While Waterloo-based BlackBerry first put Canada’s “Technology Triangle” region on the high-tech map, you’re not here for any geek-chic offerings. Less than 90 minutes’ drive from downtown Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo has a funky-modern art scene, with museums showcasing works by cutting-edge Canadian and international artists.
Not 10 miles away from this 21st-century cool, however, you’ll find a dramatic contrast: one of North America’s largest communities of Old Order Mennonites. These plain-dressing farm folks still drive their horse-drawn buggies along the country roads and sell their locally grown produce and handmade quilts at St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market.
In the evening, celebrate this mix of classic and contemporary with dinner at a posh country dining room that also happens to be a Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant. Here are the details you need to plan your get-out-of-Toronto arts and culture day.
Start your morning at St. Jacobs, Canada’s largest year-round farmers’ market, where many of the vendors selling fruits and vegetables, Ontario maple syrup and homemade jam come from the local Mennonite community. The don’t-miss market snack is a crisp, doughnut-like apple fritter served hot and dusted with sugar. The market is open Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and in the summer Tuesdays (through August 26) from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. as well.
To learn more about the Old Order Mennonites, along with other Mennonite groups around the world, visit The Mennonite Story, an excellent multimedia exhibition on King Street. Then, take a drive into the countryside around St. Jacobs, where you’ll likely spot at least a few horse-drawn wagons. Stop at the Mennonite-run Wallenstein General Store for some coffee and a look at the traditional hats, clothing and other products on offer. After that, drive over to the atmospheric West Montrose Covered Bridge. Known as the “Kissing Bridge,” this 1881-built wooden structure spanning the Grand River once provided privacy for couples crossing in their buggies.
Come back to the 21st century with a visit to Waterloo’s ultramodern Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, a small art space that showcases the work of Canadian and international ceramic and glass artists. The retail shop is an excellent spot to purchase high-quality, one-of-a-kind jewelry, ceramics and other crafts.
If you’re ready for lunch, pop into the nearby Taco Farm for a smoked pork belly taco topped with grilled pineapple salsa or the fried chicken finished with tequila, honey and lime. Peruse the tequila bible, which has more than 40 varieties, and put together a flight so you can do a bit of sampling.
Don’t tipple too much, though, since you still have plenty of exploring to do. Even if you’re not interested in local history, it’s worth a look at the striking Waterloo Region Museum, with its eye-popping rainbow-hued façade. Inside, the multimedia exhibits showcase the region’s diverse immigrant communities and their contributions to the modern tech-driven city.
Compact but cool, the free Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery changes up its exhibits several times a year. On view till mid-September is “Extraordinary Folk,” a showcase of contemporary folk art from around the world, drawn from the private collection of Canadian philanthropists Joey and Toby Tanenbaum. The fall calendar includes “False Clues,” featuring 40 photographs by Montreal-based artist Lynne Cohen, and “Everywhere Ghostly is Nowhere Bodily,” a presentation of the work of Calgary-based multidisciplinary artist Jason de Haan.
After this day of culture, you’ll want to unwind over a fine meal. The top spot for dinner in the Kitchener-Waterloo area is Four-Star The Dining Room at Langdon Hall, a first-rate restaurant on the 200-acre country estate. Executive chef Jason Bangerter sources many of his ingredients from the property’s own farm and local producers, creating dishes such as milk-poached veal paired with crispy sweetbreads and salsify, or the vegetarian-friendly plate of Jerusalem artichokes, baby turnips and smoked nut crumble. Save room for treats like the violet bavarois (fluffy pudding) with spring pea gelée and wild flower tea sorbet, or the smoked pecan butter cream panna cotta with fresh huckleberries.
And if you don’t want to make the drive back to Toronto after your lavish evening meal, book one of Langdon Hall’s 52 rooms and suites. Choose from the smaller historic units in the main house or go for a more contemporary and spacious suite in the surrounding buildings overlooking the lawns and gardens. Either way, you’ll wrap up your day of art, history and fine dining in luxurious comfort.