While most visitors are drawn to St. Jacobs for its
antiques, fine linen and furniture shops, many are
also intrigued by its unique history. Two centuries
ago the Village was known as Jakobstettel or "Jacob's settlement" after Jacob C. Snyder, the
Mennonite farmer who pioneered the early development of the town. Although "Jakobstettel"
was anglicized to "St Jacobs" with the opening of the first post office in 1852, the old Mennonite
family names still permeate the Village. Eby Street is a well traveled thoroughfare, the old
William W. Snyder House, built in 1898, now re-named Jakobstettel Guest House, is an elegant
Queen Anne style mansion, while the Steiner House built around 1857, is a four-square Georgian
building fronting on King Street. (In the course of recent renovations, a child's shoe was
discovered buried in the wall - a good luck charm, according to an old German belief.) The
Steiner House is now a boutique called "Ruffled Elegance" and an Old Order Mennonite lady
sometimes drops by to demonstrate the art of quilting in an upstairs room.
Most of us are familiar with the Home
Hardware signboard in our local shopping
malls, but few realize that St. Jacobs is
where it all started. Walter J. Hachborn
went into partnership with Henry Sittler
back in 1948 and together they developed
the chain of independently run stores
which now stretch across Canada.
Hachborn still lives in the neighborhood
and is often seen in the original retail
outlet on King Street, or at the Home
Hardware headquarters a few blocks south
of the town core. The name Sittler is, of
course, well known to hockey fans, and St
Jacobs was where the former Toronto
Maple Leaf captain spent his boyhood
years. Darryl's grandfather Jake worked at St. Jacob's
Creamery in the days when milkmen delivered cream and
milk door to door in horse and wagon teams. The local
joke is that Darryl's unerring slap-shot technique was
developed in the course of helping his grandfather heave
manure out of stables.
A block over from the Home Hardware store, I pause at the corner of King Street and Front Street where another landmark of St Jacob's Mennonite heritage rises against the skyline: the silos of the Pioneer Roller Flouring Mill. Established by Elias W.B Snider in 1870, this was the first mill in Canada to export its prime quality flour to Glasgow, Liverpool and Belfast. Today the silos have been converted into an unusual retail outlet for the Village's gifted craftspeople, and as a showcase for exquisite collections of crystal cut-glass, brass lamps, stained glass, jewelry, leatherwork, woven mats, quilts, pottery and glass-blown objets d'art.
A couple of hours later, having lingered to chat with
craftsmen - not to mention putting my credit card to
work in the Riverworks Retail Centre - I emerge onto the street just as the bell-tower of St
James' Lutheran Church begins its noon-hour carillon performance. For a few moments the
tourists now crowding the sidewalks of the Village are held captive, their eyes softening into
nostalgia as the mellow notes float on the afternoon air.
Lunch beckons and I drop in to Benjamin's Restaurant & Inn which sits on King Street, kitty-corner from the Silos. Built in 1852 by Joseph Eby as a coach-stop between Kitchner (then known as Berlin) and Elmira, it was flanked by a horse and carriage livery service. The latter has been replaced by Good's Garage - a business which services a different mode of transport - Home Hardware's fleet of trucks. The only reminder of a long vanished era, is a sidewalk trough and pump once used for watering horses.
Benjamin's Restaurant & Inn however, continues
the tradition of congenial hospitality. I am
ushered into their elegant dining room with its cross beamed ceiling, molded white stucco walls
and cozy fireplace, to enjoy my lunch - a piquant seafood entree and crème caramel desert - in an
atmosphere of old world charm.
Even though the legacy of Mennonite pioneers lingers on in St. Jacobs' historical landmarks, few members of the Old Order live in the Village today. Primarily a farming community, their homesteads are dotted across the rural areas surrounding St. Jacobs. As I emerge onto King Street after lunch, it is now lined with cars, pick-up trucks and SUVs, and its sidewalks are thronged with shoppers. I am back in the commercial world of the 21st century, and in its bright glare, no horse drawn buggies rumble over the rise in the road.
Article by Margaret Deefholts
IF YOU GO: The Village of St. Jacobs lies approximately 15 kilometers north of Waterloo in the Kitchner-Waterloo area of Southern Ontario.
The Visitor Centre at St. Jacobs houses a
Mennonite Interpretation Centre which provides a
fascinating insight into the history, beliefs and
lifestyles of the Mennonite people, via a
multimedia presentation encompassing photos,
narratives, lighted displays and a film
documentary. Admission by donation. For
further information on days and hours of
operation Ph: (519) 664-3518 or Fax (519) 664-3786. Or e-mail Mary Price, Tourism Manager,
St. Jacobs at email@example.com
The Village also boasts a lively series of theatre performances and special festival events. The nearby St. Jacobs Country Farmers' Market (and Flea Market) offers a cornucopia of farm grown fruit, vegetables, fresh baked bread, cookies, home made jams, cheeses and summer sausage.
For general information on the Village of St. Jacobs and surroundings, go to http://www.stjacobs.com/
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