ST. JACOBS, ONTARIO — Del Gingrich is one of the many Mennonites in southwestern Ontario who may challenge your perception of that religious order. Gingrich, a modern Mennonite, runs The Mennonite Story, a museum and visitor centre in this idyllic village in Waterloo County that welcomed 40,000 tourists last year.
Soft spoken and affable, Gingrich is far from aloof or technologically averse, and he says the old order Mennonites who you will see riding in horse-drawn carriages along country roads here are also gregarious once you get to know them.
“I think it would surprise people that even though they live in a world that hasn’t changed much in more than a century that they are quite knowledgeable about the world and quite open to speaking to other people,” says Gingrich, a former public school teacher in nearby Kitchener. “In fact, they’re a great deal of fun, and once there’s a level of trust that is established they are very comfortable with people.”
The Mennonites, many of whom are of German descent, established farming practices in a region that became the bread basket for early settlers in Ontario. Baked goods made from decades-old family recipes still draw in visitors, as does the bounty of fresh produce at the largest year-round farmers’ market in Canada.
Although their lifestyles have remained remarkably unchanged since the 19th century, St. Jacobs itself has expanded during the past 30-plus years. Its first major commercial enterprise was the Stone Crook Restaurant, which is now joined by bistros, candy stores, vintage shops and museums along King Street North.
The main attraction, however, remains the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, one of the richest, most celebrated of its kind in Canada.
“They’re known to be some of the best farmers anywhere,” Gingrich says of the old order Mennonites.
During the summer, the market is open three days a week, and visitors can also enjoy horse-drawn tours through Mennonite country as well as train rides, broom-making demonstrations, antique shopping and, of course, great food. The village is about a 90-minute drive from Toronto, with street and lot parking available. — Adrian Brijbassi
MORE ABOUT ST. JACOBS, ONTARIO
The Mennonite Story: You can find Del Gingrich and the tiny museum at 1406 King Street North, St. Jacobs, ON. Telephone: 519-664-3518
St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market: The market is open Thursdays and Saturdays year-round from 7 am-3:30 pm. During the summer, it is also open on Tuesdays from 8 am-3 pm . Address: 878 Weber Street North, Waterloo, ON. 519 747 1830