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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.

Downfall Barrie

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

I hate to say it, but the trick to enjoying the Barrie Automotive Flea Market these days is to keep one’s expectations low. If I make the trip, and don’t expect to be rewarded, then I’m more likely to have a good time.

I went to Barrie in the spring of this year, and I didn’t come home with a lot of plates, aside from one oddball vanity plate from 1973. Finding that one plate was pretty awesome, but over the past 20 years of doing Barrie, I’ve become accustomed to wearing a heavy backpack crammed full of plates. That doesn’t happen anymore.

I tried the Bonfield flea market, run by the same people, but it was tiny. I bought two plates, mostly just for the sake of buying something. It helps to diversify my interests, though. I collect traffic signs with more enthusiasm than I did before, so there’s a great chance of finding something cool. I’m also into music on vinyl, and when signs and plates fail, there will always be vinyl to find.

So the “ace in the hole,” so-to-speak, would seem be the fall Barrie event, which has always been the largest event of its type in Ontario. But it didn’t really live up to its past reputation, and I came away from the field with little in the way of plates. I had signs to fall back on, and vinyl, I suppose, but it wasn’t as satisfying of a trip as in previous years. All of my YOM finds were pretty dull, and they all came from one source, and I bought two items to go into my plate collection. When I fill my 2Cents column with pictures of highway signs that I saw along the trip, as opposed to cool finds from the field, you know you’re in for a somewhat boring read.

I arrived at the field at 8 am. It opens an hour before that, but I long since gave up on expecting vendors to be open at 7 am, even on the brightest, warmest days. On this day, the ground was wet from overnight rain, and it was cool, but the clouds had moved on and the sun was shining. I wandered along the bottom of the field slowly, but most vendors were either closed, or cleaning up last night’s beer cans and not ready to sell anything. By nine o’clock, that trend was reversing itself, but about a third of the vendors I encountered were still closed. The official info on the BAFM website is that the event starts at 7am, but looking at the sealed tents and covered tables, one would have no idea that it starts that early. Back in the Don Hanney days, he’d come over the PA system and nag the vendors into action. It was worth it for me, as a shopper, to show up at 7 am because lots of vendors would be open. Not all of them, but a lot. The Barrie market has gone downhill in that regard.

In my first hour, I found a vendor who was selling directional arrow signs… the kind that point left or right when you have to have to make a turn to stay on a highway. These were old ones, from the 1970s, with the MTC legend at the bottom (Ministry of Transportation and Communications), as they were known then. He also had similar signs that said “DETOUR,” which looked unused. I theorized that these might have pre-dated the angular orange “D-1” signs that we see widely nowadays (especially in Barrie proper that weekend, which had no fewer than three street closures that I saw). In the very next row, I spotted a King’s Highway 66 shield. Next to it was a highway 11 shield. Those two roads intersect outside of Kirkland Lake, and that’s where the seller was from. The 66 sign, while hard to find, had a bit too much peeling to pay the full sticker price. I decided I’d come back later in the day to haggle over it if I didn’t find anything else interesting.

A bit later, I made an unexpected find… a 1955 Ontario truck plate, with a D-suffix and a short number. Most truck plates that I see from 1955 end in either A, B or C, so that makes this plate a relatively high example. I knew I needed an upgrade for 1955 in my truck run, so I gladly picked it up for $10.

The field was fairly barren for the next two hours. There were very few plates to find, and when they appeared, they were just rag-tag leftovers from a front bumper, with scuffs, dents, and paint that had suffered the dual torture of sunlight and flying gravel. I remained hopeful that the next good find was around the corner, but it didn’t happen.

In writing this column over the years, I’ve compiled some excellent notes about my finds in Barrie, both spring and fall. Some years were good, some weren’t, but my success depended largely on the weather. The last good year was 2014——right before the park was sold and turned into a concert venue. I remarked in one of my 2014 articles about Barrie that, “The good always outweighs the bad.” That’s no longer the case.

The field is smaller than it was before; the reduced size is a casualty of the land sale. However, I was once optimistic that we would just see fewer empty spaces, and the number of vendors would be more or less the same. Now, I can see that’s not really correct. There remain pockets of vacant spaces, and entire rows sit empty in the southern section of the gold field. The fall Barrie market used to take me eight hours to browse; now, it takes only four.

The Solmes plate bus saved the day for me. It was there that I found a really nice set of PRP plates to upgrade my collection. PRP plates aren’t terribly hard to find, but they’re often in poor condition. This set, in comparison, was squeaky clean and smooth as a baby’s bottom. I also picked out a few unexciting YOM items——single mid-40s plates and some 1971 pairs.

I found a couple more signs on the field. If I had found more plates, I might not have bothered. But I come to Barrie to feed my various hobbies over the years. Aside from plates, there are signs, maps, old paper, records, and until last year, air-cooled VW parts. Plates are my first love, but when I don’t find many of them, as was the case today, I spread out into my secondary hobbies. As for signs, I found an old yellow “YIELD” sign from the 1960s, plus a similar-era Ottawa street sign for Parkdale Avenue (complete with tough-to-find finial on top and a post/wall bracket). The frame needs a repaint, but otherwise, it was in great shape.

It was 11:30, and I was done my row-by-row combing of the field. My next task at hand was to check out the car show. I found a few pretty awesome vehicles there, but there weren’t as many participants as in previous years. I found three YOM-plated vehicles, although none of the plates originated from me. I left my card on the front seat of an early-30s coupe that sorely needed some YOM plates. The owner had repurposed an old right-angled military flashlight for the car’s rear plate light. A guy with that sort of attention to detail might end up playing the YOM game.

With the car show done, I quickly relocated myself to the bottom of the sales field again, where I had started at 8 am. I figured I might as well double-check those vendors who were still asleep when I arrived, but it was fruitless——I found just as much when the vendors were awake as I did when they were asleep. The Highway 66 shield from earlier in the day had sold, too. It was the noon hour, and that wrapped it up for the fall Barrie market of 2019.

I remember one year at Barrie, when the fields were still big, I was in a hurry and I pretty much power-walked all five fields——Red, Blue, Gold, Green and Brown——and I was done by about 1 pm. I didn’t have a chance to do any sections a second time, so I would have missed a couple of sleepy vendors at 7 am. It’s likely that I also missed a few plates because I wasn’t looking that carefully. But today, in 2019, I took my time——looked under each table——peeked into all the cardboard boxes——chatted with a couple of vendors——and I soaked up as much of the market as I could. But with only three fields now instead of five, there’s no more explaining away the disappointment that I feel when I compare the market to previous years. The spring market of old——always smaller than its autumn counterpart——was larger and better than the fall market of the present. Not only that, but the off-topic vendors still remain in Barrie. There’s the candy man. There’s the bong guy. There’s the Christian booth. There’s the garage sale crowd who sell toasters and VHS tapes, but no car parts. There are the knockoff T-shirt vendors who sell unauthorized Beatles and Pink Floyd shirts. There are leather belts and phone cases. All of these vendors have diluted the quality of the market. At this point in time, the Lindsay, Stirling and Bothwell are head-and-shoulders above the Barrie market. They may be smaller markets, but all of their vendors sell automotive gear and memorabilia. I’ll give Barrie another shot next year, but it’s no longer the top dog.

I had my son Greg with me, and we stayed in Barrie a second night so he could swim and relax. We headed for home on Sunday morning, via a new route to the south of Lake Simcoe. I had located four or so shops that were junky enough that they might contain plates. None of them were housing a previously-unknown hoard of plates, but I did make finds at a couple of them:

Queensville Antique Mall: The name sounded good, and on approaching the building, it appeared to be a long, narrow structure that would probably be loaded with stuff from front to back. The front area had an assortment of worn toys, comic books, vinyl, and broken video game controllers. The rear section was largely empty and roped off. Bust.

Antiques on Highway 48: Neat store with an interesting assortment of old things. They had a small box of plates, with a 1980-era truck pair, AJ2-909, with a green flip side. I’m a front-side collector, so I left them be.

Country Sampler: A pretty little antique store on a stretch of Highway 7 that I had never before travelled, in Oakwood, west of Lindsay. There were no plates of note (although she does sometimes have them), but I slowed down and looked through the paper ephemera. My eyes jumped when I found a 1940 copy of “Maintenance of the King’s Highways - Manual of Instructions.” It contained all the guidelines for oiling the shoulders, painting the centre lines, building guardrails, mounting highway signs, identifying and mowing weeds, and lots of other cool stuff. There were some blackline illustrations that I found really interesting, including the different types of passing stripes, examples of typical road signs, and how to build a railway crossbuck sign to code. It was a bit expensive, but the manual fed directly into my interests. I had never heard of these manuals before, let alone seen one.

Lorneville Antiques: Lorneville is about halfway along what used to be King’s Highway 46. It’s a quiet road, and Lorneville is a prime example of ghost town, with only a few houses and former shopfronts in the middle of agrarian Ontario. The shop was quaint, and had lots of plates and signage both inside and out (Plates: Walk to the front door, and then turn around so you’re facing the road, and look up). I bought a couple of PCV plates that I needed, so I was glad to have stopped. The proprietor had a 1942 PCV plate for sale (mounted to a wall in the back), but I have a ‘42 already, so I left it behind for the next guy.

Merry Mac’s: This place is in Argyle, which is a few more miles northward on former Highway 46. An interesting store, with a good selection of farm tools, vinyl, china, signage, and one set of 1967 plates that I bought. It’s on the northwest corner where the traffic lights are. It’s located in the former Argyle blacksmith’s shop. The lady that runs it was really nice.

Firefly Flea Market: I stumbled on this place in Kirkfield without knowing it was there. It’s big, and pretty dense, so in my walkthrough, I might have missed some items of interest. The owner has a bunch of plates nailed to the rafters, twenty feet above the floor. He doesn’t sell plates, unfortunately.

Dunk’s Junk: This is just north of Coboconk, where former Highway 48 ends at Highway 35, in a building that housed a different flea market years ago. Dunk says he gets plates in from time to time, but they always sell quickly. There were no plates left, but he had a ton of 1980s vinyl, and I found a few rarities there, like UIC’s 1986 LP “Our Garage” (an independent Canadian punk band).

That is all.

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