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Cafés on the 202: cakes, cribbage, and even a crow

These days, if you’re hungry and you drive the 202 between Hemmingford and Huntingdon, you might need to bring a lunch. If it’s not apple season with the stands open, and apart from some snacks at Amigo’s in Franklin, you’re out of luck. For around a decade, between the early 1970s and 1980s, however, that stretch of road boasted no less than three cafés where you could get a sandwich, a soup, a great piece of pie. The one that people still remember the best was Judi Rowe’s Sweet Honesty Café in Franklin. It opened in 1975 and only closed in 1981 because new owners of the building did a midnight run and the pipes froze. Judi, who still lives on Covey Hill, says for those six years the café provided her a decent living, but most of all gave her a chance to offer nourishing, interesting food.

Judi, her friends, and many of her customers were young people from the counter-culture, who were moving into the Valley in noticeable numbers in the early 1970s. Ironically, she was living in a recently closed restaurant, the Crow’s Nest in Herdman, where her friends gathered for her pies and other treats, in such numbers that this self-trained, budding chef decided cooking might be a way to support herself.

In that same year, Harold McCracken sold his butcher shop in Franklin to just such a city immigrant, new CVR teacher Mike Hayes, who with his wife Joan not only kept it going but also rented upstairs café space to Judi. The big old building, still in Franklin, had a natural food store run by his sister, Ann, along with a bike repair shop in back, run by Dave Howard. Dave, as well as two other café habitués, met their spouses there. “More than one romance was happening at the café,” Judi says; she met her partner of 40-plus years, Blad Hansen, when he stopped by with friends in 1976 and became the one and only customer to ever complain about her coffee.


Sweet Honesty Café sign 1976 PHOTO Courtesy of Judi Rowe


Mike had a hand-cranked coffee-grinder in his butcher shop that Judi was putting to daily use, making the strongest coffee the Valley had yet seen. Her 35 tables were soon filled with locals as well as transplants, who also came for treats like the applesauce and butternut cakes supplied by octogenarian neighbours, Jim and Alice Manning. The Dorea Institute was still open, and its staff, as well as the two nearby schools and people working for the municipalities, would come regularly for lunch; but what most of the customers remember best is the bachelor farmers, who never seemed to leave. “They’d come in and out all day, and stay for a long while drinking coffee and playing cribbage or Scrabble by the wood stove,” says Judi.

“There I was, sleeping in a restaurant equipped with a full commercial kitchen, and then driving to my workplace to serve customers from a hot plate! I was naïve and had little equipment, burlap bags decorating the ceiling, scrounged tables and benches, a rocking chair. Regulations for selling food were nowhere near as tough as they are now, so we could have people bringing baked goods in from outside, my dog wandering around.” She adds that ever since, she gets the most reminiscences about her “Tuna Paradiso” sandwich: tuna or ham, cheese and pineapple, grilled open-faced on an English muffin. There were no nearby commercial cabanes à sucre yet, but “Pancakes with real maple syrup were always on the menu. One customer who worked nights would come in every morning for some.”


Morgan Arthur with the Crows Nest crow PeterPHOTO Courtesy of Morgan Arthur


Her rental at the time, The Crow’s Nest, still sports its sign and is now home to some of the Arthur clan, Roddy and Deborah. In 1970, his mother, Mussy Arthur, with her business partner, Lloyd Douglas, had built the place and started serving hamburgers and deep-fried chicken to the many snowmobilers common in the winters back then. Soon it was open year-round, serving lunch and supper. They called it The Crow’s Nest because the Arthurs had a pet crow raised from a nestling. Mussy and Ray’s son Morgan, who was about 8 at the time, says, “His name was Peter; he flew free all day, but came inside and slept in the house every night.” Peter enjoyed baiting the dogs and scaring the farm workers. “He’d land on their shoulders, steal lunches and chocolate bars, pull cigarette packets out of their pockets and empty them in seconds. And he drank beer with my dad. Sat on the third stool.” Morgan says the crows have always massed just west of the house every fall, and when he was about 11, Peter flew off to join them. “Every fall I’d go looking and call him,” he says. He also remembers making hamburger patties in his mother’s kitchen, and that they’d feed as many as 80 snowmobilers in a day. The Crow’s Nest closed in 1975, just before Judi came to live in it.

It’s interesting that, although these eateries didn’t last all that long, their owners never lost their desire to feed their neighbours. The Arthurs operated two other cafés, their apple stand, from 1999 to 2009, and a sugar shanty, 2007-09. After a stint with a café at the Chartrand bakery in Saint-Antoine-Abbé, Judi Rowe ran a catering business in the city that specialized in feeding film crews, and eventually ended up as chef de cuisine at the Family Resource Centre in Huntingdon. She taught single moms, people on restricted incomes, and especially old men living alone (rather like the bachelor farmers), how to make nourishing meals on a tight budget.

If you’re wondering about that third café we mentioned at the beginning, there aren’t many people who remember it: a tiny but busy hamburger-and-pie place operating out of a trailer somewhere between Havelock and Franklin, on the south side of the 202. If anybody out there has information on it, send it in — as well as ideas and contacts for more Bygone Places. We’re especially keen to get information about dance halls and old schoolhouses, but we’re open to any memories you may have!

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Don Rosenbaum 2020-04-21 at 18:19

Delightful memories ! Thanks, Holly !

Morris Kerr 2020-04-20 at 14:37

Interesting article. Always fun to read about the past.


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