Mural in downtown St. Jacobs
Welcome to the Country
by Tara McAndrew
Originally known as Jakobstettel, St. Jacobs is a charming village nestled beside the Conestogo River. In 1830, Pennsylvanian Dutch Mennonites settled the area and over 150 years later it has grown into a quaint tourist destination. Lucky for those living in Waterloo Region, St. Jacobs is a mere 3km north of the homonymous St. Jacobs Farmers Market. The village is traditionally frequented by quilt makers, bakers, historians, and retirees. Over the past couple of years however, it has also become a popular gathering place for craft beer aficionados, boutique shoppers, and young millenials.
St Jacobs’ Newest Urban Country Art
Thanks to talented local artists, St. Jacobs has even more reasons for people to visit. Bursts of eye-catching colours have sprouted on the Village’s interior and exterior walls. Younger visitors have been flocking to the tiny village, in part due to the sharing of the quintessential Mennonite horse and buggy on social media. Realizing this could be an economically-friendly tool to incorporate into its rebranding strategy, the St. Jacobs BIA commissioned muralist Stephanie Scott to stoke the online buzz. In 2019 Scott painted a vibrantly coloured country-themed quote outside of the post office as part of the “Rediscover” campaign. Her second piece, created in early 2020, is a tribute to the famous Quilt and Fibre Art Festival, and peeks out from behind the evergreen trees beside the unique Toy Soup shop.
Stephanie Scott’s quilt mural in St. Jacobs (Photo: Tara McAndrew)
A History of Public Art
Scott’s mural is not the first to delight passersby and Instagram seekers. In 1996 Kae Drawehn and Henry Tewinket created the nostalgic Mennonite portrait outside of Gift to Remember which is now an iconic depiction of St. Jacobs. A decade later, in 2017, an interactive art installation was built to greet outdoor enthusiasts on the Health Valley Trail. At 15-feet tall it is hard to miss. The marble quilt pinwheel is made from a combination of stainless steel and an impressive 10,000 marbles. The artist, Ella Brubacher, is a local quilter who created the piece without any public funds. Ella collected the marbles, requested permissions, and assigned a construction company to complete the installation. The unique quilt is both for and from the community.
Ella Brubacher’s community Marble Art Quilt
There are a few more outdoor art pieces to keep an eye out for when visiting St. Jacobs. Among them are the Drayton Theatre Schoolhouse Theatre’s quote (easier to spot in winter than spring) and the newest St. Jacobs Village BIA addition by Stephanie Boutari between Xclusive Elements and Those Pizza Guys. It’s an eye-popping mural that is sure to become a favourite.
Stephanie Boutari’s colourful mural in downtown St. Jacobs
If you’re not an outdoors-in-the-winter kind of person, there’s even some indoor art that’s sure to impress. Start at EcoCafe for a cup of something warm and delicious while enjoying one of St. Jacobs’ indoor murals, then grab a bite to eat at Those Pizza Guys, and finish with finding a special gift while supporting local business at Xclusive Elements.
There are many things for all of us to look forward to in 2021, including two more exciting murals in St. Jacobs. Kitchener-based artist, Luke Swinson has been selected as one of the artists, however the BIA still has one more spot to fill. If you know an artist who should be hired to contribute, get in touch!
Eat, Shop, and Be Merry in St. Jacobs
Whether you’re an urban art admirer, baked goods connoisseur, amateur historian, or outdoor adventurer, St. Jacobs really has packed a lot into a very small area. When you visit, be sure not to miss some of the historic buildings, such as the old shoe factory, the Jacob C. Snider Mill (1852), the Evangelical Church, the blacksmith shop (1880), the former Dominion Hotel (1852) now known as Benjamin’s Inn, the antique market, and the original Home Hardware!
The Mennonite Story is a visitor’s centre attached to the post office, which is a wealth of information on Mennonite culture. If you veer off the main street you’ll meet one end of the Health Valley Trail which is also where you’ll find the Marble Art Quilt. The Great Trail and the Avon Trail run alongside the Health Valley Trail. Additionally you can also check out the Mill Race Trail which will lead you to the St. Jacobs Railway Viaduct (1890) which was used for the Grand Trunk Railway.
Waterloo Central Railway’s steam engine crossing the St. Jacobs Railway Viaduct
If shopping is your hobby of choice, there’s no shortage of unique stores from the Kultrun Market, St. Jacobs Mennonite Quilts, and more! And, when your stomach starts rumbling for something delicious, you’ll find an array of options from maple syrup confections at Farm Pantry, to a delicious cup of java at EcoCafé, to a pint of beer at Block Three Brewing, to traditional German fare from the Stone Crock Restaurant.
Tara McAndrew teaches people how affordable travel really is, how to learn other languages, and where to find the best chocolate around the world. She is currently based in Kitchener creating a very large travel list, thanks to 2020’s shenanigans. She runs the Travel with TMc website, and is on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter as @travelwithtmc.
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