Along with posters announcing various cultural events, a Help Wanted sign and a notice reminding patrons of the cash-only policy, one announcement stands out in the curtained windows of the Ardmore Tea Room.
Written in marker on a whiteboard – usually reserved for announcing specials or highlighting new and classic menu items (and there are a couple of those) – the sign relates the sad news of Norma Verge’s passing in a curving script. She recently died in a car accident.
Norma Verge washed dishes for more than 20 years at the Ardmore Tea Room on Quinpool Road, starting in the early ’80s and going until her retirement a few years ago. By the time she hung up her apron and gloves, she’d worked about half the restaurant’s lifespan.
“She’s seen the dishwasher go from upstairs to downstairs to upstairs again,” says owner Darren Cormier, whose father Tennyson opened the restaurant in 1958. “My Dad hired her.”
Not surprisingly, retirement didn’t suit a hard worker who loved her job. “She retired, but she couldn’t handle it,” Cormier says, chuckling. She came out of retirement and checked back with the Ardmore, but Cormier had hired a couple new dishwashers. No hard feelings, Verge simply went down the street a few blocks and started working part-time at the Spartan Restaurant. Still, Cormier adds, “She only ate down here.”
An image of Norma Verge’s intense work ethic comes to mind during reminiscence with Cormier: a tiny, grey-haired woman, she weaved in and around the compact booths and aisles with stealth, a smile and purpose. She carried a plastic bin in rubber-gloved hands.
A waitress on and off over 10 years at the Ardmore, Sheila Ernst remarks how Verge was “always on the go” at work, but how that busyness never got in the way of her “brightening up the place.”
“She has a lot of friends around here,” Ernst says of both the restaurant and the west end Quinpool neighbourhood.
Ernst occasionally gave Verge a lift home in Beaverbank after a shift, but this didn’t happen too often. “She would always find a way in ,” Ernst recalls.
Cormier remembers this too. “Even in bad snowstorms, she’d maker her way in,” he says.
Norma Verge also cracked up customers and coworkers alike. Cormier laughs, recalling how she called him “the King” on one hand and then playfully threatened to douse him with a bucket of soapy water on the other.
“She just had great fun,” Cormier remembers. “She enjoyed being here.”
So much so that she came in on her days off, Cormier says; so much so that folks from all over the area remember her. “She knew all sorts of people from around here,” Cormier adds.
Diners like the Ardmore appear to, at once, evolve and stay the same. New generations of university students blearily walk in to sit alongside the old timers who’ve been coming for years out of unbroken tradition and habit. Customers may come to order the basics and the standby classics, but newer things like fair trade coffee and healthy or vegetarian choices are on offer as well. Even the décor and some of the staff might change a little, but there will always be, thankfully to many, someone like Norma Verge around.