Waterloo You Never Knew

Life on the Margins

Reviewed by Kylie Nicolajsen

Posted March 26, 2021

The changing skyline of Waterloo, Ontario, may make it difficult to see the histories of those who have shaped the community over time. But in her book Waterloo You Never Knew, which weaves through the city’s lesser-known past, author Joanna Rickert-Hall maintains that there is more than meets the eye.

The book is a collection of seemingly unrelated stories about the city’s history. Among them, readers encounter a deceptive body snatcher called Dr. Christ, a travelling menagerie that produced a devastating bout of cholera, and former slaves with connections to the Underground Railroad.

Yet Rickert-Hall finds common ground among the tales she tells. She’s a social historian who says her search for arcane local histories involves taking “a step back from written records and remaining buildings.” In considering our perceptions of marginality, social labels, and the concept of “othering,” Waterloo You Never Knew demonstrates how the fate of a community cannot be detached from the fates of individual community members and passersby.

Rickert-Hall gives new meaning to notions of shared history and identity, reflectively considering Waterloo as just one of many small Canadian communities with a definitive community story that’s worth revisiting.

Buy this book from Chapters-Indigo

This article originally appeared in the April-May 2021 issue of Canada’s History.

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