a bit of small-town ontario with mom


Yesterday my mom and I drove to St. Jacobs, Ontario, a Mennonite community in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. It's a tiny little village, dolled up for tourist shopping and spending. I've been told by many people that it's a great place to see craft work, especially glass and quilts. Turns out that's overstating it quite a bit. There are two glass studios in town, and two quilt shops, and a small room called a Quilting Museum - and that's it. There's also an old mill that's been converted into shops. The shops are mostly independently owned and feature handmade work, so that was nice, too.

In a converted barn - photo above, taken with my cell phone, so poor quality - we watched two men making brooms with hardwood handles and corn-stalk bristles, using heavy iron machinery that they worked with both hands and foot pedals. It was really interesting. In the back of the barn, an artist was making Tiffany-style lampshades and leaded glass panels. In between was a jumble of antique glass bottles, tins, sleigh bells and all manner of ye olde junque.

At a quilt shop, we saw some masterpiece quilts made entirely by hand by Mennonite women. They were really knockouts. The quilts retail for around $1,000 and I can only hope the artist is seeing a decent portion of that.

My mom and I enjoyed chatting with some of the craftspeople about their work. People are incredibly friendly, as they are often are in small towns, but in small-town Canada people seem so genuinely warm and open. At the same time, people are reserved and polite, in the sense that they are not intrusive. It's such a sweet combination - and I find it makes me friendlier.

St. Jacobs is also known for a huge farmer's market, but it wasn't open yesterday and we weren't up for that anyway, and outlet shopping, which we avoid at all costs. We also saw several horse-and-buggies on the road. There are several Mennonite churches in the area and it seems a fair number of people live in the old Mennonite tradition. They're an austere bunch, and very conservative - but they don't make war, and in that sense they are among our finest people.

From there we took a pretty drive through cornfields and past small farms to the town of Elora. This is also a tiny town, catering to a more upscale crowd than St. Jacobs. The town was completely dead - many shops closed and almost no one on the street. I think it's the late-summer doldrums, and things are a bit more active in autumn.

We sat a bit in outdoor cafe, stopped in a glass studio and a few antique stores, took a quick look at the gorge - which Allan and I visited some time back with the dogs - and had dinner at a pub before heading back through the farmland to the 401.

It was especially nice to see the town's library, a beautiful old brick building situated prominently on the main street. The libraries in this area are part of a regional system, so the town's small building is really a branch of a much larger system, giving residents access to so many more resources. This is exactly the kind of place I can envision myself working.

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