Happy birthday, Cambridge. And happy anniversary, too. You’ve earned the double celebration. You’ve come of age.

As the clock struck 12 on New Year’s Eve on Tuesday, Waterloo Region’s second biggest city hit the big 4-0. That alone was worth 40 cheers. But as well as marking the passage of four decades since Cambridge’s birth, it was the right time to toast the marriage that made it possible — the amalgamation of Galt, Preston and Hespeler with a slice of the now vanished Waterloo Township.

Not everyone applauded when this happened on Jan. 1, 1973. In fact, lots of people in these well-established communities bitterly opposed the shotgun wedding forced on them by the Ontario government. And no wonder: These were separate, distinct communities, each with its own history and interests. Galt, Preston and Hespeler had downtown business sections their residents loved and wanted to protect. They were far apart, too, with Hespeler cut off from its new civic bedfellows by the asphalt barrier of Highway 401 and as close to Kitchener as the core of Galt.

No groundswell of local popular support drove the creation of the new city — it was the handiwork, some would say dirty work, of provincial politicians in Toronto. Indeed, local residents even bickered about what their new community would be called for six months before a vote settled the matter.

Forty years on there are undoubtedly still some who wish the amalgamation had never happened. But they’re surely outnumbered by those who are justifiably proud of their city and what it has become since 1973.

Cambridge is a success story and a vast improvement on the local governments that preceded it. It delivers library, parks and recreation, fire protection and other services far more efficiently, effectively and economically than a separate Galt, Preston and Hespeler did or could have. Its membership in the municipal family of Waterloo Region matters, too.


Neither Cambridge, nor the communities that came before it, could on their own have afforded the expensive improvements to water supply and sewage treatment systems without the region’s help. A regional public transit system provides necessary links with Kitchener and Waterloo while a regional police department offers specialized services a smaller city could not match.

For the most part, local identities were not sacrificed to make such gains, either. Lots of people still refer to themselves as coming from Galt, Preston, Hespeler or even the hamlet of Blair. Hespeler still has its annual Santa Claus parade. Local high school students still study at Galt Collegiate, Preston High School and Jacob Hespeler.

Yet they can all happily call themselves citizens of Cambridge. It’s a growing, energetic city where the old is respected and the new welcomed. Though the old textile factories closed, Cambridge became home to one of the region’s most important industrial concerns — the Toyota plant. We doubt this would have happened if bigger municipal players hadn’t been involved.

Meanwhile, old downtown cores are being revived. Old factories are being reborn as stylish condominiums. A new theatre opens in Galt in March. And the views along the Grand and Speed rivers are as breathtaking as they’ve always been. No wonder Cambridge’s population has nearly doubled since its birth, growing from 65,000 people in 1973 to about 127,000 people today.

We know that not everything is perfect. Many people in Cambridge resent the fact that the region will give light rail trains to Kitchener and Waterloo while their city will have to get by with fast buses. Others are convinced the Ontario government should have started running GO commuter trains from Cambridge instead of Kitchener. And why, they would ask, did the province decide to close Cambridge’s provincial courthouse and open a grand facility for the whole area in Kitchener?

But go ahead: Put the losses Cambridge has incurred since becoming an amalgamated city beside its gains and guess what? You’ll see that Cambridge has indisputably come out a winner. It was a good municipal marriage all those years ago and a propitious birthday.


Editor’s note: The above editorial was originally published  in 2013 and is reprinted here with permission of the Waterloo Region Record.

Three cities become one

In 1973, by order of the Provincial government of Ontario, Canada, the municipalities of Galt, Preston and Hespeler (and the settlement of Blair), were amalgamated into a single city — which its citizens named Cambridge.

Today, the Cambridge motto is: A place for people to prosper, alive with opportunity.

To learn about the city, including the history of its joined municipalities and the evolution of Cambridge since the consolidation, go to cambridge.ca

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