EAT, ENGAGE, AND EXPERIENCE ST. JACOBS!
Home to Oktoberfest – the largest Bavarian festival outside Germany, Christkindl Market – one of the country’s marquis Christmas experiences, and of course, a thriving Mennonite community, Ontario’s Waterloo Region has become an internationally recognized hub that combines big city flair with small town charm.
Within the region, outdoor, culinary, and cultural adventures await to be explored, devoured, and discovered. Small, lovely, and quaint villages dot the exquisite countryside while eager hosts greet you like long lost friends, excited to showcase their hidden gems, local produce, and rich history.
One such village known for its traditional hospitality, mouthwatering grub and cultural authenticity is St. Jacobs. Located just 90 minutes west of Toronto, it looks and feels like a world away. Complete with an eclectic, vibrant and historic Farmers’ Market, St. Jacobs is also home to a modern village that offers a splash of nostalgia, and makes for both a perfect day trip and weekend getaway for everyone yearning for a piece of tranquil, yet adrenaline-filled, and delicious bliss.
Whether you’re arriving by car, bus or even through YKF, Waterloo Region’s International Airport, your first stop should be Canada’s largest year-round farmers’ market. Incredibly but unsurprisingly, St. Jacobs Market District attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, including many from around the world. Open since 1975, the farmers’ market now boasts hundreds of vendors at various locations within the district, including the Indoor and Outdoor Market, Market Tent, and Peddler’s Village. Here, you’ll find everything from baked goods, local fruits and vegetables, honey, and artisanal meats and cheeses to fresh cut flowers, antiques and collectables, furnishings, housewares, and clothing.
But beyond the tangible attributes, the intangible ones truly make this market special. Fire destroyed the main building in 2013, leaving not only local farmers and residents shocked, but also those who’ve come to know and love the market for its people, products and atmosphere. Thankfully, neither people nor livestock were harmed as the community was inevitably left to pick up the pieces and rebuild. But within weeks, a vendor relief fund was established, and in less than two years, a 34,000 sq. ft permanent facility was opened. Talk about community tenacity to come together for the greater good! Local farmers and small businesses warmly welcomed back visitors who were more than motivated to return the favour and show their support.
Explore on your own by foot and even bicycle, or go back in time and experience St. Jacobs by train, even horse and buggy. Belgian and Percheron draft horses feature prominently at St. Jacobs Horse Drawn Tours, offering the chance to tour a Mennonite Farm, and Maple Sugar Bushes. In the colder months, winter sleigh rides are a popular pastime and for many, have become a family tradition.
Meanwhile, Waterloo Central Railway is a lovely heritage railway that offers 90 minute relaxing train rides through St. Jacobs en route to Elmira, Ontario. Whether you ride coach or first class, views of the Region’s rolling, expansive landscape and farm land, as well as the Conestogo River are fun, and memorably scenic.
Located only 3km from the Market District, the Village of St. Jacobs offers the best sights, sounds and flavours of small town Canadiana. Here, the pitter patter of horse and buggy traversing the town centre is matched by lively conversation on the sidewalks, in the cafes, and on restaurant patios. Small in size, yet big in heart and soul, the Village is home to a number of eclectic establishments that will feed your curiosity and persuade you stay and explore a little longer.
Start your adventure with Art Walk, a series of lovely and poignant murals scattered around town. Each tells a story reflecting key aspects of the people, land, culture and history of the community. Stephanie Boutari’s ‘St. Jacobs’ mural features striking 3D block letters, celebrating the natural beauty that surrounds the Village, while Trisha Abe’s work entitled, ‘In Bloom’, illustrates the diversity, nature, brightness and warmth found in St. Jacobs. ‘Quilt’ by Stephanie Scott brings to light the tradition of quilt making in the Region, while Luke and August Swinson’s, ‘Conestogo River Scene’, showcases the various birds to be found here.
Let’s talk shopping! Over 100 boutique and specialty stores are located here, including several specializing in clothing, jewellery, arts and crafts. The Village silos have been transformed into a pottery studio while Hamel Brooms, located nearby and open since 1908, was recently crowed the last corn broom manufacturer in Canada. These days, it’s rare to see any product being made in front of you, much less a quality one. But here, brooms are made in shop daily for all to see, reflecting the tradition of old world craftsmanship, and an uncompromising mantra of using quality materials to produce exceptional products.
Looking for sweet deals? The Explore St. Jacobs Passport is a mobile pass that allows visitors to not only access curated experiences at participating shops, but redeem for a discount. Over 100 boutique and speciality stores are located here, ranging from clothing and jewellery to crafts. Deals include up to 20% off sustainable apparel and home decor to a complimentary breakfast for two at the Courtyard by Marriott Waterloo St. Jacobs.
Meanwhile the food and drink scene is hot! Whether you want to perk up with a certified organic, fair trade coffee from EcoCafe & Village Roasters, indulge your sweet tooth with a baked good from The Shed by LenJo Bakes, wind down with dinner at Jacob’s Grill and cap the day with a pint or glass of wine of wine at The Village Biergarten, St. Jacobs is a place that is meant to be enjoyed, and savoured. Take a stroll, take your time, and go with the country flow.
Jim Bamboulis knew that experiences were far more meaningful than selfies when he started his media career 20 years ago. Jim spent 15 years as a TV Producer, Director, Writer and Host before starting Travel Mammal, a site dedicated to creating content that showcases the things, places and people behind the most unique, engaging and delicious travel, food and cultural experiences worldwide. Jim’s aim is to constantly and consistently create content and experiences that unite the global community. Follow his adventures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.