Mennonites, St Jacobs and The Best Chips You’ve Ever Had

Its out last real free day in Canada.

Tomorrow, we head to Niagara for christmas with Jen’s family, then we are back to Orangeville for the evening to then board the train on the morning of the 26th to NYC. So, today is the last real day that we have to explore the region.

We feel as though we have done a pretty good job of seeing what we can of the east coast of Canada over the last 4 weeks. We’d explored Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, done a few bush walks and see the lakes in person. Add all the good times we got to have with the family and going to things like the junior ice hockey game, it has been a pretty full 4 weeks.

There were a few things that we would have liked to have done also. For instance, seeing a moose would have been a hoot, but seeing one in the wild is a bit of a rarity and incredibly unlikely. We had done our research, so we knew where the better spots were to go, but we didn’t have enough time to go to the national park, see a moose and come back all in the same day.

The only other thing that we had the opportunity to do today was to be able to go to a little place called St. Jacobs.

Now, St. Jacobs is a little place which has a pretty dense Mennonite population. For those, like ourselves, who don’t know what mennonites are, they’re pretty much like Amish, except not so Amish. So, in a way, kinda not like Amish, but you get what I am trying to say.

St. Jacobs is only an hour away, so we’re in no rush. The country side is beautiful and we finally have a pretty decent day upon us. We follow the signs and the GPS, improvising at the appropriate times that out logic would tell us to, until we reach the barn.

“Make sure you go to the markets, its at the barn. You can’t miss it, its where everyone else will be”, is what Aunty Jen had told us. You know what? She wasn’t wrong. We’re driving through the town, and then lo and behold, there is this monstrous barn, and everyone was there. So, 10/10 points to Jen for calling that one.

We are zig zagging to the far reaches of the car park until we finally reach a spot. There is this guy who is directing people to the appropriate parks, and there is clearly only one park available. I come around the corner, and I know that this is the only place we can park. He quickly walks along the back of the parked cars and points us to the only park available and directs us in like he’s just saved us from the headache of being able to locate a park.

Bro… We had spotted this park from 2 rows back. Pretty much everyone is just finding their own parks. He’s probably the market owner’s nephew or something.

We pull up, slap on the layers necessary, which in no way are enough to keep our warmth in or the cold out and head out to explore the markets. Our first stop, we rock up to this guy’s stall. He’s like all these bread good in brown paper bags, all stacked in boxes which are lining the front of his trestle tables. He’s some sort of slav or bogan italian, (not quite sure which), with a broken english accent. But, one thing he does really well, is win people over with his goods.

He’s serving someone else, and were just wondering whether this is the place that we are going to have lunch or not. He comes over to us, and says, without hesitation, “This bread is good. You should try”. This nuggety european-like punter then grabs a small loaf and just tears a mammoth chunk out the side of it.

“Here. You try”.

I’m thinking “Oh wow. Thats a fair of a taster for Bec and I”. I go to tear it in half for Bec to try some too, and before I can tear mine up to share with Bec, he’s got a whole other handful of bread and this one is for Bec. I’m surprised that he’s so chill about just passing out his goods all willy nilly like that.

We’re like, “Oh yeah, not bad..” Etc. Etc. All the things that you need to say in front of the person who owns the stall and gave you half a loaf to just ‘try’. Seeing that we’re still a bit unsure of whether we are going to spend our money there, he then reaches into one of his paper bags and pulls our some sort of a sweet flatbread-ish thing, filled with this nice custard tart-stuff. Again, this guy doesn’t know how to sell his goods just yet. He just tears it in half and in half again and Bec and I tuck into this guy’s bakery stuff. No worries at all. The guy is a freaking champion.

Were standing there, and I’m keen to buy some of this stuff. Partly because the food is great, and partly cos he just gave us enough testers to be able to feed a small village.

I’m not carrying any cash, so I look to Bec and say “Lets go get some cash out and we can some back later and get some food”, she holds my gaze for a second and then says “Yep. Sounds good”. I tell the guy, and off we go. What I didn’t know is that Bec had money in her wallet, and she thought I knew. So, there was a bit of a miscommunication. She thought that I was making an excuse to leave and not buy, and I didn’t know she had the money. We didn’t end up going back there anyway.

Moral of the story is, if you’re on the low in the old $ department, go hit the St. Jacob’s Markets and score a free feed.

Were not even inside the markets right? So, we are still getting destroyed by the weather. I mean, its still a balmy 1 or 2 degrees, so thats not too bad. What is bad is the wind that is taking that 1-2 degrees and dropping it right down well into the minuses. Bastard. So, being that this is Mennonite Country, and that we have already passed two horse drawn carriages (which could be likened more to a wooden box on wheels than carriage), I am keen to get inside and see all these people rolling around in ankle length skirts and blokes with beards to rival moses himself.

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Market Hall #1

We get work our way around to the entrance of one of the barns, dropping in and out of each stall as we see fit. There are 3 barns in the markets, and this is one of the smaller ones. We open the doors, and my eyes are lit and ready to take in the oddity of the Mennonites. The second set of doors largely blocks my view, but I can still see a bit in and there are a few people at the entrance just wearing ‘normal’ attire.

We bound through the second set of doors, and to my bewilderment, there is not a single Amish-like soul in sight, and I am severely disappointed. Among a handful of stores, I can see a few ladies donning bonnets and long sleeve shirts, but that is about all. There’s not kids running around pushing a hula hoop along with sticks. No mums with babies wearing reusable cotton nappies. No horses tied up out the front.

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!

I very quickly accept the fact that my anticipation of the Mennonite community is nothing like what it really is. Lesson #1 for today.

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Wooden Bowties, the latest mennonite fashion.

We spend the follow hour or two wandering through the market and stopping to enquire at all the things that tickle our fancy. One particular store that we quite liked was this place where this lady made bbq tools, but with all these different sports team’s logos cut out of the utensils. I can’t even remember how the conversation started, but it was so natural that I can’t recall how or why. Nonetheless, we have this lady named Jane start chatting with us. She starts telling us how back in the 70s, she worked in Australia for a year and loved it. Most people have the same thing to say about Australia, especially when we tell them about the west coast. Almost everyone has been to the east coast, but everyone usually says something like “Oh, I would love to visit Australia one day”, said with intentions as strong as my first day back at the gym.

The cool thing about Jane though? She has actually spent time in Australia and didn’t try to come up with some impossible means of relating to us. It was nice to just have a chat. She is so full of excitement and passion and its pretty infectious. I find myself chatting with her and she’s a bit of a hoot and the sort of person that makes it easy to get along with.

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As fresh as the Prince of Bel Air

We continue to bump into her for the rest of our time amongst the markets at different intervals, and I mean that we saw her like 4 or more times. It was hilarious. She would see us again, and say “Oh, when you get up to this stall, the guy’s name is _____. Ask him about the camels. It will flip him right out”. Haha. Just giving us the inside scoop so we can mess with someone’s head. These are the sort of people that I need more of in my life. I spy myself a small travel tripod that I want to get my hands on, and of course Jane rolls on by and swings in with another quality ad-lib conversation starter. We get chatting for probably another 5-10 mins, and as she is leaving, she casually asks “Oh. What are you both doing for christmas?”
“Were heading up to Niagara with my Aunt’s family”

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“Oh good. If you didn’t have anywhere to go, I was going to invite you to have christmas with us”

Legit, my boney little Australian heart melted a little. She was one of the nicest and most genuine people I have met in the small portion of our travels so far. This is the kinda person I wanna be too. I can’t wait to have our own home so we can do that kinda thing also hey.

Props to you Jane. I love people who set brilliant standards for others to follow. You’re a bloody legend.

She continues to enquire about the rest of our trip and tells us that her son was in Geneva and she could have put us in touch, and that she has friends around the place that we might be able to get in touch with.

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Steaks, to end all steaks.

For us, this is what this trip is about.

Bec and I didn’t want to just segregate ourselves from the rest of the world while we travelled. We want to go knee deep into cultures and countries that we are utterly unfamiliar with. We wanna see things we haven’t seen before and meet people that would never meet in Australia. We’re all about new experiences and an adventure, and people like Jane are the cogs in this whole machine.

I live to meet people like this.

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Barns, upon Barns

We wander through the final barn and we are inundated with fresh and immaculate produce from the surrounding region. The barn is all exposed ceiling and the giant yellow stained timber beams stand as statements to the craftsmanship of the builders for this place. You walk in and you are greeted with this massive melting pot, where people are selling all sorts of cheeses, cured and dried meats, and our personal fav, the fresh cooked crisps.

Oh man. They have this machine, where you feed potatoes in through a tube at the start of the machine, and there is a slicer which slices the potatoes in to thin discs, which then fall into a frier, and get tossed through the machine and back, fall out the back of the frier and into a bowl. The ladies will then add the necessary flavours and serve them up in giant bowls for you to try. Never in your life have you ever tried chips as good as these.

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Bulk Chips. I mean. BULK. Chips.

The chips that we tried were no more than about 15 mins old. The crunch was perfect and the flavour was immaculate. You could not fault it whatsoever. We continue to explore the rest of the building, including the upper level, which gives you a creepy vantage point to scope out the rest of the punters minding their own business below you. The market adventure comes to a halt sooner than we anticipated. Being that we don’t really want to head home yet, we decide to take a little while and walk the streets of St. Jacobs and explore what all the stores have to offer.

As mentioned in previous posts I’d written, Canada does gift shops well. I have come to see that they are just really good at retail and customer service, generally. For instance, one of the stores that we walked into had hot apple cider on a table on the right of the door, and on the left sat a few biscuits and dip for the guests to try. Thats brilliant. On top of having great products and service to match, they’ve got perks that you get to take advantage of just for walking in the door.

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Original coffee grinders

You’re pretty much treated like royalty. Simply for gracing them with your presence, you’re given gifts. This, my fellow readers, is real life.

We spend an hour or so exploring the store fronts, and we keep noticing shop windows with ‘RIP Walter’, or just ‘Walter’ in the window. Curious, we ask one of the store clerks who Walter is. I’d read on facebook just the other day that Walter, the founder of Home Hardware had passed away. I didn’t put 2 and 2 together though. Turns out that Walter, the guy who started a multi-multi-million dollar hardware store, which is known globally, lived and died in this tiny-ass town called St Jacobs. Who would have thought?

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“Making my way down town, walking fast…”

Their head quarters is still in the town, and he would still frequent the main strip. Even the store lady that we were talking to just got back from his funeral within the hour and told us that he lived just up the road. Crazy right? He seemed like a champ, and there was an apparent respect throughout the entire town for him. Very very cool to see.

We finish exploring the town and touch things our of budget just for fun.

We are met with people assuming that we are from England or South Africa, as they make their best attempts to be overly friendly and build relations with their prospect customers. To be honest, I kinda get tired to telling people where we are from and how long we are travelling and where else we intend on heading for our trip etc. etc. But, I also am reminded that if I was in their shoes, I would probably just be trying to be nice and show a genuine interest in the person visiting my country also.

We’re satisfied with our explorations for the day, and we pack up to head home. Our half-Amish community had served us incredibly well. 10/10.

Come Back Tomorrow,

Billy.

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