“Tell me again where we’re going?” my mother asks and she packs her sunglasses into her purse. “Orms-bur-ey?”
“Ormsby,” I laugh, zipping up my boots in the foyer. I’ve planned a day trip for us to make some new memories. When I look up, she’s regarding me with knit brows and mild distrust.
“It’s between Coe Hill and Limerick, along Hwy 620,” I promise.
She shrugs, “Never heard of it.”
I laugh again as we make our way out to the car. I can’t blame her. Ormsby, Ontario doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page — I’m not sure I would’ve known about it if I hadn’t driven through while covering news for Wollaston Township. But with the season changing — as is evident from the snowflakes falling as we pull onto the highway — it’s getting harder and harder to find ways to get out of the house. Ormsby is one of the few places that doesn’t shut down for the winter. It’s the perfect place to explore come plus or minus temperatures. Plus, I want to get an early jump on my Christmas shopping.
It’s always tea time at The Old Ormsby Schoolhouse
All of Ormsby lies along a few kilometres of Old Hastings Road. Our first stop is The Old Ormsby Schoolhouse — which is very quickly becoming one of my favourite stops in Hastings County. Ernie Pattison is waiting for us by the wood stove at the back of the renovated one-room schoolhouse. He and his wife, Debbie, originally restored the schoolhouse for their wedding reception in 1997. They installed a kitchen and made it a tea room five years later.
We pick a table close to the old chalkboards and record players. Mom can’t take her eyes of the decor to look at the menu. The ceiling is lined with intricate tiles and there isn’t an inch of wall to be found between old maps, fine china, bookshelves, vintage knick-knacks and timelines of the building’s history.
I order the Black Currant Bracer and she has the White Tea. Our cups are dainty and perfect, enough to make you feel like you’re treating yourself to something really special. Everything is authentic, from the silverware to the sugar cubes. I drink my tea black but I pop one in my mouth just for fun anyways.
Together we share the cauliflower soup, cucumber and fruit salads, and a full afternoon tea. It’s all made in house and delicious.
The full afternoon is a spectacle. First the staff ask me to choose my own tea tower. When it’s brought back, it’s three tiers of delicious.
There are three tea sandwiches on the first tier: turkey and cheddar, radish and cucumber and egg salad. The crusts are cut off and the egg salad sandwiches are cut out like miniature teapots.
The second tier features a warm scone, a shot glass of no-sugar-added preserves and a cup of freshly whipped cream. I don’t feel European enough so I have to ask the staff how to go about eating that — the whipped cream can’t possibly go on the scone. That can’t be legal. Oh, but it is, and SO good. They’ve ruined scones for me forever.
The third tier features award-winning carrot cake (Ernie’s granddaughter won for it in a baking contest when she was eight), shortbread cookies and frozen grapes. I’m glad I have company to help me eat it all.
Before we go, I ask for the answer to the question hung up in the bathroom. There’s a list of talented musicians laminated in front of the porcelain throne. I’ll give you a hint for when you visit: ask Ernie about his freelance career playing the trombone.
Glimpsing Christmas at The Old Hastings Mercantile and Gallery
We walk to the Old Hastings Mercantile and Gallery to try to burn off some of our sweets. The general-store-turned-vintage-gallery-and-crafts-shop added three new rooms this summer, meaning there are 11 rooms to explore now.
Owner Lilian is humming to herself at the front till when we enter. She looks up to welcome us from the hymn book she’s memorizing for The Old Ormsby Heritage Church Christmas Carol Service later this year.
From vintage treats, to high-end body care products, to adult and tot boots, to retro signage, it’s easy to get lost in the gallery. You feel like you’re entering a different world. The sun glitters through the glassware that lines the windows as timeless radio and tv shows play in the background. Today, the adventures and gunslinging of Radio Archives’ “The Roy Rogers Show – The King of the Cowboys” is playing.
One room is a Little Room under the stairs. It’s a miniature living room complete with porcelain dogs for children. There’s a window that looks out through the stairs to spy on adults as they explore. Another room is dedicated to area lakes and cottages. There are handcrafted wood clocks, hats, signs and other custom decor.
The Christmas room, however, is the one that is sure to take your breath away. Now, Mom couldn’t smell it, but I was sure that walking in it smelled like a fresh Christmas tree. There are decorative Santa balls packed into birdcages and ornaments hanging from every which way. There are holiday books and miniature displays and nativity snow globes.
We signed the guestbook hidden upstairs before asking Lillian for a key to the Old Ormsby Heritage Church.
A touch of history at the Old Ormsby Heritage Church
According to The Old Hastings Mercantile and Gallery website, Ormsby’s Presbyterian Church was renovated to become the Old Ormsby Heritage Church. The one room church is open to the public and used for special services and events. It’s one of five century buildings that remain in Ormsby, also known as one of six ghost towns along “the Old Hastings settlement road between Madoc and Bancroft.” It’s a beautiful, if short, stop on our Ormsby tour. The church is bright and lined by stain glass windows.
After dropping the key back with Lillian, Mom and I set off for home in hopes of beating the impending snow storm. We can’t stop chatting about all the neat things we found and the fun we had.
“It was worth the drive,” she smiles as we pull in back home.
She nods, “Even to just drive by and stop in for an hour. More than worth it.”
Storyteller: Sarah Sobanski. Hometown: Bancroft, ON
If you asked her, Sarah would tell you there’s no better way to spend a sunny Sunday than driving down roads you’d never been on and stopping at sights you’d never surveyed — a strong cup of Joe in hand. A believer in dogs, wine and fate, Sarah gets excited about experiencing life’s little things like walking a river boardwalk, taking a sign making class or getting lunch somewhere new. If she’s not out writing about the community you can find her at home trying to grow, cook or craft something she’s recently discovered. It’s all very trial and error.