Who loves a good bike ride? I do as long as the hills aren’t too steep. The Township of Woolwich in the Waterloo Region is the perfect place for a bike ride. You can do it on your own or you can sign up for a half day cycling adventure with Grand Experiences Outdoor Adventure Company and let them take you on a tour through Mennonite Country. I opt for the tour as I’d love a know a little background on the region and I bet my guide will know the best route and side stops to make the day as interesting as possible. Did you pack your bike shorts? Let’s ride.
The tour starts in the town of St Jacobs. I meet my guide in the parking lot behind the old mill that is right on the Conestogo River. I can leave my car here for the day without any problem as this is the start and end point of the tour.
Once I’ve fitted my helmet and adjusted the bike for comfort we are off. My guide is asking me a lot of questions. What would I like to see? How experienced am I with road cycling? You get the point. He is sussing out what I am interested in as each tour can be customized to give the individual riders the experience they will enjoy the most.
The first part of the cycle takes us along a trail that separates the Conestogo River from the feeder trench that was dug to divert water from the river to power the Mill.
At the end of this part of the trail, there is a spectacular viewpoint that overlooks the river. You can’t see it here both sides of the river have locals fishing for their dinner.
Back on the bike we go. This time part way by road and part way through trails. This takes us right into the rural countryside and signs that we have entered Mennonite Country start to emerge. PRO TIP Farm buildings with green roofs tend to indicate the family is of Mennonite origin.
One sigh you are in Mennonite Country is the small piles of hay in the field. These were cut by hand by the local Mennonites that own and work the farm. This is back-breaking work and it is how they live. There are no machines doing it for them.
During our cycling, I had mentioned how much I love Butter Tarts so our guide took us on a route that stopped in the town of Hawkesville at Sunnycrest Home Baking. OMG, I fell in love immediately. Completely owned and run by Mennonite women everything here is made from scratch with no preservatives or additives. Good honest baking and it is CHEAP! Bring cash because they don’t take credit cards. I bought a tart to enjoy in the moment but came back later on my way back to Toronto and stocked up on pies, tarts and bread for friends.
I didn’t want to leave, but we had more road and trails to cycle. My guide had a special place in mind for our next stop. Knowing how I love to find hidden gems he took me to a Mennonite family home that has a home-based business selling crafts and quilts. A Mennonite Quilt is a work of art and Viola Brubacher is a master craftswoman. People from around the world have found her and ordered quilts which she makes and ships to them.
These quilts are two of 18 she showed us. She sells them for only $800 whereas a quilt similar at a farmers market stall would go for over $2000 + tax. Best of all she is so humble about her skill.
Also at Viola’s farm, I was able to witness one of her Grandson’s showing one of the miniature horses that the younger kids ride. I really feel like I’ve stepped back in time.
My last and final stop before returning to St Jacob’s is the Wallenstein General Store in Wallenstein of course. Why here? This general store is a throwback to the good old days. They sell everything. Plus they carry a full line of clothes, shoes and hats for the local Mennonite community. Where do you shop in Mennonite Country for Mennonite things? In Wallenstein of course.
I am not sure how many kilometres we covered in total but it was a great day on a bike with Grand Experiences. I’m exhausted and happy to rest for a bit. Perhaps a beer tasting next door at Block Three Brewing is in order before I head to dinner and my hotel.
As we were arriving back in St Jacob’s the moment I wanted to photograph all day occurred. I saw four young Mennonite boys with their fishing poles and buckets all marching off to the Conestogo River to fish. I was a Little House on the Prairie moment for sure.
If you want to find out more about the history of the local Mennonites and how they came to be in this part of Ontario plan a visit to the Mennonite Story & Visitor Centre in St Jacob’s. It tells you all you’ll need to know about why this is Mennonite Country and their impact on the community today.