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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.

It's raining, it's Stirling / Ghost towns in the backwoods

Updated: Jan 17, 2021

Stirling this year was literally a washout, but there's always something else to do, if you look.

Fellow collector Eric Vettoretti and I, fresh from finding our 1939 doctor pair two weeks before on our way to Acton, decided to team up for the #Stirling flea market on April 30. The weather seemed pretty good as the sun rose that morning, but by 8 o’clock, we were approaching Stirling and the drizzle had started. It wouldn’t end until we were most of the way home.

There’s only so much fun to be had at an auto market when the rain is unabating. Naturally, some vendors just tarped their tables over, and I’m sure we missed out on a number of plates as a result. We combed the field pretty quickly, but we still managed to make a couple of finds, which I’ll outline here pretty quickly because no plate excursion should go unwritten… even if it didn’t turn up very much.

Eric is putting together a run of Ontario quarterly trucks. That's one of the first things I did after I joined ALPCA. Eric, however, is going about it in a more fiscally responsible way, waiting to find plates that are a dollar or two. Ten years ago, when I was doing my quarterly run, I’d think nothing of blowing $5 per plate, or sometimes more, if it was one that I needed. I was obsessed. No wonder I never had any money when I was a student. Stirling, being a farming centre, is a great place to find old truck and farm quarterlies. My own farm run had almost nothing in it for years until I started going to Stirling. I finished after two annual visits there. Eric uncovered a bunch of quarterlies, some of which he bought, while others were just a little too much to be worth it.

We came across some yokel who was selling krappy plates out of a box. They were all pairs starting with letters (meaning, no good for YOM) and they were all from 1968-1972… the easiest years to find. He said the starting price was $20 per pair, and as he said, “that’s not even guaranteed to be useable on yer classic car.” Quite the salesman. I was curious to ask him what he would charge for a banged-up pair that was YOM-clear, but Eric wished him a nice day and nudged me onward (rightly so).

As for me, I found a really nice 1937 passenger plate with glossy, unfaded paint for a bargain. I managed to upgrade the one in my collection, if only slightly. There was a shorty 1937 pair elsewhere for about double the price, but the condition wasn’t as good, and I don’t like to prospect on the YOMability of earlier plates because the numbers are always a toss-up. I also picked up a handful of plates for a quarter each. No matter what the year or type, if the condition is displayable, than you can’t go wrong for a quarter!

That’s pretty much it for Stirling. Ironically, the most interesting part of the trip was on the ride home, and it didn’t have anything directly to do with plates. Another interest we share is the concept of dilapidation: abandoned roads and rail lines, ghost towns, disowned buildings, and the like. Eric, being a life-long resident of Eastern Ontario, knows the area much better than a transplant like myself. We decided to take a couple of detours through a pair of ghost towns——Millbridge and Millbridge Station——south of Bancroft, along Highway 62. The old Hogan Hotel now exists as a private home (but still showing the Hogan name), right beside the track bed where the colonization railroad once shuttled immigrant settlers to less-than-ideal farmland. Not much else remains. People were home, and we didn't want to be a bother, so we didn't stop for pictures. Yet.

We then headed northeast to Balaclava, a ghost town on the Mississippi River (the one in Eastern Ontario, not the big one in the US). The town buildings still stand. An old saw mill, partially built over the river, butts up against the road on one side of the town bridge. On the opposite side of the road is the old general store, which may have also served as a restaurant or inn. It was definitely the town garage as well, because when we looked through the intact windows, there was a wealth of objects of interest to auto and petroliana buffs-- a pile of old BP oil cans, oil bottles, and boxes of miscellaneous mechanic items.

We couldn’t help but wonder if there were some license plates stashed on the shelves… maybe some dealers going up into the 1950s, which is our guess as to when the townsfolk packed up and moved onward. We would have loved to explore inside the building, but it’s clearly still owned by someone, possibly the folks in the occupied home directly across the road. All we need to do now is make contact and ask for a tour… but I’m sure the owners have turned many geeks away before. We didn't want to push our luck, so we took only pictures and left only footprints.

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