Following in the footsteps of 119 years of notable visitors, The Walper invites its guests to rediscover the hotel where Eleanor Roosevelt enjoyed breakfast in the courtyard and Louis Armstrong played his trumpet off the King Street balcony. Credited as the original commercial establishment in the town of Berlin, and recognized as the first to have hydro power, guests will be treated to a unique balance of history and modern comfort as they stay, dine, or celebrate in the hotel enjoyed by William Lyon Mackenzie King, Wilfrid Laurier, Pierre Trudeau and nearly every other Canadian Prime Minister. Guests are encouraged to explore the building that housed liquor smuggled by Al Capone and that hid Lady Gaga, the queen of display, who remained unrecognized days into her stay. Visitors will dine in the Ballroom where Lennox Lewis once fought, and relax in suites enjoyed by everyone from Royalty, to leaders in the Arts, Culinary, Cultural, Technological, Financial and Political Realms who have chosen The Walper as their preferred accommodation in the area for nearly 120 years.
The exquisite Victorian Architecture as you see it today has stood at the corner of King and Queen Streets since 1893. Previously built in 1820, the former, two-storey whitewash hotel, which occupied its place, featured a balcony that served as a political forum, and was a popular trading post. Phineas Varnum, the first English-speaking Businessman in the area leased the lot from a reluctant Joseph Schneider in order to build a blacksmith shop and roadhouse. Much to Schneider’s surprise, the Varnum Inn as it came to be called, quickly became a well-known town-gathering place.
The township where the inn was located was initially referred to as Sandhills and was given the name Berlin in May of 1826. Notably, varying reports suggest that the name Berlin was actually not recognized until 1833: its first usage being on the property deed to the Walper Hotel, purchased by Frederick Gaukel from Joseph Schneider in 1833. Additionally, rumour has it that the very first sign identifying the town by its new name was hung at the Walper Hotel the same year.
After purchasing the lot in 1833, Frederick Gaukel made his mark in the hospitality industry, expanding and renaming the building Gaukel’s Hotel. Though it would certainly be frowned on today, in 1851 Frederick Gaukel had a post with platform installed and a bear chained to the structure to climb up and down in order to entertain visitors and the public, demonstrating his willingness to do whatever it took to ensure the comfort and delight of all his guests. However unconventional his efforts may seem, Gaukel began a tradition of outstanding customer service at the King and Queen Street location.
The hotel changed hands and names multiple times in the half century following Gaukel’s ownership, referred to next as the Great Western under owner James Potter, then as the Commercial Hotel under owner John Roat. The hotel was purchased by Curry Walper in 1886 and destroyed by fire in 1892. After the fire, Abel Walper decided to erect and rename The Walper Hotel as a four storey structure with standalone tower, the result of which has been a recognizable edifice in downtown Kitchener for over a century. This hotel, a landmark of the Region, was initially built at a total cost of $75,000. At the opening in May 1893, guests could have a room, three meals a day, a pitcher of water, gas lamp lighting, and use of one of the Hotel’s common area bathrooms for just $4.50 per week. A solitary telephone resided in the lobby for guest use and a stable was available, allowing visitors a spot to hitch their horse. Under the ownership of the Walper family, the hotel played host to acclaimed guests, and up-and coming celebrities alike, including Joseph F. Lamb, a ragtime composer and student at St. Jerome’s in Berlin who composed one of his first pieces, “Walper House Rag,” during a short stay at the Walper Hotel in 1903.
Following 15 years of ownership by the Walper family, Joseph A. Zuber purchased the hotel in 1908. After three successful decades, The Zuber family decided to expand the hotel in 1925, adding The Crystal Ballroom as you see it today and two guest floors. The 5th floor was equipped with running water and additional baths for guests, although the ‘luxury’ of ensuite bathrooms was still a few years away!
The renovation of 1925 also brought a formal dining room (The Walper Gallery) and a men’s beverage room into the property. It was these additions that would lead to the proclamation by MacLean’s and Readers Digest in the 1960’s that The Walper was one of the finest Hotel and Dining Rooms in the nation and indeed the continent. It was in the Baroque dining room, under the supervision of Chef Edward Ruppe and the constant presence of Joseph Zuber III, that legendary Liberace, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, renowned entertainer Bob Hope, The Queen Mother, Duke Ellington, Marcel Marceau and others walked through the main entrance of the Hotel to be our guest. At the peak of its glory, the Baroque Dining Room was serving up to 10,000 guests a day, and line-ups that filled the hall and staircase were a normal fixture in the hotel. Famed for the excellent food, service and surroundings The Walper became THE destination for national and International travellers.
After a period of financial difficulty, The Walper officially closed its doors to the public on October 18th, 1979. The closure rippled through a community that had taken great pride in the hotel that hosted dignitaries and celebrities and brought travellers from afar to take part the dining and guest experience offered by the Walper. The hotel sat empty for 3 years, and was referred to unofficially by locals as the “Pigeon Plaza” named for its only honoured guests between its closing, and reopening when it was bought in November, 1982 by Fred Lafontaine. While Lafontaine’s initial intention was to convert the building into a retirement home, after more than five million dollars in renovations he renamed, and reopened the landmark as The Walper Terrace Hotel. Although Lafontaine enjoyed only ten years of ownership, his commitment to preserving and restoring the original structure protected the historical charm that would otherwise have been lost permanently.
After nearly 120 years the Walper still stands as the landmark hotel in Waterloo region. Guests continue to enjoy the rich architectural details of a time gone by and the attentive, warm and welcoming service only experience can deliver. The Walper is now home to over 75 weddings a year and celebrities continue to grace the hallways of the hotel including famed Entertainers, Rita MacNeil, Louie Anderson, David Copperfield, The Amazing Kreskin, The Ten Tenors, Tim Conway, Sarah McLachlan, and Kris Kristofferson to name a few. Featuring Art for sale throughout the building and a children’s educational foundation linked to every room sold, the hotel continues to combine a historical feel with modern amenities and comforts to suit the needs and desires of each of its guests.
The Walper truly is as Unique as you are.