After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s no wonder most of us begin the New Year looking for ways to slow down and relax.
Every region has its ‘hidden gems’ – places that aren’t necessarily top of mind when you’re planning your itinerary, but once you discover them, you wonder why you didn’t visit sooner! In Waterloo Region, the village of St. Jacobs is one of those gems – seemingly small and quaint at first glance, but a deeper look reveals a village that is developing a chic, urban vibe, while still celebrating its rural history.
Spending a day discovering all there is to do in St. Jacobs is a real treat; chose to relax as you stroll through the village (it’s good for the soul!), or pick up the pace with activities to get you out and about! Whichever style suits you best, make sure you take some time to interact with the people you’ll meet along the way – the shop owners and the locals – who are always happy to give you the insider story on their little piece of St. Jacobs!
So, here’s an introduction to the hidden gem that is the Village of St. Jacobs from two perspectives: one for those who enjoy Shopping, Learning and Leisure, and one for those who prefer to be Outdoors and Eat! (And, we’re willing to bet you’ll find your own ‘hidden gems’ within the village that will have you coming back now that St. Jacobs is on your radar!)
The Farm Pantry:
1386 King St. N, St. Jacobs
The gourmet foods, kitchen gadgets, and local flavours you’ll find here will appeal to any foodie (don’t forget to pick up some locally-produced Maple Syrup while you’re here!) Shashi Verma, Manager at the Farm Pantry, says they like to focus on healthy food lines, including gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan friendly options. All of their jams are additive-free, and they feature lots of raw honey – in her opinion, the healthiest way to enjoy this sweet treat!
1376 King St. N., St. Jacobs
You can tell yourself you’re stopping at Toy Soup ‘for the kids’, but bets are you’ll have as much fun as they will! Located inside a 100 year old building that was formerly a church, owner Lisa Boulianne is happy to share the history of her space (which still has the original stained-glass windows, and a beautifully decorated play space in the former church sanctuary area). Games, toys, crafts, and lots of novelty items – there’s something to appeal to the kid in all of us!
Conestoga River Pottery:
1441 King St. N., St. Jacobs
Some people are fortunate to be artistically gifted. Phil Yordy is one such artisan, and for the past 39 years he’s been sharing his talent as a potter in the village of St. Jacobs. Conestoga River Pottery not only features some of his works, but also the creations of many other Canadian pottery artists. With a pottery wheel, kiln and bisque room all located on site, you may even have the opportunity to see one of these functional works of art being created while you visit! Making this shop even more special is its location; you’ll find it in the Village Silos – real silos that were part of a former flour mill that dates back to the mid-1800’s, and was one of St. Jacobs’ original industries.
7 Front St., St. Jacobs
If it’s chic, hip and trendy, you’ll find it at Xclusive Elements! They stock everything from clothing to accessories, home décor, gifts and novelty items; make sure to give yourself lots of time to take a look through everything. And, if you happen to be in the store around the holidays, ask about the Xclusive Elements Top 10 List – it’s their top 10 best sellers from the past year (which makes it easy to find something for everyone on your gift list!).
HINT: Owner Julielynn Miller says one of the items that makes it to the top of the list each year is the Secrid Wallet; if you want to know why, stop in and see one in action!
La Crème and Essentially Black:
1364 King St. N., St. Jacobs
Deciding how to treat yourself is pretty black and white – actually, black and cream! – when you visit these two shops that are side by side in St. Jacobs. La Crème features affordable elegance for every season, while Essentially Black features fashionable clothing that includes sportswear, business fashions and formalwear for women who love to wear black. What really sets both stores apart, however, is their customer care (you can’t call it customer ‘service’, because it’s much more personal than that!). In fact, don’t be surprised if you receive a hand-written thank-you note after your shopping trip; no wonder La Crème has received a Canadian Retailer of the Year award!
1411 King St. N., St. Jacobs
Anyone who has purchased one of these handmade brooms swears they are the best brooms you’ll ever find! Located in what was once the village blacksmith shop, each corn broom at Hamel Brooms is handmade – a process that takes about 10 minutes. The brooms are made on site, and if you’re lucky, you may be able to time your visit to see one being created! Hamel’s also sells antiques and handmade wooden items too.
The Mennonite Story:
1406 King Street N., St. Jacobs
When you’re in the heart of Mennonite Country, make sure you stop by to take in this multi-media presentation that lets you know more about the background and culture of the Mennonite population that calls St. Jacobs home, and who you’ll probably see driving their horse and buggies through the streets of the village. Many visitors to the area have questions about the Mennonite way of life, and The Mennonite Story is a creative and respectful way of fostering discussion and sharing their history.
Exhibits at The Mill:
1441 King St. N., St. Jacobs
Located in the basement of the historic Snider Flour Mill are a number of exhibits depicting pioneer days in St. Jacobs. There’s the History of Electricity Museum (DYK: St. Jacobs native Elias Snider was one of a trio of men who are credited for bringing hydro to Ontario?). Check out the Maple Syrup Museum to see how this sweet treat has been produced through the years (and then you can head down the street to the Farm Pantry to buy a litre or two to take home with you!) Before you leave the mill, don’t forget to press the button to start the H0 scale model railway on its trek through the circa 1940’s St. Jacobs and area countryside – the scale may be little, but it’s certainly a lot of fun to watch!
St Jacobs & Aberfoyle Model Railway:
1440 King St. N., St. Jacobs
If the model railway in the Mill has left you wanting more, you’re in luck! The St. Jacobs & Aberfoyle Model Railway is an O scale model railway that depicts southern Ontario in the late 1950’s, with a display that is over 3000 square feet (yes – 3000!). You’ll feel a little bit like a giant as you move around this miniature village (think Shrek walking through Far Far Away), where the detail is so precise, everything looks real! Steam, diesel, freight and passenger trains – they’re all here moving through the miniature cities, towns and countryside. NOTE: St. Jacobs and Aberfoyle Model Railway has limited hours, so check the website to see when it’s open before you head out.
St. Jacobs is fortunate to be home to not one, but two of the very successful Drayton Entertainment theatres. St. Jacobs Country Playhouse is located just outside of the village (close to the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market), and provides year-round entertainment. A former cidery, this unique 400-seat theatre features post and beam construction associated with traditional Mennonite architecture. You’ll also find the St. Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre just off the main street in the heart of St. Jacobs. This renovated 1860’s schoolhouse boasts an intimate venue of only 100 seats, so audiences feel they are part of the performance (and sometimes are!). Comedies, musicals, Canadian premieres and more are part of the season at Drayton Entertainment: check the website to see what’s on during your visit.
** Have you discovered your own Hidden Gem in St. Jacobs? Share a picture of it on social media: Twitter: @ExploreWR Instagram: explorewaterlooregion Facebook: @explorewaterlooregion Hashtag: #exploreWR
Ready to head Outdoors and Eat in St. Jacobs?