St.Jacob’s Market and Village, and the city formerly known as “Berlin”

A week ago, my husband and I celebrated our AnniverSaturday. Every year, in honour of the day we become an “us”, we choose the Saturday closest to the date and spend an entire day doing fun, local things. After my husband organized our one year wedding anniversary trip to Pittsburgh (read more here), this year it was my turn to organize a full day of fun in and around the GTA.

Given my husband’s German background, I thought that it was about high time that we explored the area that is best known for hosting the world’s second largest Oktoberfest after Munich – Kitchener, formerly known as Berlin. As you can read via the city’s website, there was an exceptional increase in immigration between 1816-1870s, many of who were Mennonites stemming largely from Germany. When the Mennonites, wanting somewhere to practice their beliefs without oppression, bought up most of the land in the area, the village was renamed Berlin, gaining official city status in 1912. After the start of WWI however, as anti-German sentiment grew, there was pressure for the city to change it’s name from Berlin, and in 1916, the city was renamed Kitchener, after Herbert Kitchener, the 1st Earl of Kitchener who had died that year while serving as the Secretary of State for War for the United Kingdom.

Stop #1: St.Jacob’s Market

To kick-start the day, after picking up some caffeine to kick-start our day into the right gear, we made head way to St.Jacob’s Farmer’s Market. I’d heard great things about the market, offering the freshest organic produce in Ontario and, well, I wasn’t disappointed.

The market, known as Canada’s largest open-air market, is really worth the visit. With one row offering fresh produce including the biggest tomatoes and potatoes I’ve ever seen and the other full of vendors playing German folk-music and selling everything from sweatshirts to sunglasses, there really is something for everyone. The market also offers an indoor section where you can find various items from jewelry to board games, leather jackets to hand-made crafts, straight from the farm. Both inside and outside you’ll see a mix of Mennonite and non-Mennonite farmers offering their goods at competitive prices.

At the end of your time spent roaming row after row of quality products, visitors can enjoy a selection of traditional home-made meats, cheeses, cookies, and breads (German breads = delicious). The hungry man can also take his choice of sausage, sauerkraut, doner, poutine, sushi and funnel-cake, all not-so-traditional but ever satisfying eats to be found around the market. I settled for two very crisp, delicious Ontario-grown apples for the road – after all, our celebratory Saturday had just begun!

Stop #2: St.Jacob’s Village

After spending the morning strolling through the market, we made the 3km drive to St.Jacob’s Village.

St.Jacob’s county is home to approximately 4,000 Order Mennonites who farm the surrounding countryside – but even they need somewhere to kick their feet up for a stroll in the sun. The Mennonite story however, is what welcomes visitors into the town by means of an introductory video and a history of the Mennonites as well as information on the many tours offered throughout the region. While we decided to opt out of any lengthy tours, we learned that among many (all of which are conducted in a horse-drawn carriage or trolley), including ones that take you from the village to the market, is one that brings visitors to a Mennonite farm, where you can see how Mennonites live and learn about the various orders throughout the region.

While we didn’t partake in a tour per-say, we did manage to score a free trolley ride, thanks to St.Jacob sparkles, a yearly event during which the Christmas lights come out and the village extends shopping hours to accommodate tourists, offering up samples of food and drink as well as free horse-drawn shuttles around the village. Having done my research, I was literally stalking the trolley and the minute I heard hooves, we were racing into the direction of the shuttle – it was worth it! Our driver was super-friendly and pointed out many historical buildings that would have gone entirely unnoticed – like the building that housed the 3rd dairy to ever be established in Canada – ever! Can you imagine? That’s old (well, Canada old anyway).

Post-trolley ride, we roamed into a few of the shops and cafes lining the main street of the village. There’s not a whole lot to the village itself but it’s a great spot to grab coffee with family or friends. From the looks of it, the most happening eateries included the Stone Crock (both the bakery and restaurant) and Benjamin’s (an old stage-coach stop and present-day inn and restaurant). Unfortunately, our appetite wasn’t big enough to enjoy a sit-down meal, but I did manage to grab a delicious apple-cider for the next part of our trip!

Stop #3: Trail-riding at Horseback Adventures

The next stop on our day of fun was a bit risky on my part. See, my husband likes animals but I wouldn’t say he loves them. Regardless, knowing that he hadn’t been on a pony since he was 8 years old, I decided it would be fun to organize a trail-ride, and thankfully the weather cooperated; at least I didn’t have to worry about that. The ranch I booked with was called Horseback Adventures and as we pulled up to the gates, I couldn’t have been happier that we were riding horses that roamed freely in fields that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see.

We were booked on a 45 minute trail ride through the woods. We had two tour guides who were positively delightful and kept a good eye on us, and our horses, throughout the rides. Having ridden quite a bit as a youngster, I was eager to try a trot or two and to my delight got paired with a horse who liked to run downhill. My horse’s name was Bailey while my husband mounted an older horse named Whiskey; both were beautiful Norwegian Fjords and very well-behaved, although Whiskey was a bit of a fuss-pot when it came to his “personal space bubble”. Who knew horses were so temperamental?

The trail-ride was a great success! Up and down hills, through the river and back to the ranch. It was a great success. Quite possibly the highlight of our little visit however, was when one of the dogs, a big but friendly boxer, jumped over the gate and into the pen of  Malcolm – an Alpaca (don’t ask) – who proceeded to clear the gate himself, and trot around myself and my husband, putting us in the middle of a black mare and a psychotic Alpaca – not somewhere you ever want to be. But we all escaped unscathed – even the Alpaca (although the dog got a good kick in the butt) and the two of us headed on to Kitchener to enjoy what was left of our very special day.

Stop #4: Frederick Street Inn and The Two Goblets

After getting a little muddied up on the trails, we checked into the Frederick Street Inn. The Inn was a bed and breakfast located directly downtown Kitchener. The Inn, run by a couple (the husband is German, the wife Canadian – coincidence? I think not) was conveniently located, in walking distance of major attractions, with free overnight parking! We arrived at the Inn to a very cheery red-headed lady who enthusiastically showed us around the house, pointing out the complimentary DVDs, tea and coffee, cookies, bread and jams: hooked! To top it off, she presented us with a free bottle of wine to commemorate our special day! How sweet. The room itself was lovely, nicely furnished with a whirlpool tucked into the bathroom that was outfitted with heated floors (that, by the way, is key during winter months). Was it worth the $140/night? I wanted to say yes, but to be honest the breakfast was a bit of a disappointment. We had arranged to have breakfast at 9am and were excited to enjoy the hot breakfast advertised on the website. Unfortunately we ended up having a pumpkin waffle for breakfast, which, after the dinner from the night before, was too much bread and not enough… well, anything else.

Oh, right! Dinner! I almost forgot. After getting ourselves cleaned up at the hotel, we headed to dinner at The Two Goblets, a 15 minute saunter from the Inn. The Two Goblets was advertised as a European restaurant, or schnitzel house. With a focus on German food, the restaurant was owned by a Romanian couple and thus offered signature dishes from Romania and Hungary (including Goulash!) We started with wine and then dove head first into  two delicious schnitzels, topped off with a piece of walnut and black forest cake. Yum! Dinner was scrumptious… and very filling! After a long day of walking around (including a mini-stroll through downtown after dinner) it was definitely time for bed. But now you can understand how we weren’t really in the mood for waffles the next morning…

Stop #5: Victoria Park

The last stop on our way home was a visit to Victoria Park, downtown Kitchener. Neither of us really knew what to expect and I can honestly say, we were positively shocked!

The park was huge (especially as far as urban parks go around the GTA) and really reminded us of times spent roaming around the Englischer Garten, in Munich! Complete with wooden bridges, ducks, geese, swans, benches, gazebos, parks and playground, the park provides a beautiful respite from the city for runners, walkers, couples, families and friends alike.

Our walk through the park proved the absolute perfect way to end what was truly, another perfect AnniverSaturday success.

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