60 years of innovation

Waterloo: decade by decade

A campus in a constant state of growth, Waterloo has transformed — and been transformed — over the past six decades.

When the University of Waterloo was founded on the rural outskirts of a small Ontario city that shares its name — the official date is considered to be July 1, 1957 — the campus consisted of two temporary buildings in a parking lot on the campus of Waterloo College (now Wilfrid Laurier University). A few months later, the new University put down stakes on a nearby spread of former agricultural land anchored by an aging farmhouse and a small stream.

While some things haven’t changed — the farmhouse still stands as the Graduate House restaurant and pub — the decades since 1957 have transformed the campus.

Students, professors and alumni have spawned a wave of change in the city, county and later Region of Waterloo — fuelling new residential and commercial development, along with innovative industries that created a high-tech hub in what had been a small manufacturing and agricultural centre.

Today, the University sprawls across 1,000 acres in what is now almost the geographic centre of the eponymous city. It’s grown from a single Faculty to six, from a farmhouse and two temporary buildings to more than 100 buildings filled with classrooms, high-tech labs, student spaces and services, plus locations in Kitchener, Cambridge and Stratford.

Growth has been constant as the campus evolved to anticipate and meet the needs of students, industry and society. But growth doesn’t happen in isolation. Like Gerald Hagey, Ira Needles and Father Cornelius Siegfried — among Waterloo’s founders who brought to life their vision for a new kind of purpose-driven university — the campus continues to rise and grow on the strength of new generations of visionaries who recognize needs and do what it takes to make them a reality.

’57 to ’66: Laying the foundation

In 1958, the Waterloo College of Associated Faculties, later to become the University of Waterloo, purchased 184 acres of farmland near the corner of Albert Street and Dearborn Avenue, known today as University Avenue. They put plans to paper, dug shovels into the soil and began to build.

  • 1958 — Engineering 1 (Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, now Douglas Wright Engineering)
  • 1959 — Physics and Mathematics
  • 1961 — Engineering 2
  • 1961 — Engineering 3
  • 1962 — Arts — now Modern Languages, Theatre of the Arts
  • 1964 — Earth Sciences and Chemistry
  • 1964 — Biology 1
  • 1965 — Arts Library (now Dana Porter Library)
  • 1965 — Arts 2, Lecture Hall
  • 1965-66 ­— Student Village 1
  • 1966 — Environmental Studies 1
  • 1966 — General Services Complex
  • 1966 — Central Services
  • 1966 ­— Maintenance, Stores and Commissary

Grad House from 1958

1958 — The Graduate House still stands near the centre of campus.
University of Waterloo Library. Photo credit: Special Collections & Archives and KW Record Photographic Negative Collection

Aerial Campus Shot from 1961

1961 — Aerial photo of campus



In 1966, Waterloo began to make its mark as an early computer science leader, with the development of the WatFOR compiler by four undergraduate students.

’67 to ’76: Building the supports, setting the stage

A strong infrastructure of support was required to meet the needs of students on a fast-growing campus. New buildings offered food, housing, health and physical education, financial and administrative services.

  • 1967 — Engineering Lecture Hall (now J.R. Coutts Engineering Lecture Hall)
  • 1967 — Mathematics and Computer
  • 1967 — Tutors’ Residence
  • 1967 — South Campus Hall
  • 1967 — Biology 2
  • 1968 — Physical Activities Complex
  • 1968 — Student Life Centre
  • 1968 — Health Services
  • 1968 — Minota Hagey Graduate Residence (now Velocity Residence)
  • 1969 — J.G. Hagey Hall of the Humanities
  • 1969 — Village II (now Ron Eydt Village)
  • 1970 — University of Waterloo Place (formerly married student housing)
  • 1970 — University Club
  • 1971 — Engineering 4 (now Carl Pollock Hall)
  • 1971 — Chemistry 2
  • 1971 — Pedestrian Overpass
  • 1971 — B.C. Matthews Hall
  • 1971 — Ira Needles Hall
  • 1973 — Psychology, Anthropology and Sociology
  • 1973 — Optometry


In 1969, physics professors record lectures onto tapes which, along with print materials, are sent to 130 part-time students through its distance learning program. Waterloo was the only school in Canada offering part-time distance education. Within a few years, it was the largest program of its kind in North America.

A man and woman sort through boxes of tapes

1968 — Lectures on tape


’77 to ’86: The birth of a high-tech hub

After a decade of explosive growth, physical construction on the Waterloo campus slowed. A new wave of economic change began to sweep through the region, with the launch of startups founded by Waterloo alumni and professors, including Watcom, DALSA (later Teledyne DALSA), Research In Motion (later BlackBerry) and Certicom.

  • 1981 — Environmental Studies 2
  • 1983 — Columbia Icefield
  • 1984 — Federation Hall
  • 1984 — East Campus Hall

Expansion of:

  • B.C. Matthews Hall
  • General Services Complex


In 1984, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)’s donation of $24 million provides the University of Waterloo with eight new VAX machines — on the condition that work created using the machines would be the property of DEC.

Wes Graham, a professor of computer science, stopped the shipment until the company agreed to Waterloo’s policy of leaving intellectual property in the hands of its inventors.

President Douglas Wright with members of Digital Equipment Corporation

1984 — President Douglas Wright helps unpack a truckload of computer equipment donated by Digital Equipment Corporation. From Innovation and Entrepreneurship are in the Waterloo Genome, by Kenneth McLaughlin. Photo credit: University of Waterloo Library Special Collections & Archives and Donald D. Cowan

’87 to ’96: Bridges to commercialization

Long known as a top engineering school, Waterloo emerged as a world leader in computer science, both in research and new startups linked to the school. A project to computerize the Oxford English Dictionary led to the creation of OpenText, while Maplesoft (previously Waterloo Maple) was founded by two professors to develop and sell mathematical computing software.

  • 1987 — Columbia Lake Townhouses
  • 1988 — William G. Davis Computer Research Centre
  • 1995 — Lyle Hallman Institute for Health Promotion

Expansion of:

  • East Campus Hall
  • Student Life Centre
  • Optometry
  • Federation Hall
  • Columbia Icefield


University of Waterloo William G. Davis Computer Research Centre in 1988

In November 1988, the William G. Davis Computer Research Centre opens, housing the Institute for Computer Research. The building name recognized long-standing support provided by the former Ontario premier and education minister for several critical University projects.

’97 to ’06: Deepening industry connections

With a growing focus on meeting industry needs for research and talent, Waterloo began inviting tech companies to set up shop in a new research and technology park, and opened a new centre for co-operative education with dedicated space that made it easier for employers and students to connect.

  • 2001 — University of Waterloo Research and Technology Park established (now the David Johnston Research and Technology Park)
  • 2001 — William M. Tatham Centre for Co-operative Education and Career Service
  • 2001 — William Lyon Mackenzie King Village
  • 2003 — Centre for Environmental and Information Technology
  • 2004 — School of Architecture, Cambridge Campus
  • 2004 — Columbia Lake Village North
  • 2005 — Manulife Wellness Centre


David Johnston Research + Technology Park

OpenText Corporation

In 2001, the University of Waterloo Research and Technology Park is established with support from the municipal, provincial and federal governments to house technology-intensive companies undertaking applied research and innovative development. It was renamed the David Johnston Research and Technology Park in 2011.

Interior of the Center for Environmental and Infromation Research

2003 - Center for Environmental and Information Technology


’07 to ’16: Exploring new frontiers

Student startups and frontier research shared the stage in Waterloo’s most recent decade. Quantum research moved from curiosity to commercial devices in laboratories at the Research Advancement Centre and the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre.

Students seeking to develop and launch their own ventures found a home in a growing suite of programs — including Velocity Garage, Velocity Science and St. Paul’s GreenHouse social incubator.

School of Pharmacy

2008 - School of Pharmacy

  • 2007 — Energy Research Centre
  • 2008 — School of Pharmacy
  • 2008 — Research Advancement Centre
  • 2009 — Integrated Health Building
  • 2010 — Velocity Garage, Kitchener
  • 2010 — Engineering 5
  • 2010 — Research Advancement Centre 2
  • 2011 — Mathematics 3
  • 2011 — Environment 3
  • 2011 — Engineering 6
  • 2012 — Digital Media Campus, Stratford
  • 2012 ­— Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre
  • 2014 — East Campus 1-5, purchased from BlackBerry in 2014
  • 2015 — Science Teaching Complex
  • 2016 — Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging
  • 2016 — Applied Health Sciences
  • 2016 — Engineering 7
  • 2016 — New residence building
  • 2016 — Toby Jenkins Applied Health Research Building

Expansion of:

  • Hagey Hall School of Accounting
  • Health Services Addition
  • Hagey Hall infill project
  • Ira Needles Hall
  • Optometry
  • Carl Pollock Hall
  • Psychology, Anthropology and Sociology


Mike & Ophella Lazarids Quantum-Nano Center

In 2012, the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre opens. Under the direction of Raymond Laflamme, a pioneer in quantum computing and student of Stephen Hawking, the Institute for Quantum Computing has attracted world-wide acclaim and propelled Waterloo’s reputation to new heights.

Velocity Garage

2010 - Velocity Garage


The next 60 years …

In six decades, much has been accomplished at the University of Waterloo. But the future remains to be written.

60 years of innovation University of WaterlooAs Waterloo prepares for a year-long celebration of its first 60 years, alumni, faculty, students, staff and supporters are invited to share their memories of what has been, and their visions of what can be.

Get involved, contribute a memory, share your predictions, or better yet, help bring them to life. Watch the 60 Years of Innovation website for upcoming events, and join the conversation by email, mail or through social media using the hashtag #UWaterloo60