Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Waterloo Central Railway Mennonite Tour

Tom the backroads traveller hosts this weekly meme.

July 2018 - Waterloo ON

Promotional Blurb

Great vintage train & tour combo! Board the 10AM train at the St. Jacobs Market Platform and ride to the town of Elmira where you'll climb aboard a Mennonite farm wagon and travel to experience the close-knit Mennonite community from their farmhouse kitchen table. Immerse yourself in their culture, heritage and culinary skills. This rare opportunity will allow you to sit and converse, ask questions, learn firsthand about their unique way of life, their traditional dress and transportation styles as well as sample some of their delicious foods.

Click here for our 2015 tour of the town of St. Jacob's and here for the market, the largest outdoor market in Canada.

The community of St. Jacobs is located in southwest Ontario, just north of Waterloo. It is a popular location for tourism, due to its quaint village appearance, retail focus and Mennonite heritage. Waterloo Region is still home to the largest population of Old Order Mennonites in Canada, particularly in the areas around St Jacobs and Elmira. They are often seen on the local roads using their traditional horse and buggy transportation; many also use horses to pull the implements in their farm fields.

We left home at 8:15 and arrived in St. Jacob's/Waterloo around 9:45 for 10 AM train departure, which finally pulled out at 10:10.

Why is the train decorated for Christmas? Seems they do a Christmas in July tour in the afternoon. Why did we have tinny Christmas music and a Hawaiian shirted Santa on our Mennonite tour? No idea, but didn't appreciate it.

Pretty countryside, but would have liked some commentary about the area, farming and history.

So I did my homework.

The Home Hardware company, founded in 1963 and still operating, can trace its roots all the way back to the 1880s in St. Jacobs. That's when a tinsmith shop was opened and was later sold to Henry Gilles who added a blacksmith shop and hardware store that was managed by his son, Alfred Gilles. In 1933, Henry Sittler took over as manager of the hardware business and stayed on after the business was sold to Gordon Hollinger who added a wholesale division to the hardware store. In 1938, Walter J. Hachborn (who would found Home Hardware) began working for Hollinger while he was still a teenager; he was able to speak both English and the Low German of his Mennonite customers.

This area originally belonged to tracts of Crown land granted to the Six Nationspeoples. Their leader, Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), in an effort to raise money to put toward an annuity for the Six Nations peoples, sold the land in blocks to land speculators. Mennonites from Pennsylvania purchased the land that became St. Jacobs in 1807 from carpenter William Wallace. In 1851 farmer and industrialist Jacob C. Snider constructed a dam on the Conestogo River, which provided waterpower for saw and woolen mills. These industries were the economic centre around which the village grew.

Lots of corn!

The opening of the railway branch in neighbouring Elmira in 1891, however, had an adverse impact on industry as local workers ventured to larger urban centers like Kitchener for higher wages. This occurrence contributed to the sluggish population growth in comparison to Elmira.
Our farm wagons await us. One wagon for the Mennonite tour, the other was going to the town of Elmira.

We'll see this family later as they return for St. Jacob's after their shopping excursion.

It's a little nerve-wracking to have transports pass our little John Deere tractor.

There is a lot of quilt shops in the area.

Off the highway and onto a private farm road.

Mennonites working in the field. Most horse and buggy Old Order Mennonites allow the use of tractors for farming.

The Weber farm is at the end of the road.

Approaching the farm, and Mr. Weber is waiting for us.

I snapped this photo before his wife came out to greet us. He then requested we not take any photos of them.


We're invited inside to eat and ask any questions.

Old Order are those Mennonite groups of Swiss German and south German heritage who practice a lifestyle without some elements of modern technology, who dress plain and who have retained the old forms of worship, baptism and communion.

All Old Order Mennonite reject certain technologies (e.g. television), but the extent of this rejection depends on the group. Old Order groups generally place great emphasis on a disciplined community instead of the individual's faith beliefs.

He explained that they use electricity and have a landline phone, but reject TV, cell phones and cars. They don't believe that technology is evil but that it could adversely affect their community and lifestyle.

Back outside we have a few minutes to wander.

In the varn.

Time to head back.

Waiting for the lights to change.

Rushing to catch the return train.

Made it!

We were looking for lunch so we drove into Elmira.

After a quick lunch we headed home.


  1. ...Jackie, thanks for this wonderful travel tip! My grandmother was born in this area and I'd love to visit it again. This sure looks like a fun time. Thanks for sharing, enjoy your week. 😀

    1. Tom, they offer all kinds of different tours. I suggest you wait until September when all the kids are back in school.

  2. Wonderful shots. It's been a long while since I've been in that area.

  3. Neat train. Loved all the barns and the beautiful countryside. What a wonderful series of views of Amish life, as well!


This blog does not allow anonymous comments.