The Steckle Homestead
Kitchener-Waterloo is a centre of technological innovation, and with a joint population of 338,208 (as of the 2016 Census), it’s also among Canada’s largest urban areas. But another striking feature of the greater Waterloo Region is the coexistence of urban and rural, primarily reflected in the contrast between the Tri-Cities (Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge) and the surrounding Townships (Wellesley, Wilmot, Woolwich, and North Dumfries).
Right in the heart of Kitchener, however, is a little slice of farm life – and it’s been there for well over a century, serving the community in a variety of capacities. The Steckle Heritage Homestead stands towards the south of Kitchener, just below the bustling Laurentian and Country Hills neighbourhoods, and just above the most rapidly-growing part of the city (including neighbourhoods like Huron Park and Williamsburg).
But while there are many new development projects going on in this region, the south of Kitchener is still home to huge swathes of untapped, natural beauty, as well as some of the Region’s finest parks (including, notably, the Huron Natural Area).
The Steckle Heritage Homestead lies somewhat at the intersection between the urban and suburban life to the north and east, and the more rural living to the south and west. And it’s a true Kitchener wonder.
First of all, let’s look at the full name of this site: the J. Steckle Heritage Homestead. The J. Steckle in question was John Steckle (originally Stoeckle), a Mennonite farmer, weaver, and pastor who came to the area from Switzerland in the early nineteenth-century.
With his wife, Esther Bleam (yes, the farmstead is located on Bleams Road. Coincidence?), Steckle built the Homestead in 1833 and began to cultivate the surrounding lands. The Steckle family has owned the property ever since; somewhat surprisingly, only four separate Steckles have owned it over the course of its 175+ year history.
John Steckle II, the third owner, maintained a large woodlot around 1.5 kilometers east of the homestead; that woodlot is now Steckle Woods, one of Kitchener’s many lovely parks (it has a 1 kilometer trail, with maple trees and Trilliums as far as the eye can see).
Many of the buildings at the Farmstead were constructed in the 1830s and 40s, and many of them stand in their original state to this day. Thus, the City of Kitchener designated the J. Steckle Homsetead a heritage property in 1983.
At this time, another J. Steckle owned the 10.2 acres of land: Dr. Jean Steckle, the fourth Steckle to own the Farm. Dr. Jean Steckle led an incredible life, devoting much time and energy to developing nutrition and health-based programs and resources for developing nations and Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.
After her retirement, Dr. Steckle turned her energies to converting the J. Steckle Heritage Homestead into what it is today: an educational resource for urban children who may be unfamiliar with farm life, and a celebration (and commemoration) of the region’s rich heritage.
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Current Activities and Opportunities
The Steckle Homestead is an incredible place to learn about and better understand the Waterloo Region’s agricultural history. One of the Steckle Homestead’s abiding goals is to educate a new generation on both the legacy of farming in the region, while also celebrating the continuing efforts of today’s farmers.
This goal stretches back to Dr. Jean Steckle; her vision for her family farm persists to this day. In order to achieve this goal, there are a wide range of educational opportunities available at the Steckle Heritage Farm.
School Tours and Programs
School Tours are one of the best ways to experience farm life, learn about the products that are produced here, discover how they’re produced, and more. Class trips focus on different aspects of the farm during different seasons (this is, after all, a functioning farm!) – so in the Fall, students can enjoy a wagon ride and learn about harvesting, while in the Spring they can learn about baby animals and planting seeds (and more).
Steckle Heritage Farm also runs the ‘Growing Great Greens’ outreach program, through which students can grow crops in their classroom (this program also involves a visit to the farm). Learn more about each here: Class Trips and Growing Great Greens.
There are quite a few family opportunities at Steckle Homestead, too: Rise and Shine with Animal Friends, for example, is an incredible opportunity for kids ages 6-9 to get up close and personal with some of the farm animals (learn more here).
You can see all of the opportunities here, but let’s take a closer look at two of the programs.
This is one of Steckle Heritage Farm’s most fun opportunities: in the Little Farmers program, parents/guardians/caregivers accompany their children in a fun-filled morning or afternoon of hands-on activities on the Farm. It’s great for children living in the city to see what it’s like on a farm – and to see where their food actually comes from – and it’s amazing to have an opportunity within the city itself.
Activities include songs, cooking, crafts, and learning about animals, and getting dirty – all things that most kids enjoy. There are sessions for children ages 2-3, and for children ages 3-5. Find out more here.
Agriventure is a yearly summer camp for children ages 6 and over, and it’s yet another incredible opportunity at Steckle Homestead. Over a period of 4-5 days, children can become even more fully immersed in the lovely farm-life offered here, while participating in a range of fun activities, meeting new friends, and acquiring real-world skills.
There are several sorts of summer camp available (including half-day programs for younger kids, as opposed to the normal 8-hour sessions) – check them out here.
One thing to bear in mind is that Steckle Heritage Farm has numerous special events over the course of the year, so if you’re interested in taking part in one (or more) of these unique occasions, it’s best to keep an eye on their upcoming events page.
Just to give you a taste of the special events that took place in 2017 (and ‘taste’ is accurate, as many of them involve delicious food): an Easter Egg Hunt, a Farmers Picnic, a ‘Wake Up, Santa’ Pancake Breakfast, and multiple Tuesday Potlucks.
They’re laid back, and a lot of fun: these events are great ways to celebrate the holidays (or, in the case of potlucks, simply celebrate good, farm-fresh food) with the kids. View the Upcoming Events here.
Thousands of people visit Steckle Heritage Farm every year; indeed, many are repeat visitors. With Kitchener’s soaring tech industry, it’s important we don’t lose sight of our agricultural heritage, the early Mennonite settlers who cultivated this land, or the vital work that local farmers do to this day.
What better way to learn about and experience these things than in Kitchener’s very own functional, historical farm? Steckle Heritage Farm is located at 811 Bleams Road; go check it out for yourself!
Written by Will Kummer