Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 12, 2017
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Antiques road show

Ontario's Shakespeare to the Shoreline route offers up plenty of treasures from museum pieces to farm furniture

Countryside antiquing trips are just like treasure hunts. You get out a map, pick a region, mark down some Xs and start digging. They're adventurous, they're fun and, if you're very lucky, they can reap one-of-a-kind rewards.

Fairs are great because they bring collectors from far and wide together in one place for one day -- but you do have to hit that one day. Auctions are amusing to watch and you just might find a steal, but you can bet that if there are valuable items, there'll be collectors who'll beat you to the bid.

So, when I decided my old Victorian house needed a bit of nostalgia added to its decor, I chose to make a road trip of it and hit the shops. Living in downtown Toronto, I didn't really need to leave the city to find fabulous antiques but somehow, the thought of country air and small-town retailers seemed a more inviting way to look for wares from bygone eras.

Treasure hunting is ripe in several counties near Toronto, so it's best to pick a region and plot a course. My travel partner grew up in Perth County and his family history reflects that of the region. He's half Irish and half German; his roots date back to the settlers who were lured here by the Canada Company with promises of free land in the early 1800s.

And so it was settled, our antiquing weekend would also be a trip into history and down memory lane -- along Highway 8 from Shakespeare to Goderich, to be exact. It was a lot of ground to cover, but we gave ourselves four nights. The trip could have easily been broken in two for a shorter weekend getaway -- one in Perth County, the other in Huron County.

Bargaining in Bard Town
On day one we set off from Toronto for Shakespeare, often referred to as one of the Antiques Capitals of Ontario. This quaint, one-strip hamlet has virtually nothing in it but antique shops. You simply need to find a parking spot and hop from door to door for Shakespeare's predominantly high-end shopping.

In J. Donald Antiques (Huron Road West; tel: 519-625-8441, closed Mondays) I found the trip down memory lane I was looking for, aptly housed in an 1860s Ontario cottage-style home. With big collections of teacups, needlepoint, framed pictures and furniture, I thought I'd walked into granny's house. The piece that caught my eye was a walnut-framed, upholstered parlour chair for $495.

Glen Manor Galleries (19-21 Huron Road; tel: 519-625-8921) has a big selection of furniture, though the styles featured here are quite formal. I found myself more interested in their vast array of brass light fixtures and silverware. Beautiful farm furniture handpicked in the region can be found at Land & Ross (29 Huron Road; tel: 519-625-8070). They've been around for 20 years and in addition to carrying one of the best antique furniture collections, they also do quite convincing reproductions.

Land & Ross also run the Shakespeare Antique Centre (2 Fraser Street; tel: 519-625-8842) which houses dealers from around the area. The shop is not cheap but it is full of treasures. There's period dishware, furniture, early cameras and clocks from early Ontario homes and from dealers who scope the world. The 20-odd dealers have very different specialties and tastes, which gives the centre a kind of art-gallery feel, as do items like the $25,000 antique Asian vase I carefully tiptoed past.

Another shop not for the faint of wallet, but definitely worth the drool, is Jonny's Antiques (10 Shakespeare Street, tel: 519-625-8307). Probably the most upscale of the mostly upscale shops in Shakespeare, Jonny's is run by appraisers James Bisback and Jonny Kalish who have been in the business for 45 years. Much of their eye-popping collection comes from making house calls to old estates in Toronto. Items range from a set of eight Wedgewood plates circa 1920 for $895 to a 1760s wall-length cabinet with a butler's desk for $175,000 in a room that's accessible to shoppers by appointment only.

Their stunning countryside collection is in the basement and, according to Jonny, "reproductions are never on the floor here." They have some, in cupboards, but only bring them out during lectures they conduct with museum personnel. "Most pick repros," says Jonny with a chuckle about their ability to spot an original antique -- a sobering reminder to use an independent appraiser if you want to invest in a big-ticket item.

Quarrying for Curios
We said good-bye to Jonny and to Shakespeare and headed onward to St. Mary's. Known as Stone Town, many of its Victorian buildings are carved from the beautiful, pale, local limestone.

In St. Mary's we checked out two antiques shops. Take your time at Eclectic Treasures (128 Queen Street East; tel: 519-284-8177) and don't hesitate to get help from the shop's friendly owner to make your way through the tangled treasure chest of antiques, replicas, collectibles and just plain junk from around Ontario and the world. There are items in here culled from the Eaton estate, the Stratford Festival props department and people's yard sales. If there is a dominant theme to be found in this truly eclectic shop, it's war and royalty.

The family that has run O'Hara's Antiques (615 Queen Street East; tel: 519-284-8117) for three generations specializes in furniture, pottery, textiles and glass found locally. They have a disorganized collection of unfinished drop-leaf tables and chests in the garage, which I suspect were priced for bargaining. Inside the house is the refinishing shop. A 1970s knockdown Waterloo wardrobe caught my eye but, at $8700, I would want it appraised first. And if you're a fan of early, signed, ceramic merchants' jugs, this is the place to come.

Stratford, a mere 15-minute drive away, has plenty of boutique-style antique shops to attract the festivalgoer between plays. I recommend stopping in at Antiques in Time (45 York Street; tel: 519-272-0411). This is like a museum for clocks and watches that would appeal to anyone with a thing for timepieces. On the same street is Gregory O'Connor's (7 York Street; tel: 519-273-4165) which has a stunning stock of brass, glass and graphic art from the 17th to 19th centuries.

 

 

Our final stop in Stratford was the Antique Warehouse (2977 Forest Road at Highway 7/8; tel: 519-272-1872). The antithesis of the specialty boutique, the Warehouse rents out stalls to anyone willing to pay a fee. It's huge and has lots of interesting collectibles ranging from Royal Dalton dishware to the April 1971 issue of Life magazine featuring Paul and Linda McCartney. Everything is laid out in supermarket-aisle style, making it easy to navigate. Whereas Shakespeare's shops show off the tastes of professional dealers, stalls at the Warehouse are more earnest, transporting you into the homes of Perth residents.

Before leaving town we stopped in at R&R Enterprises (909 Earie Street; tel: 519-275-2697), opened in 2001 by Ron Saunders, who told us he appraises for the Antiques Road Show. Ron specializes in "utilitarian" antiques and has some replicas too. He refinishes and restores furniture, mostly from the area, and also has a great collection of wrought and cast iron.

Huron Street, a.k.a. Highway 8, is the old road that brought settlers west to Lake Huron. Many hidden treasures can be found on the way to Bayfield. Places like Fay's (269 Huron Road, Sebringville; tel: 519-393-5225) which focuses on '50s memorabilia, fashion and jewellery, Dublin Mercantile (59 Mill Street, Dublin; tel: 519-345-9922) and Needful Things (57 Main Street South, Seaforth; tel: 519-440-1079) are all worth pit stops.

Further on we came to Bayfield and the Lake Huron shore, aptly tagged Ontario's West Coast. If you've never seen a sunset on this Great Lake, do. The perfectly flat and endless horizon makes it one of the most dramatic places to see the setting sun.

A Bargain in Bayfield
The quaint and picturesque heritage port of Bayfield is also a great place to stay while antique hunting. Travellers have stopped here for over a century. Period buildings along the main street house restaurants, hotels and boutiques filled with books, home and garden decor, art, and apparel. A marina and beach are off the town centre and boat rentals and fishing charters are readily available.

We shopped at the Barn (24 Main Street; tel: 519-525-1140), where country collectibles are fittingly spread around a small two-storey house and garden. Yard ornaments are outside, old clothes and dolls and toiletries are upstairs in a space that feels like granny's bedroom. Like many of the shops beyond the antiques mecca of Shakespeare, the Barn mixes its antiques with collectibles, reproductions and replicas.

For a purer and more expensive selection there's Den's Country Corner Antiques (10 Main Street; tel: 519-565-2710) up the road. I fell in love with a few items here, such as the mid-1800s Waterloo County corner cupboard with original glazing for $8500 and the late 1880s pine spinning wheel, also from Waterloo, going for $1300.

I had managed to keep my wallet in my pocket until we reached our next stop. At Bayfield North Antiques and Collectibles (77072 Highway 21; tel: 519-482-9230), I could afford to do more than pine and gawk. Located in a field on the way to Goderich, Bayfield North houses its collections in a series of cabins, each featuring different eras and objects. There's old farm collectibles in one, store signs in another. Coca-Cola memorabilia takes up a cabin as does unfinished period furniture.

There is a fair amount of junk and some excavating is required to find treasures but it's worth it for those looking for a deal. A wooden ladder from an earlier era than one I'd seen going for over $100 elsewhere was a mere $30 dollars here. Antique ladders can make elegant plant stands. This one had my name written all over it, at a price that was guilt free!

A few minutes drive up the road in Goderich, we stopped at the Maitland Toy Soldier Shop (108 Victoria Street; tel: 519-524-6807). It once dealt exclusively in antique toy soldiers but now also sells toy replicas and reproduction furniture, Tiffany lamps, and period oil paintings from China and other countries. If you're going for look rather than authenticity, Maitland's is a worthy stop.

Also in Goderich are mother-and-daughter collectors Connie and Jane Egan, who each have a shop. For anyone looking for old quilts, linens and dishware, Jane's collection at the historic Gault House (35 Nelson Street; tel: 519-524-2963) is a sight to behold. Her mother is just outside town in a more modern suburban-style dwelling at Ringwood House Antiques (530 Main Street; Holmesville; tel: 519-482-8215). Despite the exterior, Connie has a fabulous collection of 19th- and early 20th-century local antiques, furniture and dishware. She also offers a wealth of information on the trends in antiques, telling me that spinning wheels are out -- "you can't give them away" -- while Aladdin lamps and white washbasin sets are in.

At the Carlow General Store (RR # 5, Goderich; tel: 519-524-6166) I saw my first must-have high-ticket item: a 1920s oak Hoosier kitchen cabinet, complete with a cupboard where you pour flour into the top and retrieve it, sifted, at the bottom.

This one was built for my kitchen and would tuck in nicely along my exposed brick wall. And compared to the price tags I'd seen in Shakespeare, Stratford and Bayfield, the General Store was a charmer. True to its name, you can also buy a pop and chocolate bar while you're there.

As with all shops mentioned in this article, be sure to check opening days and times. Many are closed Monday. Some are seasonal. Others seem to open and close on a whim. I'd suggest calling in advance.

For some dealers and buyers, antiquing is a serious matter. It's an investment opportunity that requires proper research and appraisals. For others, it's about those little things that trigger memories of childhood and stories from grandparents, or simply images of bygone days.

Ultimately, antiquing is a personal quest. One shopper's treasure is another's trash -- sometimes quite literally. But we found enough variety in Perth and Huron to sate the desires of most antique and collectible lovers. I know that now that I've started hunting, I'll be back to look for more.

 

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