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Digital historical street network for Waterloo County

In 2011, the staff in the University Map Library re-constructed the 1955 street network for Waterloo County. In 2017, the staff at the Geospatial Centre updated the project with 2016 data. The data analysis files are made freely available in digital map format, GIS shapefiles and KML files, allowing scholars, historians and community residents to study and analyze past and present street patterns. 

Staff have discovered some interesting finds with respect to changes in city boundaries, urban growth, and street names. To visualize the changes which have occurred within the Waterloo Region multiple web maps were created to showcase the urban growth, road network, and road name changes between 1955 and 2016; these maps are best viewed in Firefox.

  • Urban built-up areas expanded dramatically in the past half century
    • Urban built up area increased by 537%, from 38km2 in 1955 to 202km2 in 2011.  The rapid urban expansion mostly occurred in the suburbs.
    • Urban built up area has increased by 11%, from 178km2 in 2011 to 199km2 in 2016.
  • A significant increase of the road network
    • Between 1955 and 2011, the total road length for the Region of Waterloo increased from 2175 km to 3626 km, an increase of 66%.
    • Between 2011 and 2016, the total road length for the Region of Waterloo has increased from 3811 km to 3887 km, which is an increase of approximately 2%.
    • Most of the new roads were built in the suburban areas of CambridgeKitchener and Waterloo (from 813 km to 2073 km).
    • Rural towns were much less developed in 1955(e.g. Heidelberg).
  • In built-up areas, the street network largely remains the same; however some street names have changed
    • Part of University Avenue was named Dearborn Street, located across the south campus (Dana Porter Library, Needles Hall) until Ring Road
    • Street name changes were necessary when two country roads were connected to create a new road (e.g. Dearborn St and Schneider’s Rd were renamed University Ave.)
    • Having historical street names available allows one to pinpoint historical locations like the boardroom of Waterloo College at Dearborn & Albert
  • New roads were built in the rural areas along rural/farm roads.  Sometimes a small part of these old roads remains today as trails.

You may download the street shapefiles or KML files for your own use.

Road network growth Road network length in metres (km) Road network growth per year in metres (km) Percentage (%)
1955 12174.79 N/A N/A
2011 3811.00 29.22 42.93
2016 3887.33 15.27 1.96
Urban growth Urban growth in squared metres (km2) Urban growth per year in squared metres (km2) Percentage (%)
1955 49.35 N/A N/A
2011 177.66 2.29 72.23
2016 198.92 4.25 10.69
Growth Network Length for 2011 (km) Network Length for 2016 (km) Growth Percentage (%)
Waterloo 521.42 543.17 21.76 4.01
Kitchener 990.31 1015.56 25.25 2.49
  1955 2011 2016
Average Speed (km/h) N/A 51.7 51.3
Total Area Covered by Roads (km2) 15.25 31.82 32.84
Total number of Roads  330 4490 5647
% of land occupied by road network 1.10 2.30 2.37

If you would like access to historical air photos of the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s please visit our Historical Air Photo Digitization Project website.

Please email any questions, comments or suggestions to :

Eva Dodsworth, Geospatial Data Services Librarian

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Geospatial Centre, 2017