Waterloo's history

For generations the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe and Neutral People gathered and lived on the territory where Waterloo is now situated. Settlers arrived in the 1800s and Waterloo incorporated as a village in 1857, became a town in 1876 and a city in 1948.

Learn more at our city museum, a heritage portal where visitors connect with Waterloo's past.

History in brief

For generations Indigenous people have gathered and lived on the territory where Waterloo is now situated. This piece of Turtle Island has deep connections to the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe and Neutral People. In 1701, the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe people created the Dish with One Spoon treaty, which marked the end of the Beaver Wars amongst themselves. In 1784, the Haldimand Tract was land promised to the Haudenosaunee following their contributions to the British, in the American Revolutionary War. This promised land included six miles on either side of the Grand River, the river that runs through the City of Waterloo. 

Settlers began arriving in the early 1800s. Abraham Erb, a Mennonite from Pennsylvania, was one of the first to arrive in Waterloo in 1806. He purchased 363 hectares (896 acres) of land from the German Tract Co. and quickly erected a saw mill in 1816 on Beaver Creek, which is now Laurel Creek.

Since Erb operated the only grist mill in the area, farmers from miles around would bring their wheat, an important staple in the 1800s, to be ground into flour at his mill. This grist mill would launch Waterloo as an important commercial and social centre.

Erb named his settlement Waterloo Township after the famous Napoleonic battle won by the British allies in Belgium. Waterloo was slow to grow, however, because of Erb's refusal to divide his land into lots. However, by the 1850s the land has passed into other hands and Waterloo, as we know it today began to form.

Waterloo was officially incorporated into a village in 1857, a town in 1876 and a city in 1948.

As we continue to be stewards of this land, Waterloo has a diverse culture that includes people from all over the world. The City is proud to be home to people with unique histories, different languages and respected beliefs.  The Indigenous groups, First Nations, Metis and Inuit, are interconnected and integral to the fabric of this territory. As a collective community our efforts towards reconciliation point forward to let others in and work together. Explore our community to find out more.

City of Waterloo's official crest in black and yellowCrest

Divided into four sections, the City of Waterloo's crest reflects stability. The crest also comprises Waterloo's official flag.

  1. The buildings in the top left represent the industries and insurance companies in Waterloo. We are home to the head offices of several insurance companies.

  2. The trees and water in the top right represent Waterloo Park and all the parks and recreational opportunities here. We are an environment-first community.

  3. The houses in the lower left represent the people who live in our neighbourhoods.

  4. The covered wagon in the lower right represents the way in which many settlers travelled here from Pennsylvania.