Our main gallery exhibit is called Maple Leaf/ Schneiders and traces the 12,000 year human history of Waterloo Region, from Indigenous peoples, to community settlement at the start of the 1800s, to the manufacturing heydays of the 1900s, to the high tech sector boom of recent years. 

Visitors will discover the reasons why people from around the world have immigrated to this region of Canada - whether they came for love, education, a better life, a new job or to find freedom. 

Beck's Truck

Becks Circus TruckNamed after Sir Adam Beck, Beck's Circus travelled to county fairs and public events in 1912, demonstrating the marvels of electrically powered appliances and farm machinery to a largely rural audience.

Equipment on the truck included a motor and lineshaft, a pump jack, a wringer washer, a grain grinder, a water pump, a butter churn, and a milking machine. Overhead of all the equipment were electric light bulbs to illuminate the equipment below.

The flatbed truck was accompanied by another vehicle outfitted with hundreds of batteries - all to simulate power coming overland via high tension wires from Niagara Falls.

The message was that the future was coming to your home and farm and that future was brought to you by electricity - much of it generated at Niagara Falls.

Beck's Circus is on loan from the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation.

Hazel the Steam Engine
hazel the steam engineJust inside the doors of the museum's long term gallery is Hazel the steam engine.

When the Kaufman Footwear factory opened in 1908 hydro power was still unavailable. Hazel, the steam engine, was installed at that time to operate a huge generator which supplied all the power for the factory's eight electric motors and the lighting system. The exhaust steam from the engine also helped to heat the building during the winter.

When hydro-electric power became available in Berlin (Kitchener) in 1910, the engine was switched to supplying direct power to the machinery. The engine could be changed from a motor to a generator via an alternator sub-belt. 

A steel drive shaft ran the length of the factory and it had 6 or 7 gears at different locations. Machines such as mixers, rollers, and rubber vulcanizers were connected to each gear shaft, and Hazel powered the drive shaft. Hazel was retired in 1990 when electricity became cheaper than the cost of steam power.

When you visit this exhibit you'll also find out why the steam engine is called Hazel.

 J.M Schneider
schneider exhibitThe beginning of J. M. Schneider Limited dates to the 1890s in Berlin (Kitchener). 

In 2001, the company was sold to Smithfield Foods and then in 2004 to Maple Leaf Foods.

In 2011, Maple Leaf announced that they would consolidate their meat processing operation in Hamilton, and close the J.M. Schneider plant in Kitchener in 2014. 

Maple Leaf donated to the museum more than 250 three-dimensional objects related to the history of J.M. Schneider Limited including meat processing equipment, uniforms, packaging, and promotional and display items. 

A selection of these objects is on exhibit in the museum's What Makes Us Who We Are? gallery. 

Tannery Bell Tower
Tannery Bell TowerThe bell tower and its impressive bell were once part of the Eagle Tannery in Berlin, Ontario. The Eagle Tannery was in operation from 1857 to 1912, and was the first business founded locally by the Breithaupt family.

The bell was cast at the E.W. Van Duzen Company foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio. This foundry was in operation from 1865 to the 1950s, and provided bells to churches, factories, and schools throughout North America.

This bell was mostly likely purchased after a 1913 fire at the tannery, and placed on the building in commemoration. After the tannery was rebuilt, it was referred to as the Breithaupt Tannery or officially as the Breithaupt Leather Company.

Threshing Machine 

threshing machineThe separator, or threshing machine, that is on exhibit in the Waterloo Region Museum was made by the Waterloo Manufacturing Company between 1890 and 1900.

The company was started in 1880 by Jacob Bricker but was purchased by E.W.B. Snider in 1888. The company manufactured threshing machines and steam traction engines until the late 1920s. It was then purchased by the H.V. McKay Company of Australia. The company continued to operate as the Waterloo Manufacturing Company and made some smaller agricultural equipment until the 1940s.

Of particular interest on this threshing machine are the oil paintings on each side - which we believe were whimsies intended to increase the value of the machine to a prospective buyer.

Toyota Corolla
Toyota Corolla exhibitDecember 12, 1985 was a historic day for the City of Cambridge - the Toyota Motor Corporation announced that it would be building a car manufacturing plant in the city.

A large tract of available land. Strong community support. A well educated and skilled workforce. Close proximity to Highway 401, an airport, and a community college. Toyota had many reasons to choose Cambridge.

In the mid-1980s, Cambridge was facing an economic slowdown and the Toyota plant helped boost the local economy. The production line started in November 1988, and through the years numerous additions and upgrades have occurred at the plant.

On exhibit in the Waterloo Region Museum is a 1989 Toyota Corolla. This Corolla was the eighth car manufactured at the Cambridge Toyota plant, and the first car made at the plant to be sold to the public. The car was purchased by Claudette Millar, Mayor of Cambridge at the time, whose enthusiasm and determination were important factors in bringing Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada to the Region

Weber Conestoga Wagon

conestoga wagonIn the late 1700s and early 1800s, German-speaking Mennonite immigrants from Pennsylvania moved to southern Ontario, notably to the Niagara Peninsula, York County and lastly to Waterloo County beginning in 1799.

Many of these settlers travelled to Upper Canada in Conestoga wagons - just like the one on exhibit in the museum. This wagon is one of only a few original Conestoga wagons from the 1700s remaining in North America.

Teams of horses pulled the wagons which were loaded with the family's possessions - clothing, tools to clear the land and plant their first crops, and small farm animals. Think of the Conestoga wagon as being like a moving van - because the family had to walk!

Abraham Weber (1787-1867) travelled on horseback to Upper Canada to select a farm site from his father's land purchase in Waterloo County. Abraham returned to Pennsylvania to gather his belongings and in 1807, he returned to Waterloo County in a caravan of four wagons, bringing more than eighteen settlers.

Abraham's wagon is on exhibit in the Waterloo Region Museum.

Exhibits in Unusual Locations

Crossroads in Time - Grand Foyer

crossroads in time grand foyerAt the entrance to the museum's Grand Foyer you will find a recreation of a Waterloo Region historic crossroads. This glass section of flooring is in the actual location where Huron Road crossed the Galt to Elmira Line of the Grand Trunk Railway for almost 100 years. A skylight overhead at the crossroads connects the sky to the land, and the adjacent water feature reflects the importance of the Region's rivers, creeks and streams.

Local Murals - Gift Shop

gift shopWhen visiting our Gift Shop, look up to see the photo collage of former department stores that were located in Waterloo Region.

Local Murals - Hazel's Snack Bar

food muralA photo collage of former restaurants and farmer's markets that were located in Waterloo Region is on display near Hazel's, our food services café.

Medicine Cabinets of the Past - Washroom Vestibule

medicine cabinet exhibit with bottles and containersYou can look in our medicine cabinet - usually a social taboo!  You'll discover lotions and potions from the 1800s and 1900s, and can compare these to modern products. This exhibit is located at the entrance to our washrooms.

Memory in Timber and Stone - Grand Foyer

timber and stone grand foyerTimbers from the historic Sherk barn are used to cover the walls in the museum's main entrance hallway and Grand Foyer. The Sherk barn was originally located near the Pioneer Tower on the east side of the Grand River for nearly 175 years. The museum Grand Foyer also features a stone floor and soaring walls made of Ontario limestone. The colour of stone was selected to represent buildings located in Galt (Cambridge).

Moving Water Exhibit - Washroom Vestibule

moving water exhibit showing tools usedSee the ways that water has been transported, from a 1800s ceramic harvest ring or water bottle, to a neck yoke to carry buckets of water. Discover how innovative people from Waterloo Region have helped people around the world access groundwater. This exhibit is located at the entrance to our washrooms.

Natural Sciences in Waterloo Region - Grand Foyer


Shall We Dance? - Christie Theatre

shall we dance posterYears ago, when summer was approaching, people all over Ontario were getting ready to dance the night away under warm, star-lit skies. During the 1940s and 1950s there were numerous dance halls and dance pavilions located in every town and city across the province. Almost every night of the week one could meet new people, socialize, and dance the night away.  Waterloo Region was home to several memorable dance pavilions - Summer Gardens, Leisure Lodge, and the Highlands to name a few. A snapshot exhibit in the museum's Christie® Theatre.

Visitors discover the reasons why people from around the world have immigrated to this region of Canada - whether they came for love, education, better lives, a new job or to find freedom.

Watch our Time lapse photography video and see the actual creation of our main gallery exhibit that opened November 12, 2011.