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First started as "My 2 Cents" in 1997, I have written posts numbering into the hundreds. It will take some time to resurrect the older posts, so keep checking back. They will include meet reports, travelogues, and news of interest to Ontario licence plate collectors.

Acton & Stirling '22: Back in the Saddle

Updated: May 11, 2022

Thirty months.

It sounds like a jail sentence. But that’s how long it’s been… Thirty long months since our last indoor swap meet in Grimsby, in the fall of 2019. I never felt like I took our regular meets for granted. And now that we can meet again after being grounded for so long, I’m sure that I never will.

In previous years, the Acton swap meet has been held on a Sunday. I would ordinarily leave on Saturday morning, make pick-stops throughout the day, attend the meet Sunday, and then beeline for home. But the year 2022 marks Acton’s Saturday debut. Not only that, but the Stirling Antique Market was held the same weekend, and that has only happened once before. So Eric Vettoretti and I adjusted our travel plans accordingly: We would drive straight to Acton on Friday night, attend the swap meet on Saturday morning, and spend the rest of the day doing porch pickups and shopping at flea markets, before driving to Trenton to spend the night. Sunday morning, we would take to the market field in Stirling.

We had time to spare on Friday afternoon, so we went through Smiths Falls to hit a couple of antique shops. One was closed earlier than advertised, but the other was still open. We’ve had mixed results at this shop before, and it looked like there were no plates worth buying. I looked over at a wall, and amongst the artwork was a porcelain King’s Highway sign, dating from the 1930s or 40s.

Highway 42 was a short regional highway in Eastern Ontario. It was rather unusual in its routing, because its western terminus in Westport was a spur that didn’t link up to any other provincial highways. It was downloaded to the county level over two decades ago, so there aren’t a lot of “42” signs to find. The sign had some treatable rust marks, and the price was less than I expected, so I bought it. I posed with the sign next to the 1951 farm truck that sleeps in the front yard of the shop.

The iconic Rideau Antiques is just south of Smiths Falls, so we made a little detour to see if it was open. It was after 5 pm, so we weren’t getting our hopes up. But the gates were still open when we arrived, with a 6 pm closing time. Rideau is chock full of anything old that you can imagine. Everything about the place is quaint, right down to the owner’s makeshift restoration booth in the yard where he was sprucing up sad irons with some rotary wire brushes.

The plates at Rideau are spread out all over the place, but we had a good 45 minutes to dig around. There are big racks of them outside, another box in an outbuilding, and lots more inside the none-too-cramped main store. We’ve done Rideau a couple of times each before… lots of late 1960s plates and up, and some “swiss cheese” singles from the 1940s and 50s, but there’s always potential for a few surprises. We didn’t come away with much… just a couple of modest YOM possibilities.

Six o’clock came, and we had four hours of driving ahead of us until we could stop for the night. We were tired, but we needed a good hour in front of the TV once we arrived at our hotel in Milton. We’ve dispensed with our customary stay at the Motel 6 in north Mississauga. We weren’t chancing a repeat of the 2 am fire alarm, loud people and bad smells from last time. We slept well at our new digs in Milton, with no interruptions.

Six o’clock came again (AM this time), and we were eager to get rolling. There had been some social media chatter about showing up early and swapping in the parking lot. I was curious as to whether any earlybirds would actually have boxes of plates spread out on the pavement. That’s never happened before because the doors are generally open early for people to lug their traders inside.

We got there a little after seven. People like Joe Sallmen, Mike & Alannah Franks, Terry Ellsworth and Bernie Angi were milling about, just saying hello for the first time in what seemed like forever. Meet host Dave Steckley had the doors open, so we just went inside and started setting up our tables. I flagged down Terry Ellsworth because I had two PCV plates that I had been saving for him (class E, for Ellsworth, which is what he was looking for). Terry had some neat stuff at his table, so it didn't take long for us to hammer out a deal.

Krystian Kozinski paws through Matt Embro's plates, early in the morning.

I had a lot of traders on-hand. I had co-purchased two collections with Eric the previous summer, and I still had a number of plates from my dearly departed friend, Bill Thoman. In all, I had about seven heavy boxes left over from the outdoor Vineland meet last summer. I knew I’d be tied to my table, and wouldn’t be able to shop around much. I did some light browsing around the still-sparsely populated hall. I didn’t find anything, but I wasn’t trying that hard. The hall would fill up in no time flat, and I wanted to sell as much as I could, so I just went back to my tables and set my boxes up. Bit by bit, more people entered the hall, and my traders began to move more quickly.

The meet provided an opportunity to see two rarities up close. Eric had a pre-arranged deal with Jim Schroeder to acquire a 1944 Ontario Commercial windshield validation decal, and James Haddock also brought his recently-acquired 1944 passenger validation decal. The forgeries greatly outnumber the real articles, so I had to see both with my own eyes to believe their authenticity. (I plan to write a 2Cents article in the coming weeks about 1944 decals, to help collectors identify the real ones from the fakes.)

Mike and Alannah Franks spent their first half-hour putting together an impressive display of Newfoundland car and truck plates from 1949 to present. That year, Newfoundland ceased to be a British colony and entered Canadian confederation as the tenth province. That little historical fact is probably quite convenient for Mike, given that the colony-era Newfoundland plates are very rare and priced accordingly.

Mike and Alannah got two "stay home years" for the price of one... both glad to be back!
Mike and Alannah Franks put up this incredible Newfoundland plate display.

Krystian Kozinski brought an impressive display of Ontario motorcycle plates. Not only were there some very impressive early examples, but he also had some later examples with repeating and short numbers. He also had a super-rare 1965 sample motorcycle plate (all zeroes). I’ve never seen sample plates for any other vintage motorcycle year.

Composite picture of Krystian's kool motorcycle display.

Paul Frater, originally from Orangeville, brought a display of Ontario plates from 1930-42 that are verified as having been issued there by the Ontario Motor League distribution lists. His 1930 was once destined for restoration and resale as part of my YOM business, but he noticed that it had the DZ prefix, unique to Orangeville for that year. I sent it his way, and now, a few years later, he’s closer to completing his hometown plate run.

While I was anchored at my table, it was nice to meet several new faces. I had made up a batch of souvenir plates for the CLPC Facebook group, and there were over a dozen people who opted to pick their plates up in Acton. Half of them, I hadn’t met before. So to make myself easy to find, I wore my eyeball-searing, “Flying V” Vancouver Canucks throwback jersey (see if you can spot me in the group photo). Because of that, I was able to finally meet people like Nick Emilio, Phil Wang, and Sandra Earles. My jersey also came in handy because I had a deal to finalize with Bill Collins, who I had also not met in person before.

Bill Morley, James Haddock, and Wendy-Ann Whitt read Tiger Joe's book as they root through Tiger Joe's plates.

Dave Steckley and Gary Edwards paused the meet at ten o’clock for the announcements and door prizes. I guess Canadians are particularly well-behaved, because everybody in the hall stopped what they were doing and gave their complete attention. Dave held a moment of silent tribute for the collectors who had passed away since our last Acton meet: John Powers, Mike Hathway, and Bill Thoman. Gary Edwards announced, in tribute to the late Mr. Powers, that he had commissioned a new licence plate poster (similar to the popular and limited-edition Powers poster from 2010, but updated).

Meet hosts in Acton: Dave Steckley addresses the crowd while Gary Edwards looks on.

We managed to take the group picture, this time on the main hockey pad of the arena. In many past years, Lynda Thoman would take the picture for us. But with Lynda absent, we had to find another volunteer. We crammed about 60 people into the frame. Apparently, we had 72 collectors in all. I’m not sure that’s a record, but it’s definitely on par with the 2019 Acton meet. The hobby still goes strong in these parts!

CLICK TO ENLARGE: The obligatory group shot (miss you, Lynda!)

Don Goodfellow unveiled the 2022 Grimsby event flyer (November 5 this year), featuring the heavily-photoshopped 11-5 plate that I whipped up. Dave Colonna also announced that he is continuing the successful series of Vineland swap meets. The next one will be held August 6, once again at Prudhomme's Antique Market.

It was about 10:30, and while I had sold about half of my trade stock, it wasn’t enough. That stack of boxes was taking up space in my cramped workshop back home, and I needed the space back. I’d been waiting for months to sell it all off. I did well the previous summer in Vineland, and I had done well today. It was time to break the ice and give people some deals, so I re-organized my table and announced a half-price sale. It worked, as it always does, and it kept me busy for another half-hour. Thomas Zimmermann and a slightly-hung-over Jake Shoychet came looking for some deals. Sam Mazmanian stopped by to see if could once again play “Sam Breaks Even” by taking a bunch of half-price plates, and then sell enough of his own traders to break even. He performed his calculations with dizzying speed and accuracy, egged on by myself and Andrew Braun. Sam was happy with what he took away from my table, but he remained in the red by a few dozen dollars. He headed back to his table to see if he could sell that much more, and thus repeat the feat.

After the dust settled, I had two boxes left. They were all nice plates, but mostly Ontario singles and pairs from 1956 to 1972, and I had no further use for these in particular. I hollered at the waning crowd in the hall and offered all of them for $400. Joe Sallmen came over and countered at $300. Done!

With my table empty (technically not, but all the plates now belonged to Joe), I was free to wander around the hall and say hello to a few people I hadn’t yet visited. I started at Keith Murphy’s table. He flew in from Calgary. We’ve corresponded extensively with our CLPC activities online, but we’ve only been face-to-face a couple of times. Keith still had a mint 1933 pair from a batch that had been uncovered out west. I like the colour combination, and I like mint plates still in their envelope, so I bought them. I also picked up a cool 1934 Ontario motorcycle plate from Keith. I’m not trying especially hard to finish my motorcycle run, but I’ll pick away at it here and there when I find good quality.

I wandered further and stopped to chat with Cyndi McCabe, Chuck Sakryd, Wendy-Ann Whitt, Norm Ratcliffe, William Loftus, Neb Ilic, and of course, our host Dave Steckley, who I had barely been able to see while stuck at my table. Dave surprised me with a June-78 school bus quarterly plate, with a neat number. I had mentioned, months ago, that I was missing that one plate for my contemporary school bus run. Dave remembered, and gave the plate to me for free. Thanks, Dave!

With that, it was 12:30. The hall had largely emptied, the whirlwind had subsided, and it was time for Eric and I to leave as well. We had a bit of a journey ahead of us, with an appointment to keep. We drove to Cambridge so I could pick up an eBay purchase. That went smoothly with no problems. We were very close to downtown, and we couldn’t pass up a chance to re-visit the expansive Southworks Antiques. I tend not to find much at flea markets, but Southworks has been reasonably good to me. Each time I’ve been, I’ve come away with something. I miss the days when Southworks was located in the old factory across the river. It’s now on the ground floor of a largely-disused, mid-1970s office building, but it’s the contents that count. While there, I found a really cool pair of 1919 passenger plates, with the province name cut out of the plate, possibly to provide more ventilation to the radiator. Someone had done a very meticulous job of punching out the characters (and parts of the year and coat-of-arms), although I can’t imagine what good it would have done.

Radiator vent slots? I can't think of why else they were cut.

I’m belatedly working on my quarterly trailer collection. I finished my quarterly truck run years ago, and didn’t care much about trailers at the time. But in my now-older eyes, a true quarterly run should include all the fixings, including the trailers, PCVs, and maybe even the windshield decals… much like Dave Steckley has done. I found a mismatched pair of September 1966 trailer plates. The price was $40 for the two… probably an overpay, but they were nice and I wanted the one with a short number. The same vendor also had a September 1970 trailer plate, but I couldn’t figure out the price tag. The plate was all by itself—not paired with anything else—yet it was priced at a ghastly $48. The vendor’s handwriting wasn’t very neat, and I couldn’t tell if maybe it was supposed to be a more-logical $18, given the 1966 plates I found. I brought them up to the cashier, who confirmed that the 1970 plate—which had an extra hole—was double the price of the nicer 1966 plates I was buying. All he could do was shrug. Apparently, this vendor is notorious for inconsistent pricing.

We (finally) stopped for some lunch before heading toward Hamilton to try our flea-luck there. There was lots to see and explore in the places we stopped, but nothing that we bought. Our final stop of the day before closing time was the Hamilton Antique Mall. It has four floors worth of vendors in an old department store building, complete with a 70-year-old elevator (staff only). It was a labyrinth, with many kinds of old things to find. The proprietor was in a bad mood, though, and was in the process of evicting a vendor and yelling at her staff to dump the vendor’s wares outside. We had less than an hour to check out four levels of tightly-arranged booths. We hurried, and didn’t find anything we wanted to take home. There were some plates locked in a display case, but the staff was busy checking people out and closing up. They were too busy to help, but we weren’t going to lose sleep over it.

With the shopping day done in Hamilton, we headed eastward out of the GTA and toward Trenton. The Stirling antique market was also being held this weekend, and our plan was to get there bright and early Sunday morning. It had been a warm day around Acton and Hamilton, but the air had cooled off substantially by the time we reached Trenton. I munched on a late Burger King dinner while watching a terrible hockey movie on TV. Between the boring movie and all the walking we’d done, I had no problem falling asleep.

There was frost on the ground when the morning came, but the sky was clear, so we trusted that the sun would warm things up through the day. We arrived in Stirling just before eight, and it seemed like a ghost town. Usually, we’re there on Saturday, which brings an annual traffic jam through the town. Everyone is typically headed to the fairgrounds, so there’s a constant procession of cars converging there. But this was the first time we had ever been there on a Sunday, and it was very quiet. We were worried that the field might have cleared out already. But the fairgrounds were open, and the field was lined with vendors, as usual.

Stirling is a fairly small place. Perhaps its biggest contemporary claim to fame is that it was voted Kraft Hockeyville in 2012. Eric and I occasionally find a collectible item in Stirling, but we find it most useful for YOM prospecting, and for upgrading our various quarterly truck / trailer / farm / PCV collections. I’ve passed over many PCV plates in Stirling markets past. But now that I’ve decided to collect them, I shudder to think of all the ones I left behind. I still have plenty of gaps in my PCV run.

The market had been cancelled in 2020 and 2021. The combination of surplus collectibles for sale, and pent-up buyer demand was great for on-field business. Pretty much every seller told us that Saturday was the busiest day ever at Stirling. We feared that things might have been picked over. They probably were, to an extent. But what Eric and I look for at Stirling isn’t necessarily the same for other collectors.

We came upon a pair of Model Ts, which looked to be straight out of the forest. They were a little rusty to be considered “barn finds.” Interestingly, one of them wore an equally-rusty set of 1951 New York plates, suggesting that it was functioning on the road for at least 24 years. I know that Model Ts were discontinued in 1927, but I had no way of knowing which model year these relics were.

1951 New York plate on a 1920-something Model T.

I found a pair of natural 2017 Ontario plates to add to my passenger run of matched pairs, and I also found a red ‘75 PCV plate, indicating a June expiry. I also found a mint current trailer plate. I don’t get too excited about those, but I won’t turn down a cheap opportunity to upgrade on condition. I keep a quick spreadsheet of my collection, accessible from my phone. I checked it and confirmed that the trailer plate in Stirling did indeed upgrade the one I had at home.

The rest of our day through the field consisted mostly of YOM prospecting, buying craft plates for a birdhouse-maker friend back home, and checking out the cars in the show lot. There weren’t a lot of cars there on Sunday, but we spotted a couple of YOM-plated vehicles. The most interesting car was a 1957 Chevy Belair limousine. From afar, we suspected that it was the chopped product of more than one Belair. But it wasn’t a newly-restored vehicle, and bore some signs of being a survivor, so I wondered if it was actually a limo that was put together in ‘57.

It was about noon, and the time had come to head home. The Acton trip has always been a tiring one, with two days of walking / antiquing sandwiched between long drives to and from Ottawa. I usually spend the following week catching up on sleep and missed family time, and putting up my aching legs. That’s why my Acton 2Cents articles are almost a week removed from the trip itself.

I was pretty pleased with my collectible take. I sure wasn’t expecting to find a rare porcelain sign, let alone bring one home! Not a bad way to resume real collecting after a thirty-month break.

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