Commonly referred to as one of Canada’s smartest cities, Waterloo is located in the heart of the country’s tech triangle. Among numerous startup companies, it’s home to Blackberry, Shopify and Google headquarters – as well as about 4,000 Old Order Mennonites who get around in horse-drawn buggies and farm the surrounding countryside. This juxtaposition is not the only surprise you’ll discover in the Waterloo/St. Jacobs region. Here are some of our favorite unusual things to do in the area.
Discover Mennonite Culture
As early as the 1800s, Mennonites of German descent began arriving in this region, which was once given the name of Berlin in recognition of their heritage. Learn about their vibrant culture by visiting the interpretive center in the village of St. Jacobs. At the Wallenstein General Store, largely unknown to tourists, you’ll find more buggies than cars parked out front, and locals procuring everything from fences and butter tarts to work clothes and women’s bonnets – but never on Sundays. Take a horse-drawn guided tour of a Mennonite mixed-farming operation to learn more about local traditions and ways of life.
Maple Syrup Museum
Tap into the sweet history of Canadian maple syrup production at the Maple Syrup Museum of Ontario in St. Jacobs. Everything you always wanted to know about the Canadian “liquid gold” industry is covered here, from how the sap is drained to what the tree looks like afterward, and even a replica of a traditional sugar shack.
St. Jacobs and Aberfoyle Model Railway
You don’t have to be a model train buff to appreciate the massive St. Jacobs and Aberfoyle miniature railway, which depicts southern Ontario in the late 1950s. More than 3,000 feet of hand-built models of both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific trains wind through carefully recreated local towns, the countryside, and even the Niagara Escarpment. No detail has been spared – you can watch freight trains being sorted in terminal yards before being switched along their routes, and see passenger cars with full interior detailing pass through urban terminals, suburban stations, and small rural depots.
Eat and Buy Local
Stop for a bite to eat at the 160-year-old Heidelberg Tavern, a former stagecoach stop now serving hearty, traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fare that sticks to your ribs, like schnitzel, sausages, and sauerkraut. It’s only minutes away from the largest year-round farmer’s market in Canada, the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, which is located in the Township of Woolwich. Check out some of the farm gate stands along the quiet country roads, where you can buy maple syrup, fresh eggs, homemade patchwork quilts, and more.
For convenient access to St. Jacobs as well as easy proximity to downtown Waterloo, book your stay at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Waterloo/St. Jacobs. All guests enjoy complimentary internet access, a daily hot breakfast and an evening happy hour Monday to Thursday.