The Acton meet came full circle this year—and my, how things have changed.
The inaugural Acton swap meet, now 20 years ago, happened on the main hockey pad of the Acton Arena. It was a huge space for the relatively small number of people who pioneered the trading floor that first year. The lighting in the arena was much dimmer, and the film-based cameras of the day weren’t really up to the task of documenting the meet. Many pictures suffered from a bad flaring because of the reflection from the glass above the boards, or from the glare of the reflective plates that were everywhere. Dave Steckley moved the meet to the shuffleboard room for the next few years, and then the curling ice pad for a few more years after that. It never occurred to me that we could ever have so many people that we would need the hockey pad again. But two decades later, here we are.
Eric Vettoretti——my usual travelling companion——was on vacation overseas, so I went to Acton alone this year. That, plus the change to Saturday from Sunday, changed the “vibe” of the trip. When Acton was on a Sunday, I’d be raring to go on Saturday morning. We would travel at a breakneck pace to hit as many antique markets as we could. We’d crash at a hotel, do Acton on Sunday, and limp home, exhausted.
So, what to do this year? I figured I might do some post-meet plate-hunting on Saturday afternoon, crash at a hotel, and then look for more plates on Sunday along the way home. Well, that was the plan. It didn’t turn out that way. I overestimated my own stamina.
I left mid-afternoon on Friday and drove straight from Ottawa to Halton Region. I had some free time in the early evening., so I went to Georgetown because it has a good record store. J & S Records is open until eight o’clock on Fridays, so I browsed some vinyl for an hour and bought a couple of LPs.
Saturday morning arrived, and I got to Acton by about quarter after seven. The arena doors were open, and I carried my few trade boxes into the hockey rink. I claimed my tables, and promptly threw a couple of large bed sheets over them. I taped some signs to the sheets, saying I would be open at 9:30.
Why so late? Well, I didn’t get a chance to shop around last fall in Grimsby, because I was working the registration table the majority of the time. I missed a couple of plates that day, because I couldn’t get away (and I’m still looking for a 1919 Ontario commercial plate). Since I have no hosting responsibilities in Acton, I could make up for lost shopping time by keeping my table closed for the first couple of hours. I didn’t have a lot to sell, anyway.
I wandered around with my printed list, hoping that I’d find that 1919 truck tag. I figured my best chance might be with Terry Ellsworth, so I went to pay him a visit. Terry had a few latched tool boxes on the floor around his table. He told me they had plates in them, and I could take a look, but they wouldn’t come cheap. That sounded great to me—I was in a mood to buy. Bernie Angi was talking motorcycles with Terry, so Terry opened the box that had motorcycle plates. There was a little cycle trove inside: Sets from 1918 and 1926, and singles from 1920, 21, 26, and 30. He also had a couple of really nice low-number cycles: 1940 number 42 (which he had brought for show-and-tell back in 2015), and 1943 number 18.
Bernie was there before I was, specifically to look at motorcycle plates before Terry opened the box. So my plan was to let Bernie choose first, and choose from whatever was left. But with all those old motorcycle plates scattered on the floor, other collectors made their way over, asking about them. Bernie and Terry were hammering out a deal, so I picked up three plates that I knew I’d be taking. I knew I had to stake my claim or risk losing out. By then, Martine Stonehouse had arrived and was fifth in line. There were still some goodies to be had, but I took the 1926, 1930 and the low-numbered 1940. I had chosen a number of other cool plates from Terry’s table before the motorcycles were unveiled. I settled up so he could get on with the rest of the growing cycle crowd.
I did pick up a couple more plates on my list, but most of my remaining buys were in the name of YOM prospecting. Paul Frater had a stickered 1988 Transport Canada airport plate saved for me. These were used on the tugs that push jets away from their gates. I have a few with empty sticker boxes, but this is my first with a date sticker. Exciting!
Nine-thirty was coming up, so I uncovered my tables and gradually made some sales. There was nothing terribly exciting for me to sell, but my boxes were clearly lighter by the end of the show.
Sam Mazmanian brought an “0101” graphic for me to give to Eric. He’s the new owner and operator of the Ajax ServiceOntario outlet, which he has been running for the last month or so. It’s been both a thrill and nightmare for him, but it’s a dream job for someone who loves plates as he does. Sam has helped me acquire a few new-issue plates over the past couple of years. It’s good to have plate friends in high places!
The traditional group picture had about 60 people in it, and Dave Steckley estimated the overall attendance at about 85. Not quite the record-breaker that was Grimsby last November, but still a healthy count. Dave would have run out of spaces for all the vendors if he’d kept the meet on the curling pad as in prior years, so renting the hockey arena was the right call. Larry Luxner made the trip to Acton from Israel, and in most other years, he would have the Long Distance Award locked up. But Paul Jenkins also made the trip—from Australia. No doubt that’s a record-setter for twenty combined years’ of swap meets!
As long as we have international people flying into YYZ on their way to Acton, the Long Distance Award will probably not be won by anyone from Ontario. But Andrew Turnbull made the trip of 1400+ kilometres over two days from his home in Thunder Bay. Andrew is now a naturalized Canadian Citizen, and was proud to show me his new passport.
I bought a few plates from Frank Crooks, who made the trip from Montreal. He brought home a Toronto street sign bearing the name Frank Crescent. Talk about having a collectible with your name on it! Pierre Rondeau also made the trip from Montreal with his daughter, who dutifully minded the table and even helped draw one of our door prize tickets.
For some reason, I was starting to feel a little tired toward the end of the meet. Tired as in bone-weary… as if I could have had a nap on a sofa. Of course, walking around and checking my list against all the plates in every trade box is taxing work. I’m not exactly young anymore. But a bunch of my friends have also got their share of grey hair, and they seemed to be hanging in there pretty well. So I took a break from shopping to chat with people. I had a nice long yack with William Loftus about all kinds of things. Norm Ratcliffe was away from their shared table at the time, but he had a spiffy OPP stetson hat for sale. William said it was an "error" hat because it was made of the stiffer material used with dress uniforms. I tried it on, but I didn't wear it well!
Most of those in Acton were packing up their tables at this time and were free to head home for that afternoon nap, if they so chose. Of course, that doesn’t work for me and my five-hour drive home. I had been considering going to Aberfoyle or Barrie to look for plates in the antique shops to pass the afternoon, but I just didn’t have the energy this time. Besides, Dave Steckley had invited me to his place for a post-swap-meet lunch. Rather than running around to look at plates, I could put my feet up to talk about plates instead. That sounded much more appealing!
I arrived at Dave’s house. He was already there, hosting some collectors in the basement. Evelyn had ordered pizza ahead of time, and it was waiting in the kitchen. I took a few slices and headed downstairs. Dave’s basement is unfinished, so he has complete freedom to put the walls to good use. His collections of Ontario plates—including his passenger run and many different oddball types—take up the majority of the wall space. His prototypes and test plates sparked many a conversation. One newer addition to his collection, which I hadn't seen before, is a “sample” plate with the 1982-1994 border and slogan embossed on an aluminum base, yet it features the current die set. There’s only one Ontario plate issue that combines those two die sets: The 2002 Jubilee Tour plates. The blue number paint on Dave’s prototype was a bit sloppy. I wondered if these were test plates made as a way of calibrating the presses or paint rollers before the Jubilee plates were made. That’s just a guess.
Dave’s passenger run is really interesting to see. He displays die variations, right down to the short-medium-long variants from the 1920s. Chuck Sakryd and I were admiring his 1919 and 1920 variants, and we couldn’t quite figure out the differences. Dave pointed out that the later 1919 plates featured a differently-shaped number set. I’ve seen many 1919 plates before, but never noticed the variation… the downstroke curve on the “sevens” gives it away. Chuck and I shook our heads. Decades of collecting experience between the two of us, and yet here we were in 2023, still learning new things.
At this point, I had found my second wind, but I knew I was running on adrenaline only. A few collectors said goodbye, leaving fewer of us in Dave’s private museum. I snapped more pictures and enjoyed myself while my stamina lasted.
My original plan after leaving Dave’s was to meander around the local counties hunting for plates, stay the night somewhere, and then dawdle home on Sunday. But it was already four o’clock, and I was getting tired. I needed a good night’s sleep, plus a lazy Sunday to recover… So I did the previously-unthinkable: I went home.
Never before had I turned Acton into a single-day trip, but my body was clearly trying to tell me that I’d reached my limit. I hit the highway and made pretty good time, drinking a couple of coffees along the way. My wife was surprised to see me the same night.
I spent Sunday reviewing my loot. I’m really happy with it. But unfortunately, my want list was out-of-date, and I bought $75 worth of public vehicle plates from Terry that I didn’t need. I guess they’ll go into the trade bin. The 1916 pair was a great $35 deal from William Loftus that will be passed along to a young collector in my area. But the 1956 public vehicle? That’s a keeper, as is everything else!