I’ve spent most of my life in the twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. Both cities have a downtown core, but Kitchener also has a little shopping gem: Belmont Village. It splits two neighbourhoods, Belmont and Westmount, and has almost everything, from a dry cleaner and drug store to my favourite tea shop, fantastic restaurants, and one-of-a-kind stores. Belmont Village stores are small, and when you step inside, someone says hello to you. It’s always a nice experience. My grandparents lived in Belmont (the neighbourhood), so it simply made sense to set my novels here.
Belmont Village Kitchener
As some of the photos here show, Belmont Village has some wonderful shops. It’s also home to businesses, like healthcare professionals (my first neurologist was there, actually), accountants, and more.
Many businesses and shops have come and gone, but some have stayed forever, sometimes under different names. For example, the drug store in Belmont Village has been there probably about 40 years, though it’s carried different names. It was, I believe, Canada’s first Zehrs supermarket before that. (I vaguely remember it.)
Between Worlds, my YA series, uses Belmont Village as an occasional setting, and the shopping district is central to my sweet romance series, Love on Belmont.
For example, in Between Worlds 4: What Friends Do, two scenes take place in a fictional café in Belmont Village. I don’t believe I even have a name for that café yet. It’s inspired by a diner that’s been around for decades.
Contrast that to Love on Belmont, where the first short story is titled after not only the matriarch of the series, but also her store: Claire’s Tea Shop. As I mention in the back of each Love on Belmont book, the series is in part inspired by All Things Tea, the actual tea shop in Belmont Village. (The rest of Claire’s Tea Shop, the tea shop and café, come from a long-shuttered café in downtown Kitchener called Café Mozart and my own imagination.)
Belmont Village is on Belmont Avenue, Kitchener. It has quite the history, dating back to the Depression, but it’s also closely tied to Kitchener’s manufacturing sector. This became the backbone for Between Worlds 8: A Father’s Journey, a unique book in both series so far, because it’s based in part on oral history interviews I conducted.
The Belmont Neighbourhood: Where the Schuhmachers Live
Juliana, the protagonist in Between Worlds, lives with her parents and grandfather on a street that’s bordered by Union, King, Westmount, and Glasgow. Although the house exists, I won’t say exactly which one. It would infringe on the current owner’s privacy. My grandparents moved into that house in the 60s, and my grandmother didn’t move out until the early aughts.
In the book, you’ll read about the tiny kitchen, and it was indeed tiny! I don’t know how we did it, but we fit both my mom’s and aunt’s families, plus my grandmother, and any significant others–for a total of eleven!–for Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and Easter. If someone needed a plate from the wall unit behind us, it was quite the tight reach to get it!
When I was young, my grandmother would take me and my sister to the convenience store or drug store in Belmont Village for a sweet treat. I even lived with my grandmother for a year in my fourth year of university and enjoyed treating myself in Belmont Village once in a while.
Belmont Village Kitchener has given me many happy memories over the years. Situating my novels here makes them a joy to write.
The Westmount Neighbourhood: Where the Robinsons & Tschirharts Live
Although I don’t stipulate in the early books of Love on Belmont where Claire and Richard grew up, they eventually buy a family home in Westmount, on the west side of Belmont Village. The inside of the house is modelled after my childhood home in Heritage Park, although we didn’t have a tearoom. That’s a Claire specialty.
The Tschirhart home does have an address, but that was really a case of ensuring I was being realistic. I have no particular attachment to its location. The interior, though, is somewhat of a mystery. I believe it’s a house I often visited as a child, but I have no idea whom it belonged to. It’s just in my memory. Maybe what I’m seeing doesn’t even come from my childhood but is a mix of memories? I have no idea.
Always Something to Explore in Kitchener’s Belmont Village
But that’s the fascinating thing about writing: some aspects of what I create are visceral, like the Schuhmacher house, and others more ethereal, like the Tschirhart home. Aside from buying a lot of my tea in Belmont Village, I do some of my gift shopping there, enjoy time in some of the restaurants, and also walk the neighbourhoods–especially Belmont–just to see what’s changed.
Because no matter what time of year it is, there’s always something new to see: a festival (like the Belmont Village Bestival), a new store, changes to the neighbourhood, even a house that’s probably been standing in the same spot for 70 years but I’ve only noticed on this walk. If you’re ever in town, stop by for a break, a gift, or a new package of tea.