BY TESS BRIDGWATER
Hespeler Village, part of the City of Cambridge, is often bypassed, but stop awhile and you might be surprised. It is the only place in the world named Hespeler. One of the oldest settlements in Waterloo Region, the land was deeded to the First Nations by the British Crown in 1784. In 1831, Pennsylvanian Mennonites settled the community, first called Bergeytown, then New Hope. In 1833, Jacob Hespeler, originally from Germany, built a Grist Mill and several other businesses, which, with the arrival of the railway, started this small village on the road to prosperity. The village was renamed Hespeler in his honour.
In the early 20th century, it became a centre for the textile industry in Canada, producing uniforms for the Women’s forces during WWII. Renowned as a hockey town, several local players became NHL stars. The town was also known for the manufacturing of wood products including hockey sticks used by several NHL players. Wayne Gretzky now owns the Hespeler brand name because he always used a Hespeler stick.
After a period of decline in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, Hespeler Village has recently undergone a major renovation with a quaint main street and specialty shops, and is poised to become a destination of note once again.
five things to do in Hespeler Village:
- A welcomed addition is the Fashion History Museum, which opened in 2015 in the historic Post Office building at the corner of Queen and Cooper streets. The collection boasts over 10,000 items spanning 300 years of fashion history and features special exhibitions. It also functions as a research centre for the fashion industry. A current exhibition features 200 years of wedding attire. Group tours are available. It is closed for the season from December 18, 2016 – March 15, 2017. For information contact: 519-654-0009 or info@FashionHistoryMuseum.com.
- Just down the street, in the old townhall, the Hespeler Heritage Centre is a fascinating repository of ‘All Things Hespeler.’ It is operated on a non-profit, volunteer basis by the Company of Neighbours; Artifacts and photographs have all been donated by local families and former businesses like Mary’s Wood Specialties, owned by Joseph Seagram. You can find hockey sticks from NHL players, like Kurt Maltby, four time Stanley Cup winner, and Tim Brent. Archivist Larry Turner, is a fund of information and will also conduct guided tours of the museum and walking tours of the town upon request, weather permitting. Email or call Larry at Hespeler Heritage Centre: email@example.com or 519-651-0032.
- Walk along Queen Street, which retains much of its original architecture dating back to the 1860’s. Still occupied by small specialty shops and cafes, a longtime fixture is Maskerade Manor, one of only three costume rental shops in Waterloo Region and the only one with full-time hours. Here you can find costumes of all shapes and sizes including some from the Stratford Festival. Especially popular with families at Halloween, the store has a scary spooky room, and offers makeup and face painting at holiday time. Call 519-658-6260 or maskerademanor.ca.
- The Speed River flows through Hespeler, and there are several picturesque walking and biking trails overlooking the tranquil millpond. You will need to bring your bike for cycling, but if your fancy is to canoe down the river, you can rent canoes and kayaks at SAIL Outdoor sporting goods store on Holiday Inn Drive. They are available during the summer season, mid-May to September for $25.00 per day for a kayak and $30.00 for a canoe. Each comes with an attachment for a vehicle. A deposit of $500 is refundable if there’s no damage. Call SAIL 519-231-0113.
- Hespeler hosts the kickoff event for Christmas in Cambridge, a series of events throughout the city from November 23 to December 31, 2016. On November 25, the Hespeler Village will come alive with music and lights. The seasonal concert of massed local choirs in St. Andrews Presbyterian church, and a candlelight procession across the street, followed by the lighting of city hall square, hot chocolate and entertainment, has become a popular annual tradition.