This afternoon, errands took me down to the Huron Business Park in south Kitchener. As I was heading home, I turned onto Homer Watson and passed by the factory building that formerly housed Budd Canada (later ThyssenKrupp). There, I discovered that after many months of lying abandoned, the building is now being torn down.
It brought back a few memories. In the summer of 1995, I took a job as a clerical temp, and the union at Budd hired me. Intriguingly, they didn’t want to pay the temp company’s wages. Instead, after paying the temp agency a finders’ fee, they put me on the union pay scale. This was 1995, remember: a clerical temp earned $10/hr, if they were lucky. The union scale gave me a wage of $18/hr, with full overtime privileges. That summer saw me earning the highest income I would earn for the next five years. It also introduced me to the factory community, to shift work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., horns that signalled break times, the need to wear earplugs when crossing the factory floor. Off-colour jokes at the lunch tables, and so on.
At the time, Budd Canada was one of Kitchener’s largest employers. Now the factory employs no one. Budd’s legacy will remain in a Budd Park next door — a greenspace containing soccer fields and baseball diamonds for use by residents in the nearby Brigadoon neighbourhood.
Hmm… Budd Park will soon be all that’s left of Budd in Kitchener. It seems likely that RIM Park eventually be all that’s left of RIM in Waterloo. Is there a Schneiders’ Park in Kitchener? Yup.
Maybe that’s the lesson, here: if you’re a big company employing over a thousand people in Waterloo Region, don’t get a park named after yourself. It appears to never end well.
But it’s worth noting something else: Budd Canada used to be one of Kitchener’s largest employers. Its passing is netting hardly a whisper. The Schneider factory had a similar position in the region’s employment market, but that was a long time ago. And yet the population of Waterloo Region grows steadily. There are no boarded up storefronts in Uptown Waterloo. There are hardly any boarded up storefronts in Downtown Kitchener, and given how Downtown Kitchener was when I arrived back in 1991, you’ll see that this is quite an accomplishment.
So, as RIM undergoes its problems, I cannot help but be frustrated by all of the hysteria in the media. The loss of RIM will hurt the local job market, but Waterloo Region has prospered not because it rose to prominence with a major employer and stayed with that employer, but that it always had a good sense of where the next big thing was and somehow attracted businesses in those industries in time to take up the slack when the older industries waned and fell. We used to be the button capital of Canada. We used to be the furniture capital of Canada. Electrohome used to produce televisions here. These things are not the case now, but Electrohome has morphed into Christie Digital, which is coming to the forefront of the next generation of digital projection technology. Their growth in digital display installations has been exponential.
Thus, in spite of the bad news, Waterloo Region will continue to thrive. That’s a certainty. The next big things are already in operation and many are starting to hire the people being let go by RIM. This sort of constant growth is also a form of constant change, and change brings about ruins. As tragic as they are, the ruins of Budd are yet another sign that Waterloo Region marching on.
Note, the picture above has nothing to do with Budd Canada and is primarily used because it’s striking, and it fits the optimistic ending of this post. But it is also a Creative Commons licensed image and I try to stick with that these days. No sense in getting into a permissions fight over something as simple as a blog post. Unfortunately, there are no images of the Budd Canada site which are licensed under Creative Commons. And I know there are a lot of photographers out there who love the atmosphere of abandoned buildings, or buildings in the process of being demolished. If you are reading this article, you should high thee hence to Kitchener and snap some pictures while the skeletons of this factory complex are still standing. There’s a lot of good opportunities for photos to be had. I would have snapped shots, but I was in the car with my kids and just didn’t have an opportunity.