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.


impudent strumpet said...

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.

How on earth do you DO that?

John F said...

How on earth do you DO that?

We get special training starting in elementary school.

L-girl said...

I find it amazing and so refreshing.

I've been in many places in the US where people think nothing of asking you questions that I find nosy and intrusive. And I'll think, if this is what passes for friendliness, no thanks, I prefer the anonymity (often interpreted as unfriendliness) of a big city.

But for me this is the perfect mix.