Trans Canada Trail

Mill Race Trail

I refer you to the Woolwich Township web page pertaining to the Mill Race Trail.
St. Jacobs also has the Health Valley Trail.

Definition: Mill Race (millrace, mill run)

> a canal in which water flows to and from a mill wheel
> the current that drives the wheel
> mill race (millrace or millrun) is the current of water that turns a water wheel
> a sluice (from the Dutch "sluis") is a water channel controlled at its head by a gate
> a mill race, leet, flume, penstock or lade is a sluice channelling water toward a water mill.


The Mill Race Trail is a 2 km footpath from Front Street in the village of St. Jacobs to Three Bridges Road and is part of The Great Trail (formerly the Trans Canada Trail). The trail follows an 1860's vintage mill race and consists of a ridge of soil removed when creating the mill race.

Mill Race Sign

As you walk from the village to Three Bridges Road, the mill race will be on your left while the Conestogo River is off to your right. The trail is usually very close to the mill race. However, the distance between the trail and the Conestogo River varies from about a few metres to about  450 m. The 4 km round trip is easy and flat with a few memorial benches along the way. Where the trail reaches Three Bridges Road there is a dam across the Conestogo River that was used to divert water through the mill race in its hayday.

Like many early settlements, the establishment of Jakobstettel depended on the availability of water for agriculture, power for mills, and transporation. The Mill Race Trail ends at Three Bridges Road (Township Road 21). However, The Great Trail (Trans Canada Trail) turns right along Three Bridges Road and continues across the river on a Mennonite low level bridge that was designed to flood. The bridge is often closed during high water levels in months like March.

If you cross Three Bridges Road, you will see a path that leads a bit further (about 150 m) out to the dam (43.534670, -80.572066). Apparently the first dam was wooden and built in the 1840's and helped control the flow of water into the mill race. The power from that moving water was used by Jacob Snider and his 1851 grist mill. Imagine the labour and time involved to build such a system.

Mennonite Low Level (Buggy) Bridge (1962)

Mennonite Low Bridge

This is a 7 span concrete slab, low-level bridge (buggy bridge). There are no railings since this bridge is flooded every year. The Mennonite community designed the bridge, provided the labour and apparently built the bridge in three days. Woolwich Township provided the materials and the heavy machinery. Although the Mennonites had experience raising barns and building small wooden bridges, this was their first attempt at a large-scale concrete bridge. It was built to funnel buggy traffic off Highway 85, and thus, it is affectionately called the "Buggy Bridge". This bridge provides a short cut between St. Jacobs and Three Bridges. Today "Three Bidges" is considered to be an area along Hawkesville Road where there are now two bridges, not three (Google Maps Street View). The Mennonites built three similar bridges along the Conestoga River, without the aid of the Township, after the success of the Mennonite Bridge. The bridge is made of reinforced concrete.

The bridge drawings are displayed on a wall in the Municipal Township Office, in Elmira. The drawings consist of rough sketches on a recycled piece of paper. The building of this bridge was organized similar to a traditional "barn-raising". Eight experienced builders oversaw forty young workers. It was a community effort. In three days, the foremen dismissed the main workforce, and in less than a week the bridge was built. The bridge was poured in sections, and wooden cribs diverted the river. The bridge is unusual because it is open most of the year but closed during the flooding season. For this reason, the bridge does not possess any guardrails, only removable posts. County, Township and GRCA engineers doubted it would survive the spring floods (e.g. ice jams, debris, or heavy rain) and believed the bridge would be too hazardous. A few cars and buggies have slipped off the bridge, but the people involved were not seriously injured. The Mennonite Bridge has survived despite the initial doubts.

After the success of the Mennonite Bridges other people used the concept. For example, a similar structure was built over the Grand River at the downstream end of the Elora Gorge. If you are an avid hiker, no doubt you have walked across the low level bridge in the Elora Conservation Area.

Google Maps Screen Capture

The image below shows the intersection at Three Bridges Road. The Mill Race Trail appears as the large, translucent dashes in the upper right. The yellow arrows are on top of the old mill race/canal. If you examine that same location in Google Maps or Google Earth, the mill race may be easier to see. Google Maps Street View of this area.

Three Bridges Road Area

Mr. Tree

I am always looking for trees with a distinct personality. It helps when you tend to have a vivid imagination. I refer to such trees as "Disney trees" or "Halloween trees". There are lots of them in wood lots. I think this "guy" is "barking" at me like one of my previous Sgt. Majors used to do. Here is my favourite tree character.

Angry Tree

Other Resources

St. Jacobs Self Guided HISTORIC WALKING TOUR (8-page PDF) compliments of St. Jacobs Country at


Mill Race Trail (red line)


GPS Tracks for Download

HELP: If clicking on the links does not provide a download option, try RIGHT clicking the link (especially the .gpx file) and then choose "Save Links As" (or equivalent) from the drop-down menu. Pick a download location (e.g. desktop) for the file.

MillRaceTrail.kml and/or MillRaceTrail.gpx These two tracks show the Mill Race Trail only.

MillRace&HealthValleyTrails.kml and/or MillRace&HealthValleyTrails.gpx < These two tracks provide both the Mill Race & Health Valley Trails in one file plus the path between them.