Keeping within the borders of Waterloo Region for this week’s community profile, we’ll be looking at Elmira, Ontario. Set only 20 minutes north of Uptown Waterloo (and an even shorter drive from the attractions of St. Jacob’s and the amenities of King and Northfield in Waterloo) is this cozy community of a little more than 12,000 people. Key to Elmira’s charm is its ideal balance between the quieter lifestyle that comes with a small town in rural Ontario, and its proximity to all the amenities and modern conveniences of being so close to a major urban centre. This balance is best exemplified by the fact that you’ll likely see both Old Order Mennonites in horse and buggy and a state-of-the-art light rail system all within 15 minutes driving time.
A strong Mennonite presence in the northern portions of Woolwich Township dates to the earliest days of settlement in Waterloo Region. An initial wave of immigration took place at the turn of the nineteenth century, when the first of the Pennsylvania Dutch arrived to purchase sizable tracts of land in the area. Later European immigration included waves of settlers from Britain (including Edward Bristow, from whom the village’s initial name of ‘Bristow’s Corners’ was derived), and Germany. The village grew slowly over the 1800s, undergoing a change to its current name in the 1850s, welcoming both the Grand Trunk and Canadian Pacific railroads in the later 1800s, and opening a significant library with a Carnegie grant in 1893. By 1900, Elmira’s population had reached about 1,000, and was finally incorporated as a town in 1923 with a population of 2,500.
Today, Elmira can claim a host of amenities of its own, with excursions farther afield for residents only truly necessary for goods and services beyond the realm of the everyday. From multiple elementary and secondary schools to banks and pharmacies, to civic amenities, to restaurants and car dealerships – Elmira is a big enough place to support your family and keep you busy from day-to-day but is also handy enough to central KW to make a trip into the city a hassle-free experience. On a cultural level, the highlight of the year is undoubtedly the Maple Syrup Festival held in early April every year. This event attracts vendors from across the province and tens of thousands of visitors.
As has been the case everywhere else over the past year, housing prices in Elmira have climbed steadily as interest in smaller Southwestern Ontario communities has grown. While the market is hot enough there to exclude significant savings when compared to properties in Kitchener-Waterloo proper, Elmira does still offer a uniquely small-town charm, some fantastic old stately homes and a tight sense of community.
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