Maureen Baufeldt 1942 – 2011
No detail was too small for Maureen’s attention. She set the standards high for her staff, but higher still for herself.
I first met Maureen Baufeldt in 1993. I was launching a new magazine called In The Hills, and I timidly spread out the prototype on a table in her already iconic restaurant, Mrs. Mitchell’s, to see if she might be interested in buying an ad. Maureen looked through it all coolly as I waited nervously, well aware of her reputation as an astute business woman. Finally she looked up, and her eyes twinkled into a smile: “I’m in,” she said.
And in she was, every issue for the next 18 years. But through them all, I knew never to take her support for granted. Her business loyalty would be based on her objective assessment of whether the magazine continued to meet her standards. Her vote of confidence was a kind of bellwether: if Maureen was satisfied, we were on the right track.
Her loyalty as a friend was another matter. Once established, it was unshakable. Our friendship grew entirely within the cozy walls of the restaurant. I would drop off magazines during the afternoon lull, and we’d sit down for an inevitable smoke and a good long gossip. And over the years, I came to understand how it was that Maureen had come to create this perfect world-away-from-the-world in the tiny hamlet of Violet Hill. It was a world represented not only by her restaurant, but by her store, Granny Taught Us How, and her own home down the road, all in historic buildings superbly renovated by her husband Jim, a master millworker, and all surrounded by splendid, impeccable gardens.
She had grown up as an “air-force brat,” relocating many times in her childhood. Bright, but shy and diminutive, she invariably felt like a misfit. She entered university early, but her youth isolated her again. She dropped out, made an unfortunate marriage, and was soon fending alone for herself and her young daughter.
It was after she met and married Jim Baufeldt, and was pregnant with her second daughter, Heidi, that Maureen seized control of her own fate – and never let go. She started a home-based business making calico toys and kitchenware. In the back-to-roots mood of the seventies, the business took off. The family relocated from Toronto to Violet Hill to raise the girls in the country air, and soon enough, they were operating several businesses, including Canadian Country Folk Art, which manufactured pine decor accents, painted by local artists, and sold nationwide.
The couple opened Mrs. Mitchell’s in 1980 in the former schoolhouse (naming it for the school’s last teacher) as a complement to the store, solidifying Violet Hill’s reputation as a destination for day-trippers and locals alike. Like the store, the décor and fare in the restaurant were solidly rooted in tradition, grace, warmth and dependability. No detail was too small for Maureen’s attention. She set the standards high for her staff, but higher still for herself. Apparently indefatigable, she was in the restaurant ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week. Even when she stared down breast cancer ten years ago, she scheduled her treatments in Toronto for the wee hours of the morning so as not to miss a day of work.
On first encounter, that uncompromising work ethic and fierce perfectionism could be, well, scary. But it was all rooted in her simple passion for creating a sanctuary where people could relax and be happy. And that’s exactly what the restaurant has been – a place where over three decades literally thousands of guests have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and other special occasions – imbuing the very walls with the comforting beat of life’s passages.
Maureen died on June 27 from complications related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Her daughter, Heidi, who has worked by her mother’s side since she was a child and who, to Maureen’s immense pride, had taken over much of the day-to-day management in recent years, will carry on the restaurant as well as the store.
And so, my friend Maureen, your work is done. May your tireless spirit at last take its well earned rest.
~ Signe Ball
If you’d like to read about the amazing impact Maureen had on the lives of many and their special events, head over to the memorial site, you may be inspired to leave a note of your own.