OWNER, TERRA NOVA PUBLIC HOUSE
PUBKEEPER, MUG PROTECTOR, RISK-TAKER
“One of the most beautiful nowheres in the world.” If the township of Mulmur is ever looking for a slogan for the pastoral, all-but-hidden spot where Anna’s 200-year-old home and pub resides, she might have just coined it. But as Anna describes it, that nowhere is somewhere very important to everyone from billionaires to backhoe drivers, all of whom you can find there most nights, and all of whom realize just how special and even at-risk their nowhere is. Special enough to fight for, in fact.
So I figured out that your building is a heritage building.
At first when the heritage committee approached me I was hesitant, because i’ve lived in historically mandated houses all my life and I knew that usually meant you can’t do anything to it. But this was different. If I wanted to knock it down I had to tell someone, which I could live with.
My parents always lived in old homes. Their house is like a museum in Port Dover, where i’m from in a roundabout way. The house is over 200 years old. They were two of the only people that didn’t call me crazy when I bought this house… it was very old and dilapidated, but it’s the only place i’ve ever felt comfortable.
Did you buy it with the pub in mind?
I bought it from a Duffin, who were a founding family of the township. I wasn’t intending to buy a house at all but I had left Toronto to raise my kids in the country, so I kept migrating north until I could afford a place.
Then, this little old lady was sitting out front of this place, and she had had the house on the market for a while, but she rejected so many offers because she loved the house so much and she was scared of what they were going to do to it. And she said, you know what sweetheart, I’ll sell you the house. And I was like, well, I don’t really have any money…(laughs)…
That’s just a technicality.
… and she said she’d hold the mortgage for me! She held the mortgage for the first year until I qualified. Then I decided if I was going to do something at the house, I should do it soon. My husband was offered a buyout at his job, he agonized over it, then finally took it, and we used that money to get the pub up and running.
You seem very comfortable with risk.
Absolutely. It was impossible to get any financing from any institution because they all thought we were crazy and that It would never work. You’re starting out as a restaurant in the middle of nowhere.
It’s strange, because the whole Headwaters is independents.
Yes. And we had seen the area change in the 15 years I was there, it had started to become a tourist destination, there’s ski hills, golf courses… We begged and borrowed from friends and family and managed to get it going. And it’s going excellent. I was jammed in here last night, a freezing rainy Wednesday night in April which is supposed to be the slow season. I knew every single person in here, everyone was talking to each other, it was great.
So I can come here as a complete stranger…
People fit right in no matter where they’re from. About a third of my customers are weekenders, a third are locals and about a third come from Shelburne, Alliston, Collingwood, that sort of thing. I have customers who are billionaires sitting next to people here with their five kids, working at factories and they all know each other and talk. We used to have a great meeting place called the dump and it was a great equalizer, it didn’t matter who you were, everyone went to the dump on Saturdays. So they shut the dump down and we opened and kind of replaced it.
Even though everyone’s so different, is there a “Headwaters type?”
Well, if you’ve been here long enough you understand the intrinsic value of the land, and nobody who’s bought here has bought without realizing how beautiful it is, and we really are stewards of the area. Despite what socio-economic background you’re from, we’re all birds of a feather who know how lucky we are to live here.
A good example of that is what happened to the (proposed but ultimately abandoned) mega-quarry. They expected apathy but the fight the locals put up was incredible. They didn’t realize what they were coming up against…
They thought they were going to come up here with blank cheques, and…
… but it did not happen that way! The locals were very engaged, intelligent and determined. When the decision came down that they were not going to do the quarry, there was an immediate party right here! Everybody was so congratulatory and excited.
That shows that a place like yours is necessary. A natural meeting place.
We’re stuck in the middle of nowhere… but I always say we’re in the middle of the universe. It’s nowhere, but its one of the most beautiful nowheres In the world. It’s also extremely important, there were farmers and lawyers at the spontaneous party who all shared the same passion for where we were.
What do people who don’t know the area say, when they finally find you?
Well, a lot are awestruck by how incredibly beautiful it is. They may have seen pictures, but seeing the beauty, the well that pumps out the best tasting water you’ve ever had, it’s just a little paradise. It’s very balanced, you have to be really careful with things like this. You put in the mega quarry and the whole thing is ruined. The landscape, the hills, the views are unique. You can build yourself a million dollar home and no one will ever see it.
To have a place that’s still very raw and natural, not overly civilized… my beef is raised up the road, I get my honey and local syrup from local guys, my lavender, my fish all come from a short drive… it’s amazing.
That’s what we’re saying about this area, it’s where Ontario gets real.
Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s unbelievably real. Last night, I had the woman who runs “the 100 mile store” in Creemore, there was a local teacher, there’s Andy Barrie sitting with a local farmer that I get my beef from. Everybody is as real as it gets, sitting in my kitchen eating chicken pot pies and drinking local beer. People bring their own mugs and I keep them here. It’s cool.