On the Saturday morning of the long weekend, we looked for a half-day drive of interest to both of us. We settled on the Old Order Mennonite country around Mt. Forest, about 80 kilometers north of here.
The initial settlement began in the late 1960’s, as historian Isaac Horst and others bought farms there and established the first successful “daughter colony” of Old Order Mennonites from Woolwich Township, just north of Waterloo.
I dimly remember travelling to Mt. Forest years ago to “take notes” while Sam interviewed Isaac Horst. His wife Selina prepared a tasty noon meal for us, and talked about her market garden patch and stand along the road. Then about five years ago we took a half-day to explore the Mt. Forest settlement– numbering 180 families by 2002 – but hadn’t been back since.
Last weekend we enjoyed the healthy -looking fields of corn, beans and grain as we angled our way through the countryside. We stopped first at the crossroads hamlet of Conn, east of Mt. Forest on Hwy. 89. There at the Misty Meadows Country Market we bought a more-or-less current map of the settlement, showing the location of five churches, 12 schools, and many Old Order farms, identified by the “head” of the family.
After purchasing spelt bread, morning glory muffins, and bulk food staples at the market, we headed west on Southgate Rd. 4. I had fun calling out the names of farmers and checking the mailboxes to see if they matched. In many cases, they did. We found familiar Woolwich Township names such as Martin, Weber, Bauman, Wideman and Frey in abundance.
We stopped to take photos at the Saugeen Riverside School and the Riverdale Church on a nearby side road. Riverdale is the newest Old Order meetinghouse in the area, built in 2003.
We wanted to spend most of our time in the districts south of Mt. Forest. To head towards them, we drove down a rugged but beautiful “no winter maintenance” road with fields on one side and a canopy of trees overhead.
Southeast of Mt. Forest, we saw the oldest Old Order meetinghouse in the area (1972), constructed of yellow brick rather than the more common white frame.
The nearby Maple View School had the usual playground equipment – two swings, two seesaws, and a baseball diamond. Bike racks were also in evidence. At Tollgate School, constructed in 2005, we noticed a building addition underway and the usual flowers planted nearby.
In the cemetery of the Westdale meetinghouse, built in 1997, we found only seven tombstones, two of them stillbirths. This suggested to us a congregation of mostly younger families.
It being a very hot day, we didn’t see as many Old Orders on the road or engaging in outside work as we might have expected. Perhaps their long lanes hid what was going on better than in Woolwich Township, where farmhouses, lawns and orchards tend to be located near the roads. Also, we didn’t see as many signs out at the road for produce, maple syrup or farm businesses as we usually find in Woolwich Township.
After exploring these country roads, we decided to go back into Mt. Forest for lunch, ending up at a Coffee Cultures. We noticed a young man who looked homeless walk in the front door. He headed for the easy chairs and coffee tables halfway back, slouched in a chair, put his feet on a table, and promptly fell asleep. Before long, two police officers entered, woke the young man up, and gently led him out the back door.
We wondered: in a small town like Mt. Forest, where can a homeless person come inside to cool off on a hot day?
…As we left the area and headed home, Sam mused that the Old Order settlement nearly surrounds Mt. Forest by now (with fewer farms to the northwest). We noted that this migration out of Woolwich Township has really worked!
Question for Reflection:
What explorations do you enjoy on a hot summer long weekend?
Next week: TBA