Montreal·Audio

Meet the Jill-of-all-trades behind Frelighsburg's tea house, Confiserie Bartlam

Just a few kilometres from the Vermont border, a tiny tea house replete with jams and treats has become a tourist attraction all its own.

A failed batch of cider inspired this cabinet maker to get into the jam and jelly business

Patricia Bartlam in her tea room and sweet shop, Confiserie Bartlam, where she sells her homemade goods. (Amanda Klang/CBC)

Just before the Vermont border, drivers have been known to make a pit stop in the tiny town of Frelighsburg, Que.

That's where Patricia Bartlam runs her tea house, Confiserie Bartlam.

The holidays are special time at the shop as Bartlam serves seasonal treats and a special Christmas tea service — which runs until Jan. 5.

The little house is one of the only spots for tourists in the village of about 1,000 people.

Its main street is lined with restored 19th century houses that look frozen in time.

In the shop, teapots, homemade baked goods, old fashioned candies, and a wall of homemade jams and jellies adorn the space.

Bartlam said she wants everyone to feel as if their visit has been an experience.

"People walk into the shop and they say, 'It feels like I'm going back to my childhood!'"

Bartlam's shop is famous for its cronuts. (Michael Roberts/MR@photomroberts)

A serendipitous start

Bartlam, a cabinet maker by trade, came to her tea and jam business by chance.

She was working at the local cidery, Domaine Pinnacle, when the owners were going to dump a bad batch of unfermented cider.

She offered instead to take it off their hands and turn it into apple jelly.

The customers loved it and Bartlam eventually started making jams and jellies for the cidery under her own label.

Soon after, she bought a building in Frelighsburg and opened her own business — a teahouse specializing in afternoon tea and homemade sweets.

Since then, Bartlam has met customers from all over Quebec and the northeastern United States.

Some visitors will also rent out the apartment upstairs — which is one of the few guest houses in the village.

But Bartlam has not always been a member of the frilly tablecloths and fragrant teas set.

A childhood outdoors

Bartlam grew up hunting and fishing. In this photo, she's fishing with her family. (Submitted by Patricia Bartlam)

She grew up in the town of Arvida in Quebec's Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region.

The youngest of three daughters, her mother would take her hunting and fishing, and her father, an engineer, showed her how to fix things.

She enjoyed new challenges — even physical ones where she might be the only woman.

"When I love something I go for it, I want to be a part of it," she said.

As a teen, she spent a summer working in the aluminum mining town of Kitimat, B.C.

She went on to study cabinet making in Cowansville, Que., and was the first woman in the course.

Her varied career has also seen her spend two winters on oil rigs in Alberta.

Some of the tea pots Confiserie Bartlam sells. (Michael Roberts/MR@photomroberts)

Then, after raising three children and getting a literature degree from McGill University, she settled into a peaceful life in Frelighsburg.

She was first hired to run the town's local hardware store.

Later, she worked at Domaine Pinnacle to build the wooden cabinetry in their tasting room and went on to work behind the counter until that fateful batch of apple jelly.

Suddenly a jam maker, she bought a building where she could open her tea room and guest house. She's been running it for 20 years.

When the deep cold sets in, Bartlam closes her tea room and head out for several months of rest and travel.

She typically will go through New England, sourcing her decorative tea paraphernalia from estate sales.

Those who don't make it to Confiserie Bartlam before it closes in January will have to wait until the spring when it reopens. 

We speak to Patricia Bartlam from her tea room in Frelighsburg as she prepares her Christmas tea. 10:30

About the Author

Amanda Klang

Producer

Amanda Klang is a producer at CBC Montreal.

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