St. Jacobs Getaway – Adventures in Amish Country with a Mix of History and Art

Article Written by Denise Davy

It’s Saturday morning, and the main street of St. Jacobs is a mass of crowds and cars.  I grab a parking spot and try to find a restaurant that doesn’t have a long line. I settle on the outdoor patio at the aptly named Shadeland, which is set back from the street and nestled behind some trees.

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It’s my first visit to St. Jacobs, and the huge crowds surprise me. But over the next few hours, as I visit stores, galleries and artisan’s shops, I realize the attraction. The beauty of this place,  which is about an hour’s drive northwest of Burlington near Waterloo, is in the combination of history and culture that saturates every corner.

 

Mixed in with the fashion and decor stores are places like Hamel Brooms, where a young woman props up on a stool and weaves straw into old style country brooms. It’s one of the last corn broom manufacturing companies in Canada. Beautiful Amish and Mennonite quilts cover the walls of Grey Fort Quilts, and exquisite pottery and glass items are on display at Thorn Glass and Conestoga River Pottery. Inside Gallery Momo, I chat with artist Momcilo Simic.  His piercingly beautiful artwork, together with the work of other local artists, graces the walls. Simic tells me he came from Serbia 15 years ago and didn’t start painting until he was in his 30’s. His paintings are breathtaking; his daughter is his muse. In one piece in particular, her innocence stares back at you in a painting called Twelve.

 

I wasn’t surprised when Simic told me the painting was a finalist in the 2012 Art Renewal Centre’s international competition of contemporary realist artists. His work draws many visitors who also come on Sundays to enjoy the live music in the gallery.

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Walking a few blocks up on Isabella Street, I find Artefacts Salvage and Design, a 9,000-square foot barn stuffed with a cornucopia of old doors, windows, wrought iron grills, stained glass windows and other eclectic finds. Co-owners Chris Blott and Scott Little have transformed countless items, like one wrought iron grill, originally from a basement window in Baltimore, Maryland (circa 1865), which they made into a beautiful headboard. My favourite was the large casting pattern discovered at a foundry in Hamilton which has been transformed into a console table. The store is fascinating, and even the wooden bucket filled with a bouquet of old door knobs made for an interesting still life.

 

Visiting The Mennonite Story was a must, since Mennonites are an integral part of the area’s history. There was an impressive display of artifacts, from Mennonite hats and old tools to a map illustrating the history of Mennonites. Store manager Del Gingrinch told me 7,000 Mennonites live in the area, belonging to 30 sects of Mennonites, including the Amish who are the most orthodox. There are horse drawn buggy rides around Mennonite country, but Gingrinch showed me how to do a short self-guided tour to a few nearby farms.

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As I drove past the rolling hills, I spotted a farm that advertised eggs and flowers for sale. A few minutes later, I walked away with a dozen farm fresh brown eggs and a huge bouquet of gladioli for $5.

 

There wasn’t time to visit the massive St. Jacobs Farmer’s Market, take a scenic train ride on the Waterloo Central Railway, the biggest farmer’s market in Canada, or St. Jacobs Market District, a collection of outlet stores. I guess I’ll just have to plan a return trip!

 

Useful Links

St. Jacobs Tourism 
stjacobs.com

Outlet District Guide
embraceyourchange.ca

Horse drawn buggy tours
stjacobshorsedrawntours.com

Artist Momcilo Simic’s Gallery
gallerymomo.com 

Waterloo Central Railway
waterloocentralrailway.com

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