Township of Woolwich

About Woolwich Township

By looking forward and working together for a better community, the Township - through its corporate team of professional staff, volunteers, and elected officials - constantly strives to design and deliver the highest quality of services and facilities possible so whether you reside here, are visiting, or have a business in Woolwich, your quality of life experience is second to none. 

The residents of Woolwich have a great deal of pride in their Township. With its rural heritage and bountiful harvests, Woolwich offers ways to experience a taste of country while still maintaining thriving business communities and beautiful residential areas.

Here, quiet roads wander through a patchwork of fields and farms, where common sights include 'slow moving vehicle' signs and the occasional Old Order Mennonite horse-drawn buggy. Dotted through, are ten settlement areas, each offering its own unique character.

  • The bustling shops of Elmira and St. Jacobs feature specialty foods, unique clothing and gifts, restaurants and theatres. 
  • In Conestogo you can shop for antiques and gifts, as well as enjoy a dinner concert. 
  • West Montrose is home to the "Kissing Bridge", the last remaining covered bridge in Ontario.
  • Winterbourne is graced by a majestic two span, single lane steel bridge crossing the Grand River.
  • The spire of St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church in Maryhill, an area landmark, is used by the Region of Waterloo International Airport located in Breslau. 
  • Heidelberg was given its name by an early German settler; Bloomingdale was incorporated as a village in 1861; and a must stop is Floradale, where you can indulge in a scrumptious cream bun at a small bake shop in the village centre.

These characteristics help make Woolwich a truly special community. Welcome.


Communities and Landmarks

Elmira

In 1834, Edward Bristow became Elmira's first settler when he purchased 53 acres of land for 50 cents per acre.  First called Bristow's Corners, then West Woolwich in 1853, the settlement adopted the name Elmira.  Edward Bristow established the settlement's first store, tavern, shoe shop, as well as, a potashery.  It is also interesting to note that the first post-office was located in his premises, only to be moved in later years to Christmann's Hotel.  The earliest inhabitants were of English and Irish origin, including families named Halfpenny, Seaton, Bristow, Isenhour, Kenning, Thompson, Thomas and Girling.

In the 1850's, German settlers moved into the community.  Among these families were Oswald, Esche, Steffen and Tresinger.  These settlers followed the original settlement patterns of Waterloo County by other German immigrants, namely the Pennsylvanian Dutch, or more accurately, the Mennonites.

In 1861, The Elmira House was erected for the numerous artisans and merchants came to Elmira to earn a living.  This activity helped Elmria become known as an enterprising community.  In December 1886, Elmira entered a new chapter of its history with the incorporation of the settlement as a village by charter.  At this date, the population of the newly incorporated village stood at 760 people.  Throughout the 1870's and 1880's, Elmira acquired various cultural trappings, including a brass band (1873) and a library (1885), which boasted an initial membership of 20 people.

Industry has always held a vital place within Elmira.  Apart from a sash and door factory, Elmira possessed a flour mill.  This particular business was in fact, the community's earliest industry, built by a joint stock company.  In 1869 this business was purchased by John and Jacob Ratz. 

On January 1, 1923, Elmira, with a population of 2500, became an incorporated town and today Elmira is a thriving community of approximately 8,000 people with a variety of restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and specialty shops such as quilt, bridal and gift stores and home to the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival.

The Bandstand in Gore Park
The Bandstand, located in Gore Park, Elmira, is a reminder of the centre entertainment in a small town in the early 1900's.  It was built in 1912 by A.M. Bowman, from a design prepared by members of the Elmira Musical Society.  The bandstand was historically designated in 1985 and it was restored as a project to celebrate Elmira's centennial.


St. Jacobs

St. Jacobs, originally called Jakobstettel, was settled in 1819.  St. Jacobs developed as a thriving business community throughout the 1800's with a felt factory, tannery, glue factory, flour mill, saw mill, and furniture factory.  The village served the needs of surrounding pioneer farm settlements.  Situated on Arthur Road, St. Jacobs boasted four hotels by 1852 and one of these - Benjamin's Restaurant and Inn - is still operating today.  Benjamin's was first named the Farmers Inn and was for many years, also known as the Dominion Hotel.

The spirit and vitality of entrepreneurship that marked its beginnings is alive again today in the village of St. Jacobs.  The village is a bustling commercial centre where over 100 retailers, attractions, and restaurants cater to the interests of visitors to Woolwich. 

St. Jacobs features dozens of shops in historic buildings and in the downtown.

The two-kilometre Mill Race lures nature lovers to stroll along the Conestogo River, under tall trees, along a narrow path.

The Visitor Centre 'Telling the Mennonite Story' is an interpretation centre located in downtown St. Jacobs.  The Visitor Centre provides information and history of the Mennonite people living in the community.

Museums and Exhibits  Get a close-up look at the heart of St. Jacobs and its heritage by visiting these museums and exhibits in the Village of St. Jacobs' Mill.

  • Model Railway- Historic memorabilia and an intricate railway panorama that captures the charm of a bygone era.
  • Maple Syrup Museum- Exhibits, artifacts and models depict the development of the maple syrup industry.
  • Quilt Gallery- Ever-changing shows by top artists.
  • The Home Hardware Story - Discover how a turn-of-the-century village hardware store grew to become a national modern-day success, still calling St. Jacobs home.

Bloomingdale

The first settlers who were from Baden Baden Germany, arrived in 1826 and the village was incorporated in 1861.  Today, Bloomingdale is a quiet community with a variety of local businesses.


West Montrose

The village of West Montrose is south of Regional Road 86 between Elmira and Guelph. 

It is nestled on the banks of the Grand River, one of Canada's historic rivers.  West Montrose was first settled in 1806 by Scots from Montrose, Scotland.  The village was an industrious community with a woolen mill, saw mill, lime kiln, feed mill, two blacksmith shops, shoemaker and several stores. 

In 1902 the railway built tracks and a station north of the village to transport goods and livestock.

West Montrose is a great travel spot to visit the Kissing Bridge.


Heidelberg

Part of the village of Heidelberg is located in Woolwich Township and part is in Wellesley Township.  In 1854, the village was originally named Heidelburgh by an early settler after his home in Germany.

The Lutheran church congregation formed in 1845 and built the first log church in 1851.  The present lutheran church was built in 1869. 

The hotel, built in the 1840's was originally Henry Miller's Great Western Hotel.  Today it is still in business, although somewhat changed, the hotel offers great meals.

Heidelberg was once made famous by the limburger cheese produced at the Adam Steiss Cheese Factory.


Breslau

Fly into Woolwich Township for a weekend getaway!  Home to the Region of Waterloo International Airport. 

Breslau was established in 1850 when Joseph Erb built a dam, a sawmill and a grist mill.  The village was named after Breslau, the capital of Silesia, Germany.  The history of the area, however, dates farther back to the 1820's when members of the Cressman Mennonite Church began congregating in the homes of the early settlers.  In 1834, the first meeting house was built in Waterloo County.  The building itself was built in 1813 by Benjamin Eby and was moved to Breslau for the congregation.  In 1856, a brick building replaced the log structure and was moved to a location that later became part of the brickyard.  In 1908, a larger church was built using bricks from the old church and in 1968, a new front entrance, pastor's study, and several Sunday School rooms were added.  The name then changed to the Breslau Mennonite Church. 


Floradale 

Floradale is a farming community located in the Northern part of Woolwich Township. 

The first gristmill was built in the community in 1871 by Thomas Quickfall.  Dan Bowman, the sawmill owner, bought the business in 1908 and built an overshot waterwheel, 21 feet in diameter and 8 feet wide.  In 1926, the waterwheel was shortened to 16 feet in diameter.  The mill was operated by Bowman's son, Ishmael, from the mid 1930's until the business was sold.  Although the mill is no longer operating as a working mill, the overshot waterwheel can be seen through a window in the basement wall. 

For those who like to hike, the Elmira Lions Lake Trail goes through Floradale Community Park.


Winterbourne

This picturesque village is located to the east of the Grand River.  The fine stonework of the Scottish stonemasons can be seen in many of the older buildings throughout the settlement.  In 1854, William Henry Lanphier built a dam on Cox creek, so Winterbourne's first sawmill and gristmill were established.  Lanphier named the village Winterbourne, after his ancestral home in England. 

Chalmers Presbyterian church, on Katherine Street, remains virtually unchanged after 129 years.  The building is in good structural condition and everything in the church transports the visitor into the past.  The home located at 35 Katherine Street served as the Presbyterian manse for many years and this 1854 home is unique for this part of Ontario.  It was built by the wealthy Captain Lanphier and was a reflection of his station in life.


Conestogo

The area in the vicinity of present day Conestogo was first settled in the 1820s, on the Grand and Conestogo Rivers.  The first settlers were predominantly Mennonites who had emigrated from Pennsylvania.  They were followed by people of German and British background. 

The first mill in Woolwich Township was built in Conestogo in 1844 by David Musselman.  Known earlier as Musselman's Mills, the settlement was renamed Conestogo in 1852.  The name originated from the town and river of Conestogo in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. 

By the middle of the 19th century, Conestogo was a thriving community of about 300 people.  It boasted a number of businesses including a foundry, flour mill, sawmill, furniture factory, paint factory, flax mill, distillery, four hotels, three blacksmiths, two wagon makers and a cooperage, among others.  Two local brickyards produced the bricks of which many Conestogo buildings were constructed.  The slow pace of Conestogo's development after the 1870's has resulted in much of the village's architectural heritage being well preserved.

Conestogo United Church (now a private home)

Built by the Methodists in 1878, this picturesque little church, bearing a number of Gothic-revival details, was designated as a heritage building by Woolwich Township.  Interesting features include Gothic-arched windows, ornate barge-board (at eaves) and the use of contrasting colours of brick.

St. Matthew's Lutheran Church

The church, built in 1892, replaced an earlier one built by the Lutherans in 1854.  Of somewhat mixed style, it has numerous Gothic-revival elements such as the windows and spire.  Brackets located under the eaves suggests an Italian influence.


Maryhill 

Maryhill, originally called Little Germany or New Germany, was predominantly settled by Roman Catholic emigrants from Alsace, France and Germany.  St. Boniface Church has played an important role in the community.  The very first church was a small, crude building, built in the early 1830's by a priest, John Louis Wiriath.  It was the first Catholic church north of Dundas.  In 1847, under the auspices of a Jesuit priest, Louis Caveng, the building of a new church began on the east and opposite side of the road to the old church.  The new building, constructed of field stones, cost the pioneers $900.  This building was not plastered and was without a floor and furniture.  In 1854, a bell was brought from Preston for the church, and in 1860 the first organ was secured.

The present St. Boniface Church was built in 1877, on the site of the old church, by the priest, Clement Niemann.  Stephen Foerster came as an assistant to Niemann in June 1878 and that November, succeeded Niemann as pastor.  Foerster remained for 46 years.  Under his direction, a four room school and a large convent for the School Sisters of Notre Dame, were built.  In 1910, two new bells replaced the old one in the church tower.  In 1961, under pastor Vincent Pickett, the church was painted and redecorated.  The ceiling was lowered and new lights and wiring were installed.  The church is now 150 years old and still has a presence in the community.


Early History of Woolwich Township

The first settlers arrived in Woolwich Township in the late 1700's.  In 1798, William Wallace was one of the first settlers in the area after he was deeded 86,078 acres of land on the Grand River for a cost of $16,364.  Originally Block Three of Indian Lands, this area now comprises a large part of Woolwich Township.  The parcel of land called Woolwich was named in honour of a government surveyor. 

Wallace, who was a carpenter, then sold a rectangular 12 mile strip of land containing 15,000 acres at the extreme north of Block Three, to Lieutenant Robert Pilkington.  This territory was called Upper Woolwich until 1852 when it was then incorporated as the Township of Pilkington and attached to Wellington County. 

In 1806, Wallace sold the major portion of his tract to Mennonites.  Benjamin Eby, the secretary of the Germany Company had come to the area, along with his friend Henry Brubacher.  On a tour of exploration, the young men wandered into Wallace's Woolwich.  Enamoured by the country, Eby formed a land company in Pennsylvania.  The following year, he returned with a barrel of silver dollars, plus prospective settlers - the Musselmans, Martins, Hoffmans, and Gingerichs.  Wallace sold the Germany Company 45,185 acres of land at $1.00 an acre.  On May 1, 1807, Eby received the deed and the release of the mortgage.

During the war of 1812, Wallace disappeared and was suspected of crossing the border and signing up with the invaders of Upper Canada.  Seven thousand acres of land remaining in his name was confiscated by the government.  The remaining 893 acres came in to the possession of James Crooks, a native of Scotland, who sold it in small lots to individuals; thus the village of Winterbourne emerged.

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