North west of Toronto, there is a city called Kitchener. It was originally named Berlin for all the German immigrants that settled there. But during WW1, the name was changed because people didn’t like buying goods that came from a place called Berlin (understandably), even though it was Berlin, Canada, not Germany. Lord Kitchener had won an important battle at the time, so his name came forward to be used as a new town name. Interestingly, the name Adanac (Canada spelled backwards) was a contender in that nomination process. At any rate, the town took the name of Kitchener but still retains its German cultural roots. Hence, the Oktoberfest which is celebrated each year around this time of year.
Now, Leon and I attended the Munich Oktoberfest in 2010, so we had a very good frame of reference. This particular Oktoberfest weekend began with a very large German buffet where we ate large pretzels with various mustards, tried a sampling of the seasonal beers and consumed a very large amount of typical dishes such as sauerbraten, pork ribs, schnitzel, cabbage rolls and potato salad (both hot and cold). You get the picture. We rolled out of there (literally) and went over to the Kool Haus where hundreds of partiers were enjoying live music, lots of beer and the general ambiance of a big celebration.
Kitchener/Waterloo is also known as a university town with University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier University figuring prominently. You can imagine just how many of these young, sharp minds were letting their hair down and taking in all the fun of the Oktoberfest. At one point I went to the ladies’ room and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror with the backdrop of some of those young, vibrant university students. I almost died of shock! When did I turn into their mother? Oh well, no harm done. We went to bed late that night, looking forward to a full day at the St. Jacobs Farmers Market and some Mennonite culture.
We were spending the weekend at Arden and Haley’s home in Waterloo. Arden was an exchange teacher in Switzerland (2012). He teaches French and Social Studies, so I knew we would get an expert tour of the area. We started our morning with coffee and pastries in the kitchen of their fine 100 yr old home, surrounded by other exchange teachers (Julie and Marc, Switzerland 2012, Greg and Judy, AU, 2009 and Bill and Jeannette, AU 2008). Of course the talk always turns to our various exchange experiences followed by our travels during and since the exchange. After a few nibbles, we parted ways with Julie, Marc, Greg and Judy, and drove to St. Jacobs Market.
This is Canada’s largest outdoor market. It operates year round out of several buildings and exterior tented stalls. The goods vary from fresh produce and meats raised by the local Mennonites, to consumer goods imported from China and India. Leon happily found a small French press to make his coffee in Roadie, while I bought a ton of fresh veggies, several fresh loaves of bread and a liter or two of olive oil (I love my olive oil!). We sampled some hot apple cider but stayed away from the baked goods, and there were a lot of baked goods!! Keep walking, do not make eye contact…
Next, we drove to the town of St. Jacobs for a walk along the main street, which is dotted with very trendy, un-Mennonite shops. Arden told us the Mennonites used to drive their carts and horses up the street but as more and more cars started to appear when the town attracted more tourists, the horses got nervous from the noise of the cars and the Mennonites stopped using the main part of town as frequently. We continued our walk to the Information Center and learned all about the Mennonites during a short video. From there we crossed the street and checked out the Home Hardware store, which was the first one in Ontario. This particular location was filled with really nice furniture. If I was setting up a new house, I would have bought several pieces. Heck, I didn’t even know they sold furniture!! While the ladies oohed and aahed over the furnishings, the guys moved on to the broom factory next door. We all learned that brooms are actually made of corn, Carolina corn, to be precise. The top of the plant is turned into a broom with the help of a machine that looks like a large industrial sewing machine. Very cool!
At this point, Haley had to run home to pick up their children, so we continued our tour with a stop at the local restaurant for a hot bowl of soup and a large quantity of bread. Arden continued his lesson, telling us about the great quality of the water in the region. As a matter of fact, Nestle owns a large area where they draw their fresh water for bottling right from those kettle lakes. Arden pointed out that although so many of us are against using bottled water, many of us like a good bottle of beer at times and that same fresh water is used by the Sleeman Brewing Company for their beer, precisely because of the great quality of the water.
We all piled into the car and I drove as Arden pointed out some of the more interesting farms and schoolhouses in the Mennonite communities. One of the schools was the last public Mennonite school that had recently been closed due to complaints from the population at large over public funds being used to fund a school for a group that is not taxed like most of our Canadian citizens. Haley had explained to me that Mennonites do not carry Ontario Health Cards and do not contribute in the same way that other Canadians do, mostly as a matter of being pacifists and not fighting in wars. Arden added that that was one of the reasons some of the Mennonites came north from the US during the American Revolution, so as not to enter in the fighting. And you thought I just went to Kitchener/Waterloo to drink a lot of beer, didn’t you? Not this teacher!