptional professional and/or volunteer achievements in the community, which are above and beyond their role in a paid position. This award recognizes any exceptional employee of a non-profit organization. These nominees embody the spirit of the community and, through their actions and accomplishments, are an inspiration to others.

 

Community Leadership Award

Nominees for this award stand out because of their exceptional professional and/or volunteer achievements in the community, which are above and beyond their role in a paid position. This award recognizes any exceptional employee of a non-profit organization. These nominees embody the spirit of the community and, through their actions and accomplishments, are an inspiration to others.


Community Impact People’s Choice Award

Nominees for this award are organizations that recognize new and better ways to address a need in the community despite the many demands, and sometimes too few resources available. The efforts of this organization have a positive and meaningful impact on the broader community, resulting in clear and measurable change. Nominees in this category demonstrate a commitment to building relationships and collaborating meaningfully with the individuals and communities they serve. They have changed the culture of their organization or worked towards shifting systems by listening to the voices in their community and involving them in solutions and/or processes.

 

Arts and Culture Award

Nominees in this category, either individually, as ensemble or as an organization, have worked diligently and selflessly in a variety of creative, applied, and fine art genres to benefit the community. Their efforts have made a significant contribution to the cultural scene in Cambridge/Township of North Dumfries, while creating access and inclusion to arts and culture.

 

Best Event of the Year Award

Nominees for this award have created an event or program which has made a significant impact that increased awareness and/or boosted the bottom line of the organization. The recipient of this award has worked tirelessly to ensure the quality of this event or program has left an indelible mark on their community.


Board Member Award

This award is presented to a board member who have demonstrated outstanding service to a not-for-profit organization in the City of Cambridge or Township of North Dumfries through the giving of their time, talents, and resources as a board member to further the goals and objectives of the organization.

 

Volunteer of the Year Award

Nominees must have been involved in volunteering for the equivalent of at least 100 hours over a 12-month period. Nominees must have volunteered for a legitimate not-for-profit organization, service club or community group. The communities of Cambridge/Township of North Dumfries or Waterloo Region must be significant beneficiaries of the nominee's volunteer work.

 

Organization of the Year - Under 10 Employees

Are you a not-for-profit organization or service club that provides outstanding programs, services, events, or campaigns that support the needs of the community and its residents? Does your organization successfully raise awareness of issues affecting the community and successfully raise funds to support its mission and goals?

 

Organization of the Year- 11 and Over Employees

Are you a not-for-profit organization or service club that provides outstanding programs, services, events, or campaigns that support the needs of the community and its residents? Does your organization successfully raise awareness of issues affecting the community and successfully raise funds to support its mission and goals?

 

Lifetime Achievement Award

Will be awarded to an individual who, over the past 15 years or more, has made significant contributions to the community and has improved the quality of life for citizens or whose accomplishments have brought recognition to the Waterloo Region.

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