What a whirlwind! I still wonder how it all went by so quickly. Directing “Once Upon a Rocking Chair” for Northumberland Players this year was definitely a lifetime highlight for me. We had a wonderful review in the local paper and 10/11 performances were SOLD OUT. When I started the process a year ago my wishes for the show were to have fun, to make a story people remembered, and to connect to people.
Here are some pictures of what I loved most about the process…
#1: The Firehall Theatre–this is my favourite type of theatre space.
#2: The talented cast and crew
#3: The gorgeous set
#4: The Caterpillar Princess costume and lighting effects
#5: The energy of the ensemble cast
#6: The humour in the “Aunt Neen’s a love queen” sequence
#7: The emotion of the final scene
#8: The sisters doing yoga
#9: Our Pre-Show “Filling of Our Jar” After Warm-Up
#10: All the friends, family, audience members who took the time to join us
And of course…the poster! This poster has so much meaning for me. It’s my great-Aunt Blanche’s rocker. The landscape is the view where my parents live on Georgian Bay.
Why it’s important to me…
My upcoming play “Once Upon a Rocking Chair” is 90% fiction. The 10% of truth is inspired by my mom, aunts, and cousins. For years we had the annual tradition of going to the cottage together for a week: Girls’ Week. It started when my cousins and I were kids as a getaway for the moms (my mom and her two sisters). When my cousins and I were in our 20s we slowly infiltrated the tradition, starting by coming at the end for the weekend. Then our stay got longer and longer until we were all there. It continued for years. I think our last official Girls’ Week at the cottage was in 2008 or 2009, with three generations of Lamondins.
Although the play features six actors, there were more than six of us at Girls’ Week. The six characters are representations of all of us in many ways. I remember sitting on the porch during our Girls’ Weeks and noticing the strength of the women, their compassion, intelligence, humour, and value of family above all else. In the 20+ years of Girls’ Week there was never any conflict. We were lucky to have such a perfect week together each year.
This is a true story about our Girls’ Week tradition of Porch Bingo and how it came to be…
It was first published in From the Cottage Porch: An Anthology by Jessica Outram and Ewa Krynski in 2011. Then it was published The Country Connection Magazine, Summer/Autumn 2011.
Britt, Ontario: 1997. Britt Legion Bingo.
Aunt Pat, Aunt Estelle, Nancy, mom, and I arrive early. We sit at a folding wood table in the Britt Legion. To attempt to filter the air, a ‘smog hog’ hangs in each corner from the ceiling, but the smoke still buries deep into my clothes, my hair, my skin. The scent lingers for days after I leave bingo. Dart boards and pictures of past Legion executives and veterans line the walls.
I count sixty-seven people at bingo tonight. Mom and I made a deal. If I win, she gets half my prize. If she wins, I get half her prize.
When I look into the faces and eyes of the people here, I see something familiar. I see pieces of mom, Uncle Bruce, Aunt Pat, Aunt Estelle, and my brother looking back at me. For years I’ve wondered about the resemblance. I’ve wondered if we are all related somehow. It isn’t until 2010 I learn about my Métis heritage and I finally understand my attraction to the beautiful people with the deep brown eyes.
Two minutes left before the game begins. Three people still need to buy bingo cards. Mom passes me her troll with the orange hair and tinfoil crown. Mom made it for Aunt Pat for Christmas last year as a joke to persuade her to join as at bingo. Aunt Pat said we should all share the bingo troll and it should live in mom’s bingo bag, and then she said she would be delighted to play bingo with us.
“Maybe tonight you’ll win,” mom says to me.
At the front of the room, the bingo caller, a man in his late thirties with black hair and dark sunglasses, switches on the bingo machine and turns the crank to spin the balls.
“Good evening and welcome to the Britt Legion Bingo,” he says. “There are 171 days until Christmas. Don’t forget to buy your raffle tickets for the baking table to support the Britt Community Centre. The 50/50 draw will be just before the jackpot game. But, first we need to pick our King and Queen.”
I poke mom in the arm. We hope Aunt Pat gets picked as the Queen. It’s her first time at the Britt Legion Bingo. Even though Aunt Pat lived here when Britt didn’t have electricity and she grew up being chased by Wally and Uncle Bruce with snakes, Aunt Pat lives in Toronto now. Mom, Aunt Estelle, Nancy, and I put her name in the bowl for Queen.
“Pat!” the caller announces.
A stocky girl with long black hair brings Aunt Pat the tinfoil crown. Aunt Pat must wear the crown for the entire game.
“Alright, Queen,” the caller says. “Pick your number.”
“If B-7 is called, you must stand up and declare ‘I am the Queen of the Britt Legion Bingo.’ Then one of the girls will bring you a loonie.”
The King of the Bingo picks O-66, clickety-click.
“Our first game: one line, any direction.”
Silence sweeps the room. The bingo balls tumble in the bowl of the machine. Tockatockatockatocka-tock! One pops out.
“I am the Queen of the Britt Legion Bingo!” Aunt Pat proclaims. She stands and waves her hand like Princess Diana.
“Giiiiiiiiiiiiivvvvvvvvvve the Queen her loonie,” the caller replies.
The bingo girl skips to our table. She smacks a loonie on Aunt Pat’s open hand and smiles.
The Britt Legion bingo ends. I didn’t win tonight. I had hoped to buy some new magazines and rent movies with my winnings. Mom nearly won. She needed O-75, the Grandpa of Bingo.
Aunt Pat, Aunt Estelle, Nancy, mom, and I pile into the burgundy Impala. We drop off Nancy on the side of the road, in front of her cottage. Nancy’s cottage is Grandma Laura’s old house, the house where mom grew up.
Aunt Blanche was the first bingo Queen
Mom went to her first bingo with Aunt Blanche in Sudbury. Aunt Blanche could play twenty-four cards at a time. She played at the French Bingo at St. Jean de Brebeuf on Notre Dame Avenue in Sudbury. She used smooth silver markers that looked like nickels because no one had invented clear markers or flashy daubers yet.
Every time she won the jackpot she hid it. She donated it to the church or bought clothes for her nieces and nephews. She bought my mom a new winter coat and Uncle Bruce his first suit.
Bingo at the Magnetewan First Nations
Two summers later, the postmaster told dad that bingo had moved from the Britt Legion.
“Magnetewan First Nations built a new community center,” dad reported. “Bingo’s still on Thursday but you’ll have to go across the river.”
Mom and I picked up Nancy on the side of the Britt Road on Thursday night. We drove south on Highway 69. We turned at the Byng Inlet turn-off.
The Magnetewan Community Centre sparkled with newness. No cigarette smoke. The mosquitoes stayed outside. But there was no Queen of the Britt Legion Bingo, no Christmas countdown. Just serious bingo.
My cousins came to the Magnetewan bingo one summer. Sarah and Andrea were naturals. Lorel’s dramatic panic to keep up with the caller made me snort. But it was Chantell who called a false bingo.
We needed to get one line to win.
Someone called “Bingo!”
“Are there any other bingos?” the caller asks, “Are there any other bingos? Are there any other bingos? Bingo closed.”
Next we needed to get two lines. The caller said, “N33.”
Chantell shouted, “Bingo!”
Aunt Pat mouthed a slow motion “nooooooooo.” It was too late.
“We have a Bingo,” the caller said.
A young girl with hot pink Crocs skipped over to check Chantell’s card.
“No bingo! False alarm!” Aunt Pat called.
Chantell squished her eyes closed. She needed N33 to get one line. To win this game, she needed to get two lines.
“It’s a bad bingo,” the girl shouted.
Porch Bingo was our favourite
In 2005 Mom decided to set-up an annual summer bingo game on the porch at our cottage. We called it Porch Bingo.
Mom, the shyest one of the group, picked the role of Bingo Caller.
“B-4 not B-after,” mom calls. She wears a bejewelled tinfoil crown. She holds up a bingo ball.
Our laughter travels out the windows to Georgian Bay.
Auntie Ann, Lorel, Jaimy, Nat, Aunt Estelle, Sarah, Andrea, Aunt Pat, Chantell, and I compete for the jackpot. Yellow markers, bingo cards, party snacks, and wine glasses cover the tables on the porch.
“Forty!” we shout.
“I-17, Dancing Queen,” mom calls.
“Bingo!” Chantell squeals.
“Are you sure this time?” Andrea asks.
“Are there any other bingos?” Mom asks with a flat voice. “Are there any other bingos? Are there any other bingos? Bingo closed.”
Chantell reads out the numbers on her winning card.
“That’s a good bingo!” mom proclaims.
Chantell takes the tinfoil crown from mom and places it on her head. She selects a prize wrapped in green paper from the laundry basket and tears it open to find frog-shaped salt and pepper shakers with googly eyes. Aunt Estelle snaps a picture of Chantell beaming at her prize.
We clear our cards. Mom puts the balls back in the spinner. “Next game: postage stamp, any corner.”
“What’s that?” Jaimy asks. She just turned sixteen. It’s her first Porch Bingo.
“Four squares together in a corner, like a stamp on an envelope,” I reply.
It’s 2011. We play Porch Bingo whenever my aunts and cousins are in Britt. Mom and I go to bingo at the Magnetewan Community Centre a couple times a summer. We still split our winnings.
Now it’s 2017. I can’t remember the last time we played Porch Bingo. Years ago. Our mothers switched to Word Feud and Words with Friends, regularly passing the emoji crown whenever they were on a winning streak.
But I think for now Aunt Estelle gets to wear the crown for as long as she likes. We are heartbroken over her passing on April 23, 2017. She was such a beautiful, amazing woman in every way and will be deeply missed. It is such a gift to be able to capture what was so special for us about Girls’ Week in a play about women who love and support each other unconditionally.
My citizenship card arrived at the end August 2016. I was surprised how much peace it brought me. It was almost as though my ancestors breathed out a collective sigh of relief. I am proud to be Métis.
Using the App “Explain Everything” I unpack our family story and the importance of learning their story:
Five Things I’ve Learned
- My family’s story was difficult to find but it was possible. I was able to trace it back to the mid-1700s using online tools.
- My grandfather (on my mother’s side) was the first in many generations to marry outside of the Métis community. Our family tree has many generations of Métis.
- Since the 1700s, my mother’s family has lived and worked on the water. From voyageurs to lighthouse keepers to fishing guides. My grandfather grew up living in a lighthouse and worked as a fishing guide (among other things). My generation is the first to grow up away from this lifestyle.
- My mom’s generation didn’t know they were Métis. My grandfather’s generation worked very hard to hide it.
- My family was involved in the War of 1812 (supporting the British), chose to be Canadian, was displaced/moved by the government 3-4 times as national boundaries were being established, and was involved in Treaties (as interpreters).
The best summary of the history of my ancestors is in this Report on the Origins and Evolution of the Penetanguishene Area Métis Community.
Things I Still Want to Learn
- How can I share the story of grandmothers and grandfathers with future generations? I don’t want this story to be lost again.
- What does it meant to be Métis today? And tomorrow?
- Where can I learn more about the culture of my ancestors, uncovering and sharing what they worked so hard to hide?
- What parts of my family’s way of doing things has roots in Métis culture?
It’s been over a hundred years since my family changed their name from Normandin to Lamondin and pretended to be French. I am proud to be Métis and honoured that I can be part of the story by sharing our lost history with my family.
A couple times a summer dad takes me out for a sunset cruise on Georgian Bay. Every year it looks different. I wonder if it is me that has changed so I see the water and land and sun setting differently or if the bay is changing (for example: time of day, water level, location, weather). Last year we went out by Gereaux Island Lighthouse. There is something about the architecture of a lighthouse isolated on an island with the grand sky and big water that calms me. (Do all people feel a connection to lighthouses?) So every time we go out into the bay I always look for the lighthouse.
This year it was just dad and I for the sunset cruise. We got into the boat and he said, “Where do you want to go?”
I didn’t have a preference other than “out there”–on the bay. I find the expansiveness of the bay healing. I’ve come to learn it’s my church. We don’t always need a building to feel connected to something bigger than us. I was thrilled for the chance to go out, it didn’t matter where.
So I sat back into my front seat in the pontoon boat. Dad drove out toward the bay. Soon we moved from the Magnetewan River to the open waters. Then dad turned out of the channel. The boat slowed down.
Since he retired dad has gone kayaking most mornings out in the bay. He often talks about the McNab Rocks. I had never been to them (as I am not so steady in a kayak and not ready for open water paddling).
What amazes me most about this trip is that I’ve passed the McNab rocks hundreds of time on our way out by the lighthouse. From afar it looks like a cluster of generic Georgian Bay rocks. But it isn’t until you’re among them that you can really appreciate the detail of the McNab rocks.
Dad turned off the motor and paddled the pontoon boat through the rocks. It was incredible. These are the photos I took on August 1, 2016. What a wonderful way to start a new month!
The pictures were all taken using my Nikon Coolpix S8200. Cropped/edited on my Mac using Photos’ simple tools.
PS: I don’t recommend paddling a pontoon boat through here. It was shallow and tough to navigate. Canoes, kayaks, and row boats are better choices.
I’ve spent time in Britt every summer for over 40 years. It always feels like a homecoming. On July 29, 2016 I had my first boat ride of the year (Which is shameful. Boat rides should begin far earlier in the season). Mom and dad took me out in the bay for swimming and a picnic, visiting many of our regular spots. We started on the north shore. We swam in Sand Bay and cruised by old picnic rocks, visiting all my favourite windblown trees. This landscape inspires reflection while it serves as a living definition of resiliency.
Being immersed in such a grand, expansive, open place reminds me of how big the world is and how small we are by comparison. Hours on the water, far out from the towns, surrounded by diverse islands and infinite skies and big water, I know that we humans are just part of the story. We need to continue to protect our Canadian wilderness and waters because I think it’s nature that grounds us as a nation, showing us who we are and where we fit. Nature can show us how to coexist, remind us of what is important, reveal to us what we need to do, instil in us a sense of belonging, return to us a feeling of joy, give to us a space for healing, bring to us a knowing of peace, release for us a year of stress, and provide for us an experience that goes beyond high-definition, beyond video game simulations, beyond escape rooms, beyond the noise of our every day to the quiet wisdom of earth’s every day, a planet that will far outlast us and our work here.
Dad drives a pontoon boat. Mom sits in the back, under the canopy in the shade. I always sit in the front in the sunshine, my legs stretched out. We don’t talk much in the boat. The scenery is too awesome. We all love to watch the islands go by peacefully. I had a lot of fun with my camera, a Nikon Coolpix S8200 I bought in 2011. One day I’ll save for a better camera with lenses and more chances to make creative choices, but for now I love my little red point and click device. I like to capture trees, rocks, clouds, and patterns in nature that interest me. My friend Tom was visiting this week (and he is an incredible photographer–check out his stuff by clicking here). He reminded me to think about what I’m shooting (is it a picture of the clouds or the water?) and to consider the rule of thirds. I started that process a little, but I think the art of seeing will be a lifelong learning journey for me. I’m not a photographer by any stretch, just a big fan of Georgian Bay trying to preserve what I love most about it in pictures.
My big challenge is taking pictures while the boat is moving. Dad knows so many stunning places to go but he just keeps moving so I have to quickly decide on a shot and grab it while we move on. So I take hundreds of photos. Then I upload them to my MacBook Air, choosing the ones I like, often surprised by what “got caught.” Using the simple editing tools in Photos I straighten some of the drunken horizons (it’s so hard to shoot a straight horizon line in a moving boat), crop to focus the shot better, and click the magic “enhance” wand. This time I tried the classic slide show feature in Photos and created a video.
Here is our day on Georgian Bay:
The contrast of the clear blue skies with the fluffy grey clouds was so interesting to watch as everything was always changing: the clouds shifting, the sunlight adjusting, the water changing colours.
The Lamondin family has lived in Britt, Ontario since the beginning of Britt’s history. I’ve heard stories about when Britt was a logging town, when the coal docks were the centre of activity, when the railway was installed, when electricity arrived, and when the lighthouse became automated and no longer required a keeper. As my parents drive up and down the Britt road, they recite histories of the buildings and the families, sometimes going back a hundred years.
My grandfather, William Lamondin, lived at Gereaux Island Lighthouse as a child. His father, Louis Lamondin, was the lighthouse keeper there for at least 29 years. My grandfather died before I could ask him about his experiences there. It was so much a part of the family story that no one talked about life at the lighthouse much.
Grandpa’s sister, Bernice, also lived in the lighthouse. We were lucky to spend lots of time with her each summer. I often asked her to tell me stories about her life growing up in Britt and living in a lighthouse. In June 2002 I took notes on our conversation. Aunt Bernice was in her eighties at the time. Here is what my great-aunt Bernice shared:
Aunt Bernice’s grandfather, Joseph Normandin (1835-1912), piloted the first ship into the Britt Harbour. She didn’t remember the name of the ship or the year and I haven’t been able to find any sources to verify this. Joseph Normandin became the first keeper of the Gereaux Island Lighthouse in May 1875.
The year he was born, Joseph moved to Penetanguishene from Drummond Island as a displaced Metis family. (His father, Joseph Normandin Sr. (a Voyageur born in Quebec, 1797), describes the move in a documented oral history. And it’s likely that Joseph Sr.’s father was also named Joseph Normandin and a Voyageur.
In 1858 Joseph Normandin Jr. married Scholastique Berger (1839-1923) in Simcoe, Ontario. It is likely that they moved north to find work and they were probably in the Britt/Byng Inlet area from the beginning of its history in the late 1860s when the sawmill was built. Other families had also moved from the Penetanguishene area during this time too.
Joseph Normandin and Scholastique Berger had six children:
- Charles Napoleon Normandin (1863-unknown); born in Penetanguishene
- Marie Josephine Normandin (1866-unknown); born in Penetanguishene
- George Normandin (1872-unknown); born in Byng Inlet
- Gregoire Normandin (unknown)
- Jean David Normandin (1874-unknown); born in Byng Inlet
- Louis Normandin (1877-1948); born in Byng Inlet
- Adelia Normandin (1879-unknown); born in Byng Inlet
In the records, the family name can appear as Lamondet, Lamondin, Narmandin, and Normandin. Even my grandfather, William, often interchanged between Normandin and Lamondin.
I wonder if the name changed because the family felt out of place. After generations of living in a community of Métis people in Michigan, the family was given land but not jobs in Penetanguishene. I wonder if they tried to hide their Métis heritage by using “Lamondin” to appear more French and less Métis. Or maybe I’m over thinking this and it was simply a family feud among siblings trying to create space in a small town by changing their name. Or maybe it was just bad spelling skills!
Aunt Bernice’s father, Louis Lamondin (1877-1948) lived in Britt all his life. He worked at the lighthouse for about 30 years. Aunt Bernice says Louis was upset and disappointed when his term as keeper came to an end in 1946. Perhaps at 69 years old, the work was getting too challenging for him to manage. He didn’t want to retire. Louis wanted to keep working.
Some other details:
- At some point Louis worked as a Tug Captain for the lumber mill Graves Bigwood.
- Aunt Bernice talked about how he won a sail ship race and received a silver medal.
- During the winter, Louis worked for a lumber camp in Britt (located behind St. Amant’s current store).
- He earned $62 per month to feed the whole family.
- Louis and Cecilia (1888-1966) had five children: Alcide, William (my grandfather), Florence, Ernest, and Bernice (1921-2012).
- Louis was a self-educated man. Cecilia only learned to write.
At the Lighthouse:
- In the early 1900s, when the railway came to Britt, the town became a centre for coal. Louis would notify the coal docks when he could see boats six miles away. He would keep the town posted on their whereabouts so they could be greeted and receive help with tying. (There was a big boom on the coal ship, a deck hand would jump from it as it swung to the dock to tie the ship.) The coal served all of Northern Ontario. Sometimes there were up to 5 ships at the coal docks in Britt. Aunt Bernice remembers going to the coal docks to play, sliding down the coal dumps in her new silk pants.
- Louis hauled five gallons of gasoline up the lighthouse stairs. She described it as an inside and outside staircase.
Childhood Memories at the Lighthouse
Aunt Bernice said they sometimes ate seagull eggs as they were “very poor.” The eggs were grey in colour and some eggs had real seagulls in them. (We always wondered if this was a long “I remember when I was your age” story like the classic walking to school six miles in the snow story.)
When they were on the island, they used ashes to brush their teeth. The kids bathed in big metal tubs; the water had to be carried in jugs from an outdoor waterhole.
The kids began working at a young age. Her brother, Alcide, began working in the tower at the coal docks at 10 years old. He would dump coal from the ship into a moving car (that went by like as a conveyer belt). My grandfather, William, would take the cars of coal and help dump the coal into train cars. The boys made 20 cents an hour and when they came home they were all black, covered in coal from head to toe.
Louis put a swing for the children in the boathouse on Gereaux Island. The kids would swing for hours on a rainy day. Louis also made candy out on the rocks. He boiled water and added brown sugar, waiting until the sugar was stringy. He put the mixture outside in a puddle in the granite. Then he would pull and pull and pull. He broke off a piece of candy for everyone. Aunt Bernice said it tasted like caramel.
Her brother, Earnest, sometimes tied a string to a leg of a huge turtle. When Aunt Bernice was a little girl she would stand on the back of the turtle and Earnest would lead her around the island, taking her for a turtle ride. The boys also played with snakes as though they were pets. Turtles, snakes, fish, rock, windblown spruces, water, and each other were all they had to pass long summer days.
Louis would often make eggs for the kids. He’d put the eggs on toast. When the eggs were ready, Louis would clang a pot and yell, “Okay snakes and rabbits, chicken ass on toast!”
They all slept in one room in the lighthouse. They ate a lot of local fish, so much so that Aunt Bernice wouldn’t eat fish as an adult for many years.
Aunt Bernice went to a school that was in the same location as the current Britt school. It had three rooms for Grade 1-8. She remembers there being 3 teachers. It was common for students to skip grades. After Grade 8, Aunt Bernice took extra lessons at the school in Latin, French, Geometry, and Algebra. Aunt Bernice wanted to continue her education by becoming a nun. It cost $54 to buy a habit to be able to join the convent. Unfortunately, the family didn’t have the money for a nun’s habit to help her achieve her dreams of becoming a teacher or a nurse.
The local youth went to weekly dances hosted on Salem’s Island, not far from the lighthouse. Boat access only.The island dances always fascinated me. Aunt Bernice talked about these the most over the years.
While her brothers worked at the coal docks, Aunt Bernice worked at the local store for 10 or 15 years. She said she worked for $20 a month and worked 14 hour days. After she got married she negotiated 6 hour work days and $75 a month wage.
Aunt Bernice spent a lot of her time sitting in a docked boat at Gereaux Island, watching the ships roll into Byng Inlet. She ended up marrying a ship boat Captain, an American named Art Armstrong. She had only danced with Uncle Art a few times before he proposed.
Dad took us out on a beautiful August evening for a sunset cruise around Gereaux Island Lighthouse. What makes the water look like a mirror? Why do sunsets feel so much like coming home?
Learning Big Lessons
We all learn from our parents. For many of us, parents are our first teachers and our most influential teachers. I’ve worked with so many families over the years and whatever the family story, whether the parents are very present or very absent, children learn big lessons. And we learn from every experience and encounter with our parents, things that can hurt us and things that can heal us, things that take us backward and things that move us forward.
It’s time to take stock and reflect. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen. Brainstorm as many things you’ve learned from your parents that you can remember. Include little things like how to fold a pillow case or how to drive a car and include big things like how to work hard or how to prioritize family. It may be easiest to start with your earliest memory.
When you have a good sized list, choose a couple items to unpack, listing all the learnings that connect to that one item. I learned so much (and continue to do so) from my mom and dad. Today I am going to write about what I learned from Mom and her homemade butter tarts.
This is the second article in a series about Influential Teachers.
Mom learned how to cook and bake from her parents…
Mom grew up in Northern Ontario watching her French-Canadian mother cook and bake. Grandma was famous for her blueberry pie, blancmange, chicken and dumplings, hamburgers with stuffing in the middle, swiss steak, sauce aux salmon, and of course tourtierre at Christmastime. Grandma always made her own pastry and was a master cake decorator. Grandma grew up watching her father, Olivier Charron, cooking in a boarding house along the Still River for coal dock workers in Britt, Ontario.
Grandpa cooked sometimes too when Grandma was at work at Silverman’s Department Store in Sudbury (outfitting miners with uniforms). FYI: Grandpa’s classic dish was pork chops and french fries.
It was great-Aunt Florence who was a good tart maker when Mom was a child. Grandma may have made tarts, but Mom remembers more about Grandma’s pies. Grandma would make five pies at a time, her apple pies were the best. For years my grandparents had five cabins on their property in Britt that they rented to tourists. Grandma would give away pies to their favourite guests, much to my great-grandmother’s shock, horror, and descriptive disapproval in angry French.
We learn a lot about food from our parents.
Mom took Home Economics in high school and it quickly became her favourite class…
The first thing Mom remembers ever cooking was for my dad when they were dating. Mom was about 18 years old. It was at Grandma’s house. Mom made a dish from her Home Ec class for her guy with shrimp, rice, green peppers, and melted cheese.
When I asked Dad this question, he says the first thing Mom ever cooked was a jar of Aunt Muriel’s “Chow-Chow Chilli” heated in a saucepan shortly after they were married. Although “chilli” was in the title it was actually a salsa meant to be a condiment: far too spicy to be eaten by the bowlful!
From my childhood, I remember Mom’s homemade pizza, cinnamon buns, blueberry pie, and butter tarts. Mom is an amazing cook and baker–everything she makes is filled with the best ingredients, careful preparation, and love.
The first time Mom made butter tarts she was in her mid-twenties, after Grandma died. Her neighbour and best friend, Cathy, gave her a list of tart making ingredients from a Kinette Cookbook over the phone.
Every Friday Mom and Cathy would bake while us kids were napping. Cathy taught Mom how to make bread and German food (gulasch, knochlen, kipferl cookies) and Christmas fruitcakes. Mom wanted to learn how to make tarts so naturally she called Cathy.
Using the list of tart ingredients, Mom made her first butter tarts and they were good! The tart obsession started slowly. By the time Mom was in her thirties she would come home from working all day to make 40 butter tarts and 24 cinnamon buns for the staff at her school the next day. (And she’d make dinner!)
Mom became known by all of us as the Queen of Tarts.
When Mom was in her forties, she lost her tart recipe. For over a decade we were tart-less! She prayed to St. Anthony for years, searching the house for her list of ingredients. Then in 2012 her prayers were answered. Mom found our beloved tart recipe in a kitchen drawer she had checked many times before. Now that Dad was retired he became the sous chef. Mom and Dad make butter tarts on rainy days. Together they have perfected tart making!
Queen of Tart Legends:
- Recently Mom and Dad made 120 tarts for a friend’s retirement and it took 2 days, 27 cups of flour, 3 pounds of butter, and 24 cups of brown sugar, 24 eggs…
- About 15 years ago, Mom and I had a baking exchange party with all our friends. Not long into the party we noticed that the tarts were missing. The exchange hadn’t officially started yet. We never did find the two dozen tarts. One of our friends had stolen them all!! No one at the party confessed.
- Mom donated two plates of tarts to a senior’s bake sale. Dad mentioned to a friend that Mom’s tarts were there. The friend declared she must covet the tarts but alas the tarts were sold quickly and gone. The buyer offered to sell a plate of tarts for three times the bake sale cost ($18)…
- Mom and Dad often give tarts to helpful people, local photographers, OPP, their priest. My favourite story though is about the tart they gave to a Bell Canada worker in the area. When they needed support the following year a new worker was dispatched and knew about the tart the previous guy received.
- Dad often brings a random tart out to the road for people passing that he knows (unless family is visiting because we eat all the tarts!)
- After my cousin’s wedding, before the post-wedding brunch, my uncle’s brother hid the butter tarts from his own family, including the bride and groom.
- Sometimes when Mom and Dad bring tarts to an event the host hides them (so they don’t have to be shared with the guests).
- Sometimes at a potluck the tarts are eaten before the meal as the appe-tarter!
- For their forty-second wedding anniversary Mom and Dad made tarts. Then they arranged the tarts into a “42.” (Also note that they usually make 42 tarts in a batch).
Five Things I’ve Learned from Mom and Her Tarts
- Heart: Mom makes tarts to show her love. (She doesn’t even eat the tarts!) The butter tarts are a sign of her generosity, talent, and kindness. She enjoys making the people around her happy. Mom teaches me the importance of putting heart at the centre, of giving our best to others, of creating something excellent to spread joy and express gratitude.
- Attention to Detail: Mom attends to perfecting each step in the tart making process. She inspects everything along the way, reflecting on how to make it better. By attending to every small detail, her tarts are absolute perfection each and every time she bakes them. Mom teaches me the importance of being methodical, following a plan, adjusting the plan when needed, and learning from the plan as time passes.
- Community: Mom uses tarts to bring people together. From family and friends to community groups to passersby, mom creates a sense of belonging by giving away butter tarts. Mom teaches me how to connect with others through generosity and to give the most to the people who are closest and part of our every day. It’s important to use our skills and talents in the service of building community and belonging.
- Practice: Mom worked hard to become an amazing cook and baker. She asked for help when she needed it. She utilized the lessons from her teachers. Mom teaches me that if we practice something, we will improve. If we practice it long enough, we can become experts. She chose to perfect her butter tart making not because it was her favourite thing to bake, but because of the joy the tarts brought others. Every year Mom and Dad continue to adjust the butter tart baking process to improve efficiency and excellence.
- Embrace the Crown: Mom has earned her crown as Queen of Tarts and she wears it with pride. It’s important to celebrate our achievements and to accept the compliments of others. Mom teaches me to take pride in my creations, to make space for others to celebrate, and to happily wear a crown when it’s been earned.
Questions in the Jar
Mom answered three questions pulled from my 50 Questions in a Jar so we could get to know her better.
Q: If you could eliminate one type of bug forever, which one would you choose?
Mom: Mosquito. Or deer flies. The last two times I went in the boat I got bit. You don’t feel them biting and then you itch like crazy after.
Q: If you were to be a matchmaker, which two celebrities would you match together?
Mom: That’s a hard one. I guess I’ll just say Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Q: Where do you go to have fun?
Mom: Florida. There is less cooking and more eating out. I get to wear shorts all the time. And of course the shopping.
Mom’s Butter Tart Recipe
The recipe should be enough to make 42 butter tarts.
- 8 cups brown sugar
- 8 large eggs (whisked together)
- 2 cups melted butter
- 2 cups good quality raisins (soak in hot water for 15 minutes before using)
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 8 tablespoons white vinegar
Mix all the above ingredients together well. Keep mixing it right up until you put it in the tart shells as the ingredients separate if they sit.
Mom uses Tenderflake lard, a whole pound, mixing up the whole package of dough. (Recipe is on the Tenderflake package). Divide the dough into six balls and wrap individually into plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour before rolling. Leave the balls of dough in the fridge until just before rolling.
Bake on mid to low (but not bottom) oven rack in a preheated 375 degree oven about 15-20 minutes or until pastry is brown and filling is bubbling.
Let stand to cool before removing from muffin pans, as filling is very hot.
These butter tarts freeze well.