Have you ever wondered what it would be like to immerse yourself in another’s lifestyle?
Ontario has a wide diversity of cultures, each with its own customs and traditions. Most recognizable in this rural area are the horses, buggies, and neatly manicured, flower bordered farms of the Mennonites. Many of these families have hobbies, garden produce, or small businesses to augment the farm income, but often these small businesses struggle to make it viable.
The history behind Misty Meadows at Conn, which evolved from a roadside stand to a general store complete with in-house bakery, demonstrates how determination can reach a goal if one is willing to work hard enough and hang on long enough. Alvin Martin was eventually able to attain his dream. He’s also a man of vision, and realized he was fortunate in that his success was partly due to location on a busy highway. He knew others on the gravel sideroads and concessions weren’t faring as well. Alvin had the brainwave that instead of each struggling independently with his own little business that they all work together to get the word out. Martin was familiar with all his neighbors and knew which one provided each service. Some were quite receptive to the idea of a joint endeavor, others weren’t interested.
Families talked with each other. The idea was discussed with township officials, and they worked with an independent Consultant Linda Reader for guidance and marketing. An award winning package evolved called “The Horse and Buggy Trail”.
It’s been a slow process but 2013 marks the third year of operation. The descriptive brochure lists thirteen places of interest that one may visit. The trail, which meanders up and down through a large part of Southgate Township, can be done by car, cycle, or arrangements made for a buggy ride. The trail itself can’t be done by buggy as a horse could not be expected to go the entire 70 kilometres.
Starting at Conn (Corner of Hwy 89 and Grey Road 14) the trail threads its way through scenic farmland as it winds towards the historic village of Holstein noted for its stone walls, spring Maple Syrup Festivals, summer Bluegrass Festivals, Rodeos, and non-motorized Christmas parades. There’s a combination Post Office and General Store where children’s pennies are still accepted for candy.
Set yourself a leisurely pace. You will encounter horse drawn buggies. Slow down and give them a wide berth when passing but wave to the folks. Everyone you meet is friendly and helpful.
Immerse yourself in a conservative culture that embraces home and family first, but always welcomes visitors.
See the gardens such as Rocky Line Produce where David and Eileen Martin harvest garlic, potatoes, onions, beets, other vegetables and cut flowers. The garlic has been well received and the plot has been increased to the current two acres. By mid August it was almost sold out. David is a relatively small producer with only half an acre of potatoes. These he digs with a small one row digger and bags by hand. This is in sharp contrast to neighbor John Martin who has many acres of potatoes necessitating harvesting by more complicated mechanical means. In early August he was supplying Misty Meadows with potatoes as well as distributing to various grocery stores and restaurants as far as Alliston.
The early potatoes are smaller and dug while the stems are still green. Although welcomed by consumers, the shelf life of these new potatoes is only a few weeks. More mature potatoes dug before frosts are larger but only stay firm a few months. Regular harvesting is done after the stems have completely died down and this potato will store through the winter. John also operates Country Lee Furniture and has a small showroom currently displaying bedroom furniture and a glass topped dining table with matching china cabinet.
There are three woodworking facilities listed on the trail system. All specialize in handcrafted solid wood furniture including custom kitchens and vanities from a choice of many woods & finishes.
At Riverside Maples members of the Lester Wideman family will explain the wood fired evaporator which produces tasty maple syrup. You will also see the machine and hear how they make maple butter. The storefront cabinet sports syrup containers of all sizes plus a variety of handmade kitchen accessories.
Maple syrup, jams, jellies and other goodies are also available at Heritage Lane closer to Holstein.
For the seamstress or quilter there’s a huge selection of sewing machines, thread, fabric, notions and devices at Creekbank Sewing Machine Shop (the one stop sewing shop). Here Minerva Knorr and staff hold sewing classes, and arrange for machine repairs and servicing.
A few miles down the road Brenda Martin has invested in an embroidery machine and does custom designs. On holiday weekends she sets a booth at Misty Meadows. When the public asks for, or suggests something she doesn’t have, she builds on these ideas to increase her wares. Unfortunately not all items make use of her machine’s intricate embroidery patterns but there’s a variety of aprons, tablecloths, placemats, strip fabric purses and Developmental Baby Balls (an easy-to-grab, stuffed sectioned ball that won’t roll away).
As you wander you will find roadside stands of fresh produce, buckets of gladioli (or the flower of the month), and signs for other venues such as a welding shop or bicycle repair.
Some meat places such as Kountryroad Farm prefer to have an appointment. They produce farm fresh oven-ready Muscovy ducks for local market as well as restaurants in the G.T.A. Because it’s a controlled environment visitors are restricted in certain areas. Others such as J-Mar Meats, an old fashioned butcher shop just off Hwy 6, is open daily with cheerful sales clerks providing a wide variety of traditional beef and pork cuts.
As you follow the brochure map and visit the various farms there is intrigue in seeing barefoot girls with pigtails and long dresses, and boys with straw hats. If you wish to photograph as you travel, do so with respect to the Mennonite culture which chooses not to pose for pictures.
The goal of discovering Southgate and uniting the voices of the small businesses promotes the local food movement, as well as providing furnishings for the home. Your visit is welcomed. The Trail is open year round and will provide whatever is seasonably available.
A better understanding into this quiet culture is provided on Discovery Days when parochial teacher David Martin explains the unique lifestyle of the Mennonites, their beliefs, and why certain things are done and many materialistic things ignored. This is a day trip featuring a buggy ride, tour of a working farm, a local feed mill, wagon factory, and a visit to a general store. The next scheduled trip is Saturday,
In this blend of cultures it must be remembered that most businesses are not open on the Sabbath and therefore there are no Sunday sales.
Short recreational buggy rides may be enjoyed anytime by contacting one of two locations. From Heritage Lane Carolyn Martin conducts rides down a private country path. During the jaunt you will experience the seasonal farm activities and hopefully be lucky enough to see songbirds and wildlife. To book an appointment call (519) 334-3177.
When jovial Clayton Bearinger tours the backroads he shares history of the Mennonite Community. To go on a combination buggy ride and barn tour with him contact (519) 323-3379.
Each year someone new joins the Trail. Eating establishments listed on the 2013 pamphlet are Suzanne’s Chip Wagon at Conn, The Spot Restaurant near Mount Forest, and snacks from Misty Meadows or the Holstein General Store.
For more information visit www.horseandbuggytrail.com or www.facebook.com/horseandbuggytrail where constantly changing events are posted.
Fall sightseeing tours are available and a trip includes bus transportation, guide, hot and cold lunch, visits to several farms and businesses, and a day in general filled with fun, fall colors and culture. The Back Road Tour is Saturday, September 14th. For more information call 1-888-635-8687.
As yet there are no lodgings registered on the Trail, however within an hour’s travel, and perfect for further autumn sightseeing, is Cedars of Lake Eugenia Cottage Resort. This is the official accommodation and culinary sponsor for The Trail. Chef Gary Gingras, shops the Horse and Buggy Trail for most of his meat and vegetables. While he doesn’t have an on-site dining room, he had the unique idea of providing gourmet meals either ready-made and delivered to the cottage, or fully prepared with instructions for the guest to cook themselves.
There are special overnight and weekend packages available for Trail enthusiasts during the autumn months at
As you leave the rural Trail setting after hours of meandering the backroads and crossroads, you’re in for another surprize – regular highway driving seems way
According to David Martin, one of the spokesmen for the Trail association, and referring to the interaction of cultures, “We as a community do not feel right to flaunt the Mennonite name, but we are happy to share our faith and culture if people are interested”.