Living in St. Jacobs
Welcome, welcome, one and all, to another edition of the WRX Property Group series on life in the Waterloo Region. Today, we’ll be looking at one of the most idyllic locales around: the one and only St. Jacobs, part of the Township of Woolwich!
First, we’ll take a look at St. Jacobs from high above, understanding where it stands in relation to other parts of the Waterloo Region. Then we will take a brief look back at the history of St. Jacobs. And finally, we’ll take a look at St. Jacobs as it is today: what it’s like to live there, and why you might want to take a closer look.
Where It’s At
The Regional Municipality of Waterloo is comprised of the centrally-located Tri-Cities (Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge), and four surrounding Townships (going clockwise from the bottom: North Dumfries, Wilmot, Wellesley, and Woolwich). Woolwich makes up the north and northeast segment of the Waterloo Region.
The Township of Woolwich is the largest constituent part of the Waterloo Region in terms of area, and with a population of over 25,000, it is the largest of the Townships in terms of residents. There are over a dozen residential communities spread throughout Woolwich (examples include Crowsfoot Corners and Zuber Corners), and the two largest are Elmira and St. Jacobs.
St. Jacobs: History and Geography
St. Jacobs is located toward the south of the Township, which places it just north of the City of Waterloo. Farm land and wooded areas surround the core residential area (essentially, the intersection of King Street North and Printery Road up to the intersection of King Street North and Sawmill Road). The mighty Conestogo River – one of the Grand River’s larger offshoots – flows alongside and through St. Jacobs.
This is already a distinct benefit to life in St. Jacobs: while the community itself is much smaller than the Tri-Cities to the south, and there are great green pastures, fields, farmland, and forests in every direction, it’s also not a long way to the bustling urban centres of Kitchener-Waterloo. But we’ll cover that more shortly – let’s see how St. Jacobs started out.
Starting in the early nineteenth-century, settlers began coming to what is now the Waterloo Region from Pennsylvania. The majority of these settlers were German-speaking Mennonites. Communities began popping up around the Conestogo River in the 1830s, and St. Jacobs was one such community.
The community’s population increased over subsequent decades, and it got its name – at first, Jakobstettel – as industries including a flour mill and a tannery opened their doors. By the time of Canadian Confederation, St. Jacobs had a schoolhouse, shops, a post office, and a population of over 400. From its earliest days, and to this day, St. Jacobs has a strong German influence, and the village and its surrounding area is home to many Old Order Mennonites.
Life in St. Jacobs
Let’s get into the heart of the matter: what’s it like to live in (and around) St. Jacobs? First of all, let’s consider what sets it apart from Kitchener-Waterloo. The most obvious is size: the core residential area consists of just a handful of major streets, and the total population (as of the 2016 Census) is around 2000.
The other major difference is the ‘city’ versus ‘rural’ dichotomy. Kitchener-Waterloo has numerous bustling commercial centres, large (and rapidly growing) populations, and an economy centred around (among many other things) tech, service, manufacturing, and knowledge-based industries. St. Jacobs, by contrast, is more rural; has an economy driven by unique shops, restaurants, and tourist opportunities; and offers the benefits that come from being closer to nature and having a village setting.
However, it’s not entirely correct to view this purely as a dichotomy: yes, St. Jacobs is a small place, with rustic country roads travelled by traditional Mennonite horse-drawn buggies. But the fact of the matter is that, although living here has unique benefits over life in Kitchener-Waterloo, it’s a very short distance to Kitchener-Waterloo from here. Indeed, whether 16 minutes by bus, or 8 minutes by car, residents can quickly and easily get from the top of St. Jacobs-proper to Conestoga Mall in Waterloo.
The second point is that St. Jacobs is not so small as to have little in the way of shopping or dining within its boundaries. King Street North (as we’ll explore shortly) is lined with shops and eateries; the very first Home Hardware, as well as the retailer’s headquarter, is here; and the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market has plenty within its doors, and there is also a large commercial area next door to it that includes a Walmart Supercentre.
To get a sense of just how much there is to see and do in St. Jacobs, take a look at the Village Walking Map (here). Note that this is just a map of the shops, restaurants, and various attractions in St. Jacobs-proper; even with this ‘zoomed-in’ view, which excludes the St. Jacobs Market area, it’s an impressive array of opportunities within a small community: over 50 distinct points!
South of the Village of St. Jacobs is the Market District, which is dominated by the one-of-a-kind St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market. The St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market is the main attraction – and believe me when I say it lives up to the hype, whether you just go to browse or feast on apple fritters – but there’s even more to see here, too. From the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse Theatre to outlet stores, it’s a great part of St. Jacobs (again, you can read more on this in our ‘Things to See and Do in St. Jacobs’ article).
The heart of life in St. Jacobs is having access to the village itself, with all of its charms. The community is small yet scenic and diverse; residents have access to the sprawling farmland and beautiful natural attractions (the Health Valley Trail and the Millrace Trail, among others, are beautiful paths that run along the Conestogo River). But while living here enables a rural life and setting, the opportunities of the city are only ever a short drive away: close enough to visit, but far enough to feel distinct.
What Is There to See and Do in St. Jacobs?
There is the St. Jacobs ‘Market District’ right along the City of Waterloo’s northern border, which features the bustling market area, hotels, and more; and the primary residential area of St. Jacobs, which is a little further north (along King Street North or Highway 85).
As noted, there are two slightly separated parts of St. Jacobs. Let’s start with the part that’s closest to Waterloo first, as it’s the site of several of the most widely-known attractions in the Township (and, indeed, the region).
Moving up to the heart of the St. Jacobs community, there’s much more to discover and enjoy. We’ll start with the other most popular area: St. Jacobs’ downtown strip. To start us off, one of the best ways to get to downtown St. Jacobs is via the Waterloo Central Railway. With its main station in the Market (and one within the City of Waterloo), you can take a historic train along historic tracks to the cusp of St. Jacobs’ historic downtown. You can even enjoy the museum car on the way there! Details are available here.