I live in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, the “Tri-cities”, located in Southern Ontario about an hour outside of Toronto in the 1980s and about 2 hours outside of Toronto these days… more on that in a bit.
If you draw a straight line from Toronto (an interesting city) to Detroit (an interesting city), that line goes right through all the most boring places in Ontario, and one of those locations is Kitchener-Waterloo. One of the most interesting facts about Waterloo, for example, is that it used to be called “Berlin” but then something happened and people got racist-er and decided, boom, Waterloo.
Waterloo is notable due to two famous universities: The University of Waterloo (arguably one of the best technical/scientific/engineering universities in Canada) and Wilfrid Laurier University (where I am currently enrolled as a part-time English student, so their standards are super low). All joking aside, Laurier is a fine-arts school that is pretty well known for its music program (again, arguably the best in the country) but is tiny even by Canadian university standards. It is often referred to as “The high school down the street” (it’s on the same road as the University of Waterloo).
However, I live just south of Waterloo, in Kitchener. Remember that “boring line” I described earlier? That line is known as the 401, sometimes mentioned as the busiest highway in the world.
Throughout the majority of Toronto, the 401 consists of 8-to-10 lanes in each direction (and they’re all normally a parking lot). Out by Kitchener it’s down to a slim 4-lanes each direction, and the town I live in has the important job of making sure that Waterloo, with all its pristine, high-tech-industry glory, doesn’t expand too far south to the smelly, noisy highway. Despite the width of the highway, it’s horribly slow: it’s about 100km from Toronto and the 401 is a 100km/h highway (about 60 mph). It takes no less than 2 hours to make the trip, and there is stop-and-go traffic from 3am until about 1am the next day every day (you read that right).
Other than this protective cushioning of Waterloo, I’m not sure what other purpose Kitchener serves.
Cambridge hugs the south side of the highway, Kitchener the north side, and Waterloo hugs the north side of Kitchener. That’s us. Woo.
I lived in Toronto for about 5 years (I say “lived in”, but due to various circumstances I barely lived in Toronto during that time… mostly I commuted north to work, or west to work), and Toronto is an interesting city… although it should be stated it always makes me smile to remember Steve Martin (Canadian comedian) who was on an episode of 30 Rock trying to woo Lemon away from New York by saying “We can run away to Toronto together! It’s great! It’s just like New York, but without all the stuff!”).
Kitchener is a town of about 300k people (Waterloo is about 100k), and there is some interesting stress in the downtown core as Toronto becomes too freakin’ expensive for anybody to live in (a TINY 2 bedroom apartment now will rent for over $2,500CAD/month without including utilities… about $1800USD a month for a tiny apartment), people are wandering further and further afield in hopes of reasonable living conditions. Waterloo battled this by driving property values WAY up (an apartment in Waterloo is about as expensive as those in Toronto without any of the stuff Toronto has going for it), and Kitchener by trying to gentrify to the point those prices could be justified (which means a lot of social services suddenly not being welcome anywhere, because sure those people need help but NIMBY!).
Anyway. Local politics aside, the food is pretty okay (at least it was 4 months ago… we will see what restaurants survive) and there is a deeply ingrained coffee culture due to the high tech industry (RIM, of “Blackberry” fame, is based in Waterloo, and Google has one of its main campuses there as well, as well of dozens of other medium-to-large tech firms attached as closely to the university as possible).
The landscape is pretty boring, but we have a couple groundhogs in our backyard (Bert and Beatrice, they’re adorable), and bunnies are pretty common as well. There are some beautiful parks about an hour away, and lots of interesting places within 2 hours in a given direction (Niagara Falls to the south, or the Niagara wine region, as well most of the Great Lakes, some beautiful hiking paths, etc…).
As much as I am lukewarm (at best) about Kitchener, it’s a fine town, but we moved here because I couldn’t afford to maintain our lifestyle in Toronto and I always feel a bit (or a lot) guilty about that. Upside to this was that Kitchener is a cheap enough town that hopefully I can continue to live here as a writer, since I don’t expect I’ll ever be super-popular but I also expect moderate success if I keep at it, and Kitchener’s housing prices are moderate-success-is-sufficient.
A few upsides: Kitchener hosts a yearly Christmas market (the “Kindermarket”) that’s quite nice… nice enough that a few friends come from Toronto every year, we get huge amounts of food and mulled wine, and hang out together.
There are some neat festivals every year. Oktoberfest is very popular…
It’s not my scene, but it’s nice it’s there, ya know? I’ve been a few times to smaller venues (I don’t like beer, so I go for the food and company, but the main halls are ENORMOUS and shout-if-you-want-the-person-next-to-you-to-hear-you).
Other than that, there’s the game store I work at J&J Cards & Collectibles, which is one of the biggest game stores in Canada and the 2nd largest puzzle store in North America (there’s 1 place in the States that has a bigger stock available, and our prices are way lower). The owners are cool, the clientele is nice, and I get to help people without having to sell them stuff (and I’m allowed to talk them out of buying stuff, which is great!).
There ya go. My current home.