BY TESS BRIDGWATER
Waterloo Region has a large Mennonite community who settled here in the 19th century. Passing an old fashioned horse and buggy clip clopping along rural roads, it can be hard to imagine such a lifestyle in this day and age. But the Mennonite philosophy is simple. Fleeing from religious persecution in Europe in the 16th century, and now scattered across the world, their values celebrate a simplistic life of faith, peace and love for the poor and needy, practiced through daily living.
You can learn more about their heritage at the Quilt and Fibre Art Festival held annually in May around the region, which includes Fibre Art classes with talented crafters like Kathy White’s yarn painting course, and Audrey Vrooman and Diane Carson showcasing Long Arm quilting. The shops of St. Jacobs and other localities will have unique exhibits from craft guilds. This year, for the slab quilt challenge, the Elmira Needle Sisters Guild will create slab quilts based on a log cabin theme for Ronald MacDonald House, and a red and white tulip block quilt honouring Canada’s 150th anniversary will be on display at the Schoolhouse Theatre in St. Jacobs during the festival and will be auctioned at the New Hamburg Relief Sale, the final event of the week long festival.
In 1967, the first Mennonite Relief Quilt Auction was held in the town of New Hamburg, in the heart of the region. Since then, it has had an impact across the world, with all proceeds going to the Mennonite Central Committee for worldwide projects. The festival is held annually on the last weekend in May. In its first year, the sale raised $31,400 for the work of the Mennonite Central Committee. Last year, in 2016, the figure was $310,000, $115,000 from the quilt auction alone. An impressive amount of almost $13 million has been raised for the Mennonite Central Committee, over 50 years.
The Relief sale is a unique event not to be missed – an old fashioned country fair without pretensions, but is guaranteed to give you a day out you will remember. Quilt making is a big part of Mennonite culture and the highlight is always the quilt auction, with hundreds of magnificent quilts, donated and made by quilters from the region and beyond. Some of the contributors are in their 90s and have been making quilts all their lives. The original designs and vibrant colours are a feast for the eye. Friday night is the viewing night and silent auction, and the live auction, with 200 quilts this year, taking place in the arena on Saturday, some selling for thousands of dollars.
But there is much more to entertain you; almost as appealing as the quilts is the variety of delicious Mennonite food, pies, apfel strudels, kabobs, and even Russian perogies, starting with a pancake breakfast at 7 a.m. on Saturday for only $6.00, or choose a tasty lunch.
Other booths feature interesting arts and crafts from around the world, country artifacts, and farm implements. Essentially a rural event, in 1982 a heifer sale was introduced, attracting farmers and increasing revenue; there’s a plant sale in time for spring gardening, and music and activities for children, but mainly things haven’t changed much in 50 years. Visitors like it just the way it is.
A novel fun outing for all the family, the sale begins on Friday May 26 at 5 p.m., with Saturday being the main event. Wear comfy shoes as the grounds can be muddy and uneven in unpredictable spring weather.
The Quilt and Fibre Art Festival – May 23 -27, 2017
Mennonite Relief Sale, New Hamburg – May 26 & 27, 2017