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November 3, 2005


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"Thank You" celebration for Ompah's beloved Alice

by Helen Forsey


Alice’s Restaurant in Ompah was a scene of celebration this past Saturday afternoon as the community turned out en masse to say "Thank You" to the restaurant’s longtime owner-manager (and friend of Santa Claus), Alice Davey.

More than 70 people crowded into the "Hunter’s Cove" lounge downstairs at the establishment formally called the Palmerston Restaurant, but known and loved by all simply as "Alice’s". The afternoon of music, food and festivities was organized in Alice’s honour by a group of community members, including Barbara Sproule, Betty Kelford, Edith Beaulieu and Gilbert Dunham.

Barbara Sproule spoke for everyone when she explained how the event had come about: "When we heard Alice was leaving, we just had to do something," she said. "She has been so good for the community, she’s done so much!"

Tireless and relentlessly hospitable, Alice has made the restaurant a legendary local institution since she and her late husband, Jim Davey, "retired" there 17 years ago. After Jim’s death in 2000, Alice continued to manage the restaurant and adjoining motel, and organize Ompah’s annual Santa Claus Parade, which the Daveys instituted in 1989. This time last year, at age 81, she was still going strong. But some months ago she suffered a bad fall, and after hospitalization and a lengthy recovery, she came to the difficult decision to sell the business.

When her son Henry Davey brought her back to Ompah on Saturday to drop by the restaurant, she was a bit startled to see all the cars there. But with the gorgeous weather and hunting season about to begin, it made sense that business would be booming. "Alice was out of the car right away and headed inside, saying, ‘The girls are going to need help!’” But they found only a few customers upstairs, and Henry suggested they go down and check out the Hallowe’en decorations in the lounge.


The Woman Behind Santa - Alice with Santa Claus and her son, granddaughter and great-grandson, after Ompah's 2001 Parade.

Alice’s appearance was what the crowd below had been waiting for, and as she came down the stairs, there was a burst of spontaneous applause. With cheers and smiles, Alice was led to a seat of honour, words of welcome were spoken and a corsage pinned to her lapel. Then Mayor Ron Maguire presented her with a plaque from the Township of North Frontenac, which read: CERTIFICATE OF APPRECIATION: to Alice Davey, for her many years of dedication to the youth of North Frontenac, and the longest little Santa Claus Parade in the world.

As the musicians got ready to play, there were more presentations: a bouquet of roses from Marg Bradley and a second corsage, this one prettily handed to Alice by her four-year-old great-granddaughter, Grace Ranallo. Then MC and entertainment organizer Gib Dunham introduced the musical performers.

Ompah’s own Neville Wells began by dedicating his songs to Alice, noting with affection the many times he had had the pleasure of singing there for her guests. Randy Kay from Sharbot Lake treated the crowd to some great songs from his Johnny Cash and Merle Haggart repertoires. Throughout the afternoon, fiddlers Derek Wilson and Matthew MacRae, with Gib Dunham on the keyboard, provided wonderful music and demonstrated their tremendous talent. For one piece, Matthew did the fingering while Derek did the bowing! Other performers were Murray White, Hughie MacDonald and the Ompah Community Choir.

One of the stars of the afternoon was 21-year-old Matthew MacRae, who is a champion step-dancer as well as a gifted musician. He held the audience spellbound with his amazing footwork, putting into his dancing all his enthusiasm and affection for Alice, who sat beaming as she watched.

The sandwiches, squares and other goodies were topped off by a lovely cake, decorated with the words, "Thank you, Alice." The music continued as people signed the guest book and chatted with Alice. Then all the performers were up on stage for the grand finale, the Orange Blossom Special.

Altogether it was an unforgettable community event in honour of an unforgettable lady. Once again, thank you, Alice!