The Waterloo Region’s Children’s Safety Village was initiated by the Waterloo Regional Police Service as a community program designed to provide local students with a unique learning opportunity with the focus on experience-based safety training.
A dedicated steering committee was established in 1990 which was comprised of representatives from both school boards, the Waterloo Regional Police Service, an architect, accountant, construction engineer, and concerned citizens of the community. The proposed site would include a classroom, where traffic signs and signals could be presented to the children. The site would also include a scaled down “Village” complete with paved roadways, street signs and signals and miniature buildings.
The cost of the non-profit project was estimated at $750,000. Funding was received through donations from local businesses, service clubs, and community members. Cash donations and donations in kind were used to acquire the necessary teaching tools, such as bicycles, helmets and battery operated jeeps.
“Village Businesses” were invited to design and construct replicas of their buildings to make up the Village which initially contained 16 major buildings, with room for future expansion.
A centrally located 2 ½ acre site was chosen beside the Waterloo Regional Police Headquarters. Construction commenced in 1991. The Village officially opened in September 1992 and well over 10,000 children participated during first year of operation.
Over the next few years, the Village began to grow, both in popularity and in size. Another 10 building sponsors were welcomed and new features were added, such as the interactive telephone, to allow children to practice dialing 9-1-1. Attendance quickly reached full capacity, averaging 12,000 students per year.
In 1994, a dedicated volunteer from the K-W Civitan Club was volunteering at the Children’s Safety Village. As a school bus circled the drop-off area of the facility he was surprised to discover that the bus was only half full. Questioning why the bus would not be full of children eager to participate in the Safety Village programs he was made aware that the existing Village could only accommodate 30 children at a time, although the capacity for the school bus was 72. He immediately recognized the opportunity to expand the existing Village to include a Fire Education classroom. This new center would compliment the existing Police Safety program.
In 1996, the Fire Departments in the Region began construction on the new Fire Education Centre which contained another two classrooms and an interactive apartment where children would be taught all aspects of fire safety. In November of 1997, this world-class facility, the first of its kind in Canada, opened its doors.
The cost of the Fire Education project was $420,000 and was a collaborative effort between the Waterloo Regional Police Service, The Fire Services from the Cities of Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo, the two School Boards, the K-W Civitan Club and many local corporations who donated professional services and building materials to help make the expansion a reality.
Since the inception of the Village in 1992 and the addition of the Fire Education Program in 1997 the Waterloo Region Children’s Safety Village has educated more than a 450,000 students averaging 6 classes / day and reaching approximately 22,000 students each year.
Ed Davies – the dedicated volunteer from the K-W Civitan Club who recognized the need always said: “If the center ultimately saves the life of one child, it will all be worthwhile”.
The Village has, in fact, been credited for teaching lessons that have, indeed, saved the lives of children and their families in Waterloo Region.