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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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.

 

 

The term ‘self-made’ fit Max Saltsman like a glove.

 

The long-time Cambridge federal politician, who gained national attention in the early 1970s by trying to introduce a private member’s bill to annex the Turks and Caicos Islands in effort to keep Canadian tourists’ dollars in Canada, achieved success both in business and politics through hard work, determination, and education.

 

Born Samuel Mayer ‘Max’ Saltsman in Toronto in 1921, he left high school after one year at the age of 14 but served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a mechanic during the Second World War. While overseas, Max (legally changing his name to ‘Max’ in 1962) completed correspondence courses via the Royal Canadian Legion and later took university extension courses to upgrade his education.

 

He opened S. M. Saltsman & Co., Tailors and Dry Cleaners in Galt in 1947 and quickly gained an interest in local politics, serving on the former Galt Public School Board from 1958 to 1961 before joining Galt city council from 1962 to 1964.

 

Saltsman’s interest in federal politics sparked his run in 1963 as the New Democratic Party candidate to represent the former ridings of Waterloo South, Waterloo-Cambridge, and Waterloo as MP but he lost to Progressive Conservative Party candidate Gordon Chaplin. However, Chaplin’s death in 1964 resulted in a byelection which Saltsman won setting the stage for his re-election as MP for three more occasions, until he retired in 1979.

 

During his tenure on Parliament Hill Saltsman took a tough stand when it came to the Liberal government’s imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970 and was a big supporter of wage and price controls.

 

He was NDP critic for Finance and National Revenue in the late 1970s and always won the respect of his caucus colleagues for his ‘off beat’ ideas such as his call to annex the Turks and Caicos Islands. His private member’s bill in 1974 never reached the floor of the House of Commons but garnered much attention as did his ‘Pink Max’ awards which he instituted as a tongue-in-cheek way of pointing out waste in the private sector.

 

Saltsman created the award in response to the ‘Blue Max’ award, named for former Auditor-General Max Henderson who offered up samples of wasteful federal government spending.

 

A staunch supporter of higher education, the University of Waterloo appointed him a special lecturer in management science, and he often focused on the relationships between business and government.

 

Saltsman helped found the Saltsman-Kerr Lecture Series in Canadians Studies at the U of W and regularly lectured about political science at Wilfrid Laurier University, often joking he was one of the few people without a degree or even a high school diploma, asked to lecture at a university.

 

In the earlier 1980s, former Ontario premier William G. Davis appointed Saltsman to serve on the Inflation Restraint Board, in part due to his advocacy while in office against what he identified as government inactivity on price gouging.

 

He served on the board until 1985 and was making plans to run for a councillor-at-large seat on Cambridge city council when he withdrew his name after being diagnosed with liver cancer. He died in a Toronto hospital in November of 1985.

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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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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.

 

 

Building was something Gord Renwick did very well.

 

While running his family-owned business Renwick Construction, which he took over in 1963 after his father, Don, suddenly died, the company was involved in the construction of many homes and industrial buildings in and around the newly amalgamated and growing city of Cambridge.

 

The knack he had for running a successful business was only magnified when he became an influencer in the sports world after becoming heavily involved in the international administration of hockey.

 

Although he was a big baseball fan, Renwick developed a passion for hockey and is recognized as one of the original ‘builders’ of the powerful Galt Hornets senior hockey organization – often described as the best outfit in senior hockey circles – where he served as president for nearly a decade.

 

Renwick gained accolades and respect in the Canadian hockey world when the Hornets won the Allan Cup in 1969 and again in 1971, which led to greater involvement in our national pastime, and he went on to become president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) from 1979 to 1981.

 

“He brought more of a corporate model of governance, rather than just a kitchen table operation,” Murray Costello, the first president of the CAHA, was quoted saying in the Waterloo Record following Renwick’s death at 85 in 2021.

 

Later, Renwick became the Vice-President of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) in 1984 and would go on to diligently serve the organization for 20 years. He is credited with helping to transform that organization from using a ‘kitchen table’ approach to bookkeeping to a computerized operation.

 

Throughout his lengthy career in hockey, he played a key role in several high-profile initiatives, including the Royal Bank Wrigley International Tournament and the Wrigley Midget Tournament, and served as Chef de Mission for all visiting Russian team tours of Canada.

 

Renwick was also instrumental in getting international sponsors for the Canada Cup and World Cup tournaments and through his work with the IIHF travelled extensively worldwide for the organization, even handing out medals at the 1992 Winter Olympics in France.

 

He also spearheaded negotiations for the NHL to join the Olympic Games in Japan which finally occurred in 1998.

 

“I probably get a lot more credit than I deserve,” Renwick was once quoted as saying. “What stimulates me to do it is the love of the game and the success of marketing.”

 

Not surprisingly, Renwick was bestowed with many prestigious awards including being inducted three times into the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame – which he helped get off the ground in the mid-1990s - and the Order of Hockey in Canada in 2012.

 

He was also made a lifetime member of Hockey Canada and is the namesake of the Renwick Cup which is awarded annually to the AAA senior ice hockey champion.

 

As well, the Cambridge Memorial Hospital Foundation unveiled in 2019 the Renwick family bridge, which connects the original hospital building to its refurbished Wing A.

 

When he wasn’t working hard building homes and businesses, or building connections in the hockey world, Renwick could often be found enjoying life with members of his large family and many friends at his Muskoka cottage on Lake Rosseau.

 

 

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