Take a step back in time as you tour through the heart of Old Order Mennonite Country in the Township of Woolwich. Experience the quaint Village of St. Jacobs with its boutique shops and restaurants. Taste freshly baked goods in a Mennonite-run bakery or watch as hand-made corn brooms are constructed in one of the last shops of its kind in Canada. Woolwich Township is also home to the only remaining covered bridge in Ontario, the West Montrose Covered Bridge, built in 1881 and known locally as the “Kissing Bridge”.
The township’s three largest settlements are Elmira, St. Jacobs (home base for the national Home Hardware chain) and Breslau, where the Region of Waterloo International Airport is located.
The first settlers of Woolwich Township arrived in the late 18th century. These early settlers were primarily from England and Ireland, and settled to the east of the Grand River in an area known as Block Three of Indian lands. In 1834, Edward Bristow of Sussex, England became one of Elmira’s first settlers when he purchased 53 acres of land and built the town’s first store, tavern and potashery. Around the same time German Mennonite families from Pennsylvania and Waterloo Township settled west of the river in areas that included St. Jacobs and Conestogo. A large number of these new settlers were farmers and small trade workers. One such farmer and industrialist was Jacob C. Snider. In 1852 he built a dam to power several mills, including a sawmill, woolen mill and flour mill. This helped to attract other settlers to the small community, which was named Jakobstettel (Jacob’s Village – later St. Jacobs) in his honour.
Throughout the years the Township of Woolwich has maintained much of its old-world charm.
Travel through the township by cycling along one of its many trails, or drive down quiet country roads that lead through lush farmland and industrious Mennonite settlements. Watch as horse and buggies drive by – and then discover more about Mennonite history and tradition at a multi-media presentation of “The Mennonite Story” in the Village of St. Jacobs. Woolwich is truly a rural oasis just minutes from the city.
The St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market
Each week thousands of people visit Canada’s largest year-round farmers’ market, located just outside the village of St. Jacobs. The St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market features hundreds of vendors inside three main buildings, along with an outdoor market area that expands during the spring and summer months. Make sure to bring your appetite when heading to the market! Along with the many vendors providing farm fresh produce and quality meats and cheeses, visitors can also enjoy many ready-to-eat foods, including the ever popular apple fritters. The St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market is open year round Thursdays and Saturdays from 7am to 3:30pm, and Tuesdays mid-June to Labour Day from 8am to 3pm.
Elmira Maple Syrup Festival
This one day festival annually welcomes 70,000 visitors to the town of Elmira. Visitors can take a trip to the sugar bush to see how maple syrup is made, check out the many family friendly events throughout the town, and purchase their own plate of pancakes and maple syrup to enjoy. The festival also features live local performers, an antique show, quilting demonstrations, a Toy Show and Sale, and much more. The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival is recognized by the Guinness World Book of Records as Canada’s Largest one day Maple Syrup Festival. Proceeds from the festival support local charitable and non-profit organizations.
Waterloo Central Railway
Journey through time as you ride the Waterloo Central Rail. Featuring diesel trains and a steam engine restored by the Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society (SOLRS), this family friendly adventure takes you along a scenic tour through Waterloo Region’s countryside. Along with its regularly scheduled runs, the Waterloo Central Railway also features several themed train experiences such as specialty Dinner Trains, Oktoberfest Trains, and the popular Santa Trains. Don’t forget to ask about the Train Engineer Experience, where you can experience the power of driving the train!