Destination Ontario: Waterloo Region
By Cece Scott www.cecescott.com
Big city amenities, small town ambiance
Photography, Courtesy of Explore Waterloo Region
The cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge are known as the Tri-Cities. Situated in southwestern Ontario on the Grand River, the Region of Waterloo is Canada’s 10th largest metropolitan area.
A BIT OF HISTORY
From 1800 to the 1830s, Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonites, from upstate New York and Pennsylvania, moved north to Canada and settled throughout the Waterloo region. Today, there’s still a strong Amish and Old Order Mennonite presence in the area.
From mid April to late October, visitors can take a 75-minute Mennonite farm tour that includes a stop at an Old Order Mennonite farm. The Old Order refers to those Mennonite groups of Swiss/German and south German heritage who continue to practice a lifestyle without many elements that are associated with modern technology. The tour also includes a stop at the Farm Quilt Shop, where local, handcrafted items can be purchased.
NATURE AT ITS BEST
The region of Waterloo has more than 500 kilometres of on-road bikeways, as well as off-road, multi-use trails. A part of the Trans Canada Trail, cyclists can ride through Kitchener, Waterloo and the Township of Woolwich to St. Jacobs Market.
The gently winding Grand River is one of Canada’s heritage rivers, and runs for more than 300 kilometeres. Four popular canoe routes are offered by the Grand River Rafting Company. The three-hour Cayuga Paddle is suitable for beginners. The three-hour Oneida Paddle and five-hour Cambridge Paddle are at an intermediate level. And, for the more adventurous, try the six-hour paddle from Glen Morris to Brant. The churning waters of the Elora Gorge attracts white-water enthusiasts. Launch your own craft, or rent one on-site, at the Grand River Conservation Authority.
St Jacobs Farmers’ Market is Canada’s largest, year-round farmers’ market, and features hundreds of vendors selling Ontario’s farm-fresh produce, crafts and imported goods, as well as scrumptious, ready-to-eat foods. It is located along the Conestogo River, eight kilometres north of Waterloo.
Located in the downtown core, the Kitchener Market is a popular Saturday destination for locals and visitors. Pick up farm-fresh eggs, produce, flowers and homemade sausages, from one of the many Mennonite-operated farms in the Woolwich and Wilmot areas.
A sure sign of spring is the The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, scheduled for the coming year on April 7th, 2018. It is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest, single-day, maple syrup festival. Founded in 1965, it continues to grow in popularity, and offers piping hot pancakes, as well as a half-mile long, outdoor mall, which features baked goods, handmade crafts and, of course, freshly made maple syrup. Buskers, live performances and saw-testing skills, add to the festivities. Visitors can also take a ride on the Waterloo Central Railway steam train, from St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market to Elmira.
The Waterloo Central Railway organizes themed train experiences. The Great Train Robbery Adventure fictionalizes a dramatic event (with outlaws and horses) where a substantial amount of gold is on board – en route to the Elmira Bank. Other themed excursions, include the St. Patrick’s Night Train, The Vimy Ridge Steam Train, and the Father’s Day Train.
The West Montrose Covered Bridge was declared a provincial historic site in 1960, and is known as the Kissing Bridge. Built from 1880 to 1881, the bridge is Canada’s oldest covered bridge, and the last wooden covered bridge in Ontario.
Established in 1969, Kitchener Waterloo’s Oktoberfest runs for nine days every October. Steeped in the region’s German heritage, it is known as the largest Bavarian Festival in North America, and the second largest in the world. In 2018, the festival celebrates its 50th anniversary from October 5th to the 13th.