Sunday, July 14, 2024

Northfork: A legacy lives on

Julien St-Jean

Chapeau August 21, 2021

It all started with a dream. A dream, dedication and a lot of hard work.

The dreamer was Francis Fleming, who had always wanted to own her own restaurant. After Francis and her husband Art bought her parent’s farm in Chapeau, they would eventually decide to make Francis’s dream a reality. After the two had retired, they started Francis’s restaurant: The Northfork Country Kitchen.

Colleen Fleming, the daughter of Art and Francis, recalled that the restaurant always had plenty of meals, offering fresh vegetables, buns and bread, as well as a variety of meats including roasted chicken, salmon, pork tenderloin and more. They offered dessert with each meal, often consisting of three different types of pies.

The beauty of it was that it was all homemade. Nearly every part of the meals, from the fresh buns made that day to the trout caught in a pond on the property, were prepared on-site by the Flemings and their family. “Nothing came from a box,” said Colleen.

The property started out as a few old barns left by Francis’s parents when she and Art took it over in the ‘80s. Over the years, it grew to nine buildings on the roughly 400 acres of property. Along with their family, Art and Francis built up the site to what it is today. They started with gardens and a greenhouse near the house and went from there.

Submitted photo.

Colleen recalled that Art often said, “Francis had the dreams and the visions, I did what I was told.”

She added that Art was “an environmentalist before his time.” With each addition to the property he always made sure to do it in an environmentally-conscious and sustainable way.

“When he would cut down a tree, he would replant, always,” said Colleen, “My dad never cut down a green tree.”

Art moved an old garage from the family’s home to the Northfork property, creating “the old guest house” in the process, a place where many parties were held. “As time went on and the parties got bigger and bigger and bigger,” Art moved his maple syrup setup out of the old guest house and into his workshop.

In 2008, when Art and Francis’s grandchildren developed an interest in music, Art converted an old dairy barn into a place for the children to play music. The newly renovated barn was named “place d’Art.”

In that same year, Northfork started hosting weddings. According to Colleen, they’d eventually start to have up to 5,000 guests each year.

New buildings popped up to support the venture, a second guesthouse – known as the middle guest house – was built on the property. Beside it, another building soon popped up, known as “the lodge.” The buildings were built to accommodate wedding guests.

Newlyweds however, usually stayed in a different spot. In the woods sits a small cabin, tucked slightly away from most of the other buildings. After a marriage, couples often stayed in the cabin to enjoy some peace, quiet and a romantic atmosphere.

Art and Francis shared a love for their community. Art celebrated his 90th birthday at Place d’Art. “Five-hundred people showed up and it was fabulous,” said Colleen.

Francis worked as a teacher at Dr. Wilbert Keon school for many years. She loved teaching students to read and putting on school plays. Even now, Colleen says Francis can still point at old pictures of school plays and know the names of each student. Through her passion, she instilled a love of teaching in her son Neil as well as in Colleen herself.

“Her favourite thing is to think about all the people in the community that she would give money to if she won the lottery,” said Colleen of her mother.

After roughly 30 years of operation, Northfork closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Art and Francis had continued to maintain the property until that point. 

During the pandemic, Art passed away and though they were unable to hold a large funeral for the community, Colleen said she was happy that Art had gotten to celebrate his 90th birthday with much of the community.

Francis recently sold the Northfork property to Devina Kaur – a published author, podcast host and producer – who now lives in the house with her family. She says the charm of the property and its history drew her towards the property.

“We were just looking for a getaway from the city,” said Kaur who moved from Montreal. “We love the place as is, the beauty of it, the old barns, the terrain, the cabins, the freedom.”

Kaur said her family has been spending time in the fields and gardens of the property, enjoying the open space of the property instead of the city.

She added that they plan to farm the land, growing hay and tapping trees to make maple syrup. She added that she’s hopeful that they’ll be able to host family reunions at the barn and open up the restaurant under the name La Ferme Northfork. For now, they’re waiting for permits and are getting familiar with the community.

“Arthur Fleming was such a visionary and he’s left behind such a legacy,” said Kaur. ‘It’s a big task for us. We want to preserve as much of the history and legacy as possible.”


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