Hyperlocal Travel: St. Jacobs Roadside Attraction – The Marble Art Quilt

Wawa, Ontario has The Canada Goose. Colborne has The Big Apple. Sudbury has The Big Nickel. Chances are you have a childhood photo, squinting into the sun, at one of these classic roadside attractions while on a family summer road trip. 

Now you can add the St. Jacobs “Marble Art Quilt” to the list.

At the head of the Health Valley Trail in St. Jacobs, this 15-foot tall quilt made of stainless steel shows off 10,000 glass marbles in a classic pinwheel design. 

Since its unveiling in 2017, the piece has become a favourite stop for quilters during the annual St. Jacobs Quilt Show in May (which did not happen in 2020) and it’s clearly a favourite stop for hikers on the trail. 

The artist behind the project, and resident quilter, Ella Brubacher explained that it was made to be interactive and touchable. 

“We purposely wanted the quilt here, at this angle, to catch the sun, and with the right light, you just might find the mistakes we made…it’s just like a real quilt, there’s always little imperfections. It keeps us humble,” Brubacher said. 

She admits there is one marble missing and three marbles of the wrong colour ended up in the wrong section of the design. 

The sun glints through each marble, inviting every child, and a few adults like me, to its sparkle. It’s as welcoming as a quilt made by any grandmother, and I love the sound when I run my hand across the marbles. 

Get up close to the quilt by peering into a single marble, and the magic of lenses and optics turns the scenery upside down. 

Brubacher brought her vision to life with her local grassroots quilting group — the project was made with no public money. She sourced the marbles, plotted the design, sought permissions from the Township and rounded up a construction company to install it. Weber’s Fabricating Ltd. in St. Jacobs contributed the engineering, fabrication and installation. 

Beyond the Marble Art Quilt, the Health Valley Trail follows the Conestoga River over four kilometres as it winds East toward University and Northfield in Waterloo. The wide, stone dust path eventually gives way to stands of mature trees and meadows — with the river always in sight or earshot. 

The trail passes through the private farmland of Stuart and Karen Martin, where farm gates keep the cows and young calves in the pasture. (Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times here).

At points, the trail splits — walkers to the right, with space for horseback riders on a separate trail. It all feels very pastoral, like rambling through the English countryside. 

The Great Trail and The Avon Trail run in parallel with the Health Valley Trail, so you can carry on walking until you choose to stop. An out-and-back hike of the full trail is nine kilometres. 

To me, this little corner at the back of a parking lot at the end of Albert Street in St. Jacobs represents the perfect combination of art, nature and cultural heritage in Woolwich Township. 

Since we’re all sticking a little closer to home this summer and fall, the Marble Art Quilt and the Healthy Valley Trail make a great day-out excursion. 

Pack a lunch, a blanket, a camera, a book — maybe even a sketch pad. Spend some time bird watching, looking for frogs and fish in the river. Just for fun, don’t come home until dinner time.