Venture out for a country escape to St. Jacobs, Ont., and you might be surprised by what you find.
Nestled along the Conestogo River, an easy drive from the Waterloo/Kitchener area and about an hour southwest of Toronto, this charming village is home to funky galleries, quirky museums, and one of the best year-round farmers’ markets in Canada.
People come from far and wide for the fresh produce, meats, preserves and other products offered up by the local growers and producers at the St. Jacobs market, especially on weekends. Last year, the market suffered a devastating fire that burnt the main building to the ground, but the village rallied, and the new, 16,000-square-foot Harvest Barn was up three months later to house hundreds of vendors, many of whom have near cult-like followings—just ask a local about Sheldon Creek Dairy’s milk and you’ll see what we mean.
Of course, the edible offerings in St. Jacobs don’t end with the market. Throughout this tiny village, you’ll find friendly shops offering everything from freshly baked breads to locally brewed craft beer.
Whether you’re planning a day trip to St. Jacobs or settling in for a low-key weekend, here’s some of what you can expect to find.
Every Thursday and Saturday (and Tuesdays in the summer), you can wander the market’s rows of stalls and shop for fresh Ontario produce, baked goods (try the apple fritters from The Fritter Co.) and all kinds of other regional specialties. Hundreds of vendors are set up inside three buildings on site and, in warmer months, hundreds more are set up outside, where you’ll also find a petting zoo, food trucks and even a flea market.
Horses and buggies are a common sight around St. Jacobs, as the area is home to about 4,000 Old Order Mennonites who farm the countryside. On market days, you can hop on a horse-drawn trolley tour that will take you along quiet country roads to a Mennonite mixed-farming operation. Tour the farm’s apple orchard while your guide tells you about Mennonite traditions.
The scenery in St. Jacobs is so idyllic, you’ll inevitably want to wander. Take a self-guided historic walking tour through the town or venture along the St. Jacobs Millrace Footpath, the village’s own two-kilometre portion of the Trans Canada Trail.
Maple Syrup Museum and Quilt Gallery
St. Jacobs is a major production area for Canada’s “liquid gold.” The Maple Syrup Museum teaches the ins and outs of production, and the artifacts and displays describe the local industry. The Quilt Gallery, located in the same building, exhibits some of the fine quilting done in the area.
One of Ontario’s longest-running inns (built in 1852), this lovely nine-room property is a great spot to settle in for a night or two. The space has seen many design changes over the years, but, under all the new decor, the original hand-crafted beams and brick and mortar walls remain. Timber was also salvaged from last year’s market fire and has been reworked into a bar and host station.
You don’t have to be a model train buff to appreciate this massive miniature railway (more than 3,000 square feet)depicting Southern Ontario in the late 1950s. Hand-built models of both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific trains wind through recreations of local towns, the countryside and even the Niagara Escarpment.