Back in 1984, it might have been difficult to imagine that a small tech startup from Waterloo, Ontario would help change the way the world communicates. By the early 1990s, Research In Motion (RIM) was providing communication systems technology that captured global attention. When its famous Blackberry smartphone was launched in 2002, it quickly became the must-have device in the business world, and shortly after gained wild popularity with the general public. RIM’s enormous success had a big impact on its local community—it was the catalyst for Waterloo Region’s remarkable growth into a thriving innovation hub.
Today the region, made up of the cities including Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge, is home to many leading technology organizations like Communitech, an innovation hub committed to helping companies start, grow, and succeed, and which now supports more than 1,400 companies—from startups to large corporations. The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, created by RIM’s co-founder Mike Lazaridis, is the world’s largest research hub of its kind, training the next generation of physicists and sharing with students, teachers, and academics the excitement and wonder of science. The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is an internationally recognized think-tank founded by the former CEO of RIM, Jim Balsillie. The CIGI Campus also houses the Balsillie School of International Affairs and other innovative organizations.
The University of Waterloo also fosters innovation and entrepreneurship through its policy that encourages students to own and leverage their intellectual property to create new companies. In 2018, University of Waterloo professor Dr. Donna Strickland received the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work in the field of pulsed lasers. In 2019, the University hosted the Global Solutions conference to showcase the region’s progressive sustainable development network, further expand on its diverse community, and promote collaboration between the university campus and nearby businesses. Many of those successful businesses are working hard to give back to their communities. They help launch events that champion women in STEM, provide innovative teaching strategies in modern physics, address climate change and environmental stewardship, and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Bright young minds
The region’s ongoing support of education and equality in science nourishes and inspires bright young minds. And it benefits from the leading research of 16 universities and colleges including the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto, which are recognized internationally for programs in computer science and engineering. Almost 20 years after the launch of the Blackberry, the region is a technology hot spot. It has often been referred to as “Canada’s Silicon Valley”, and as part of the Toronto Waterloo Region Corridor, it is now among the top 20 technology clusters in the world.
During my time as Lieutenant Governor, I have had the opportunity to visit communities across this vast, diverse, and fascinating province. In doing so, I have engaged with Ontarians of all ages, backgrounds, and interests.
The Ontarians I have met want a future that is resilient. Achieving this will require the best and brightest minds, the most innovative scientific and technological breakthroughs, and the sheer will of our citizens, here in Ontario and around the world.
The history of this region is one of evolution. Very early the university developed a unique educational model that introduced students to the world of work. The region grew into a place celebrated for its innovation and international collaboration. Over the years, we have seen the development of institutions like CIGI and the Institute of Quantum Computing – creating a launchpad for Ontarians to go out into the world and, in return, for people to be welcomed to this province in the spirit of the exchange of ideas and finding solutions to problems that extend beyond borders.
The Waterloo Region is world renowned for its capacity to engage with young people in thinking about how to create a better future. It now attracts, on an international scale, some of the greatest minds, researchers, scientists, policymakers, and innovators who are leading in their fields around the globe.
So many of the stories that we tell ourselves about the future are dystopias. Such cautionary tales serve an important function: they confront us with the very possible dark consequences of our neglect of the environment and our neighbours.
But we need utopias too.
I have visited the Waterloo Region many times over the last five years, engaging with students, academics, community organizations, and municipal leadership. The close proximity of all these levels of power creates sparks – energy that the rest of Ontario and the world is attempting to replicate. From Nobel Prize winners to mayors moving ahead on climate action, silos are being broken down while science speaks to everyday people and concerns in a way that can bring about a more resilient future. Though not a utopia, the region is a place to look to for inspiration and stories.Sustainability