19th Century High Tea on a Shoestring
Out in the west end, at Islington and Dundas, lies a late Georgian building. In the basement of this building, for a few hours on Tuesdays through Sundays, an Anglo-Saxon tradition is revived. High tea is served.
Well, not quite. Traditionally, a high tea would be an early evening meal combining afternoon tea and the later evening meal. The Americanized term now simply refers to a fancier afternoon tea.
Fancier means pricey, right? Not here. What drew us to Etobicoke's Montgomery's Inn Museum was the fact that their high tea costs a mere $5, as opposed to that of say, Le Royal Meridien King Edward ($28), the Windsor Arms Hotel ($27), or the Old Mill Inn & Spa just down the road ($17). It's generally difficult to find high tea service for much less than that.
Granted, $5 is just that, and high tea at Montgomery's is nothing too elaborate. But that's not the point. The point is that you get to take a tour of the museum beforehand, for only an additional $5. Think of it as a fascinating glimpse into a 19th century Torontonian family's life, with tea and treats to boot. You could spend a whole afternoon there, and learn something new. I did.
Admission into the museum set us back $5.71. It was only early afternoon, so we were led by a kind and extremely knowledgeable guide through a full tour of the museum, through room after beautifully restored room. High tea would come after, as the tea room was only open from 2pm to 4:30pm.
Built around 1830 by Irish immigrants Thomas and Margaret Montgomery, the inn (and farm) housed the Montgomery family and countless tenants, servants, and farm labourers on a 400-acre property. Business was good and the Montgomery family enjoyed a relatively wealthy lifestyle, even adding a new bar room and second kitchen, as they ran the inn until the mid 1850s.
Each room of the museum was meticulously restored, containing countless real artifacts from the time period. A dessicated goose wing hung over the fireplace, once valued for its fire-resistant properties and used to sweep ashes from the hearth. Miscellaneous jars sat in the pantry, sealed with pig's bladder to keep the contents from spoiling. Even the inn's original signage was on display, rescued from the trash at the building's restoration.
The sitting room was a personal favourite. Beautifully furnished and one of only four rooms with a painted floor, it was also the only area of the house the Montgomery family had wallpapered.
The master bedroom was the most elaborate of all the bedrooms in the inn, featuring its own commode chair, a chamberpot politely concealed inside a wooden seat.
The many-windowed ballroom once held local meetings, small concerts, and dances. Records show that it was the site of at least one political campaign meeting.
There were about twelve rooms in all, and each room's sights were accompanied by stories and interesting trivia courtesy of our guide. We finished up just as the museum's high tea service began at around 2pm. We were given a choice between tea and cider, and a sweet or savoury plate. Intrepid as always, we decided on both.
The sweet plate (pictured in the leading photo) featured a peach tea cake, a double ginger crackle cookie, a chocolate nut wafer cookie, and a quaint iced sugar cookie shaped like a teapot. And a full pot of tea, of course.
The savoury plate consisted of traditional oatcakes with butter, cheddar slices, crackers, and another teapot cookie. A cold glass of cider washed it all down.
I'll reiterate that this was a far cry from royal treatment, but this was an inn, after all. And a museum. The whole thing including the tour cost about half of what you'd pay for high tea service alone, elsewhere. All in all, my thirst for both knowledge and tea were well sated, and I was a happy camper.
On October 18th, a special Apple Harvest Tea will be served and prepared with the Montgomery's Inn Tea Room's original oven. Rumour has it that treats will include warm apple crisp served with ice cream, and visitors will be able to see and taste things just as they were done back in the 1840s.
Join the conversation Load comments