Soon after we moved from Waterloo, we discovered how much easier it was to shop in Stratford than dealing with the road construction that is KW. The city has a lovely library, department stores a-plenty and a choice of affordable grocers. The drive is scenic, too. And best of all, each time we travel to Stratford, we pass the Fryfogel Tavern, a place that fascinates me to the point of near-obsession.
One day, we drove past an open house. I insisted that my husband turn the car around. Thankfully, my seven year old daughter was up for the adventure. I sighed with relief when I saw that the organizers had provided a craft corner for children, as well as a monarch butterfly release. This provided me with an hour to poke about.
I learned that the Fryfogel Tavern was built in 1845 and had been a stagecoach stop. It was an Inn where soon-to-be settlers could get a meal and stay for the night. The Stratford Perth Historical Foundation is slowly restoring this old gem. The kitchen in the basement has been beautifully restored and refurnished. Still, many rooms desperately need to be brought back to life.
During the tour I learned that the Tavern was owed and managed by Sebastian and Mary Fryfogel. And I was told their young son, Henry, drowned in a nearby creek at the age of five.
The mother-writer in me fixated on the tragedy. I began to research the Fyfogels and learned they’d had twelve children. They’d lost one boy as an infant and a year after that loss, Henry had been born. More research showed that Henry died of an accidental poisoning.
And a story was born within me. Mary Eby Fryfogel had to care for her surviving children and serve her guests while coping with a very private loss. Her husband was a politician of sorts, a busy man and she often “manned the fort.”
Just yesterday, we pulled up to the old tavern, again. We’d come upon another open house just by chance. It was finishing-up. A historian was packing up his car, and I shamelessly pounced upon him with questions. I managed to learn that a story had been long circulating about Henry eating poisonous berries. But there is no written document of what truly transpired. So even the historical accounts are filled with conjecture, lack fact. Death certificates were not yet being issued in Canada.
I have not written this story yet; it bubbles within me as I devote myself to writing chapter books and early middle readers. I have connected to Mary in a very real way. Legally, I can pen anything about Mary and Sebastian and Henry without ramifications. However, ethically, I feel I must tell their stories as accurately as I can.
There is a deeper truth to be told: the history of women, the existence of parental grief when so many children did not make it to adulthood, how the people of today are not so dissimilar to the people of the past…
In my research, I also learned author Jane Urquhart also was inspired by the tavern. Her novel, Map of Glass, references the tavern’s two murals. The two murals were revealed when wall paper was removed. She allowed her imagination to run rampant. The artist who painted these murals is unknown. Map of Glass in itself is a work of art…
I will never know how Mary Fryfogel mourned. I only know the truth within the fictional: mourn she surely did. And if my facts aren’t a hundred percent accurate, then I hope what is bang-on is my characterization of a real-life woman whose pain I can only imagine.