It started with Talmon Henry Rieder, born in New Hamburg, Ontario in 1878.
In 1903, he and Jacob Kaufman organized the Merchants Rubber Company, and Rieder managed the Berlin (now Kitchener) factory until it merged with several other footwear companies to become Canadian Consolidated Rubber Company in 1907. Rieder was Vice President and Managing Director of this company, responsible for all of its Canadian rubber factories. In 1908 he became President.
In addition to his work in the rubber industry, Rieder appears to have had a passion for urban planning. When he became President of Canadian Consolidated Rubber Company in 1908, he and his family moved to Montreal's developing Westmount area; however, he maintained his home in Berlin and an interest in his landholdings there.
In 1912, he purchased several farms in the German Company Tract Lot 22 (present day Westmount neighbourhood), on the west side of Berlin, and had the lands surveyed and divided into lots. With three other partners, he formed the Westmount Improvement Company to carry out his vision to develop this area on the border of Berlin and Waterloo into a contemporary garden suburb. Rieder had consulted with John Olmsted of Olmstead Associates in New York City. Olmstead Associates were famous landscape architects who created the design for Central Park in Manhattan, the Crown Fountain in Chicago, the Emerald Necklace in Boston, and the Park on Mount Royal in Montreal.
Influenced by the "City Beautiful Movement" and by the design of the Mount Royal neighbourhood, Rieder's plans for Westmount in Berlin never developed. The First World War put a stop to that, as did his premature death in 1922. But his idea for a community called Westmount lived on. While in Montreal, he lived at 610 Belmont Ave in that city's Westmount neighbourhood. As a result, Rieder ultimately borrowed several names from his Montreal neighbourhood for his Berlin development including Argyle, Belmont, Westmount, Claremont, and Roslyn.
In 1916, Berlin was renamed Kitchener.
In 1924, the City of Kitchener passed a town planning bylaw establishing Kitchener as the first Ontario Municipality of any size to adopt a comprehensive town plan and to enact an associated zoning bylaw that controlled exactly how a neighbourhood could be developed, states Susan Saunders Mavor (author of Westmount – The Ties That Bind The Twin Cities). Westmount, the area established by Talmon Rieder more than 10 years earlier, was to become the first modern subdivision to be developed in Ontario.
From her research, Mavor concluded that Westmount can be described as one of the first modern suburbs, inspired by the ideas of the contemporary “Garden Suburb" or "City Beautiful" movement in planning. Boulevards, curved streets, green spaces, trees, and the physical contours of the land were preserved. And there was an extra wide street called Belmont that would evolve into Belmont Village.
The concept of Belmont Village first arrived in the early 1930s. During the Depression, one of the city’s “relief” projects to create employment, along with Rockway Gardens, was what would become Belmont Village. For 30 cents per hour, the men on the work crews installed the sewer system, street lights and paved a three-block stretch of road. This was to be the beginning of a convention centre, with a hotel and a retail area. However, it just never worked out that way.
In 1932, a plan was registered with the City of Kitchener for the development of the city’s northwest (Westmount). By the mid-1930s, city councillors debated whether Belmont should be paved. For years, this asphalt slab in a field at the edge of town served as a stage for midways, dances, roller-skating and other open-air events.
In 1946, an aerial photograph of the Belmont area was taken. “To look at the aerial photo you would almost mistake it for an airport runway because it is so wide and there is essentially no development going on either side of it. It took a long time for that part of the city to develop,” McTaggart, a manager in the city's engineering department, stated.
“There was the Great Depression, then you had the War; there basically would have been very little commercial and residential development going on in the city between basically 1932 and 1947,” continues McTaggart.
In 1947, Claude Musselman bought the Belmont site from the city for a dollar. In 1951, the beer store arrived. In 1954, Musselman built a brick plaza on the south side of Belmont Avenue, and Belmont Hairstylists, owned by Helen Kunda Davenport, was the first business to open on September 1, 1954 (source: C. Aagard, K-W Record).
Also in 1954 Schier’s Drugs (now Hoegler’s PharmaPlus in a different location) and Harvey’s Children’s Wear opened. During the following years, many diverse businesses have occupied what is known as Belmont Village: Wilhelm Hardware, KW Electronics, Cameron’s Flowers, Pine Nut Shop, Necchi Sewing Centre, Zehrs Grocery, Erickson Bakery, Boulevard Hat Shop, Guskin Ladies Wear, Western Tire & Auto, Waterloo Trust & Savings, Reidel Draper, Bell Telephone, Tremco Cleaners, Donut Queen, Barry’s T.V., and Barber Piano & Organ, to mention a few.
In 1989, the Belmont Improvement Area Board (BIA) of Management was initiated, its mandate being to promote businesses in Belmont Village.
Throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s and into the 21st Century, Belmont Village endured and flourished. Today, over 70 independent businesses thrive within its boundaries. Even with the challenges presented by the pandemic of 2020, the Belmont Village BIA embraced the opportunity to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment with spacious patios and open areas for all to safely enjoy.
The Village is an oasis of calm with close proximity to the Iron Horse Trail. Slip-lanes have been closed off to cars in the summer months and replaced with large European-style patios.
For many, Belmont Village is simply an extension of Old Westmount. Speak to local residents and “walkability, a sense of community, safe, welcoming, connection, intimacy” are terms used to described the Village and neighbourhood. For local residents, the Village is one of many reasons people have located and raised families in the Westmount area and why Westmount continues to be one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in Kitchener-Waterloo.
For some, Belmont Village is a walk in the past – a reflection of life in the 50s. Visitors comment on the unique vibe when walking the streets or visiting local shops. It's not uncommon to develop friendships with the local business owners, knowing many of them by their first names.
While many assume the Village is a reflection of a past era, with its treed streets, wide boulevards and green spaces, local developers recognize the unique neighbourhood atmosphere. Belmont Village is not immune to change. Yet, for the better part of 70 years, Belmont Village has remained a hidden gem nestled between Kitchener and Waterloo. You owe it to yourself and your family to visit the Village so you can experience the energy it brings to Westmount. Walk around the neighbourhood streets and see the homes that families have grown up in. Look up and see the wonderful mature trees. I guarantee when you walk the Westmount neighbourhood, you will meet amazing and friendly neighbours who will have a story to tell.
Talmon Rieder would be proud of what he envisioned in 1914 – a neighbourhood called Westmount with its own Village.