'A new perspective': Walking tours giving Waterloo Residents a chance to learn about local history
Juanita Metzger launched Stroll Walking Tours in August 2020 (Courtesy: Lawrence O. Fajardo)
KITCHENER -- As more people explore their neighbourhood on foot, a local company is offering education and exercise through historical walking tours in Kitchener and Waterloo.
Stroll Walking Tours launched in August and gives people the chance to learn about art, architecture and history close to home.
"I've always been a big promoter of hyper-local," owner-operator Juanita Metzger said. "I would always explore local by shopping independently, by engaging in slow travel, which, walking is the perfect slow travel kind of method."
"People can put themselves in a travel mindset with their own sense of adventure and by doing things you would do when you go travel elsewhere. Why not do them here in our own community?"
A mural part of the Murals and Outdoor Gallery walking tour (Courtesy: Juanita Metzger)
Since no one is travelling right now, Metzger said the tours give people the chance to find adventure right where they live.
"I think that we develop a stronger connection and more of an understanding to a place when we're able to get out and walk it and when we're able to learn something about what makes that town or city or community really tick," she said. "I've always been finding creative ways for people to get connected to where they live."
Metzger has a background in community development and community engagement and used to lead Jane's Walks. She said the idea for Stroll Walking Tours came from a conversation with officials at Explore Waterloo Region.
"It emerged as a bit of a gap in our community that there isn't anybody leading guided walking tours," Metzger said.
"Walking tours are a pretty creative way for people to explore different neighbourhoods and explore parts of our community's history and explore ways of looking at our communities that they haven't really considered before."
A grave marker in the Mount Hope Cemetery (Courtesy: Juanita Metzger)
Metzger originally planned to cater the walking tours to groups organizing events and conferences. However, she was forced to pivot the plan once the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The walks, launched this August, are now focused on promoting local to the people who live and work here.
"There is a bit of a movement overall in terms of supporting local businesses and restaurants and local attractions and events in order to keep things alive," Metzger said. "There is more attention on supporting local overall and out walking in their neighbourhoods, and in other areas of the of the city, more so than they ever have before."
"People are discovering areas of our region that they didn't know about before, that they haven't really considered. People are looking at their own community with a new perspective. We're here, we're stuck here. And so what can we do?"
Aside from Metzger, there are five other walking guides working on the Stroll Walking Tours team.
The tours cover everything from public art to the impact of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic in Kitchener.
Sacred Heart Church from the Pandemic Walking Tour (Courtesy: Juanita Metzger)
"It's interesting because it explores some of the similarities and parallels that we're experiencing right now in 2020," Metzger said. "It's been quite popular."
There are also tours exploring the history of Kitchener's tech sector, fires that tore through the city back when it was known as Berlin, and how it was shaped by the First World War.
The walks are anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes long. They're geared towards adults, but Metzger said kids are more than welcome to come along.
"If your kids and teens are interested in walking 60 to 90 minutes, and they're sufficiently interested in the topic, it's a great way to learn about local stories and local history," she said.
During the pandemic, groups are capped at 10 people and everyone walking is encouraged to wear a mask.
"It's private groups for a bubble or physically distanced social group," Metzger said.
The guides also have microphones so people can hear about the tours without needing to get too close.
Anyone interested in booking a tour can do so online.
Stroll Walking Tours will continue into the winter, as long as people are willing to walk in the cold.
"There will likely be some people who want to get out," Metzger said.