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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.

The Grass is Greener in Grassie

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

The 2022 edition of Grimsby was always going to be unlike any of its previous installments.

My first display at a swap meet since 2014. What have I been waiting for?

It had been three years since the last meet in 2019. There was a lot of pent-up enthusiasm, with many new hobbyists who were no doubt going to make the trip. The 2019 meet—held at the St. Andrews Church parish hall—was already bursting at the seams. Don Goodfellow and I had plans for a larger venue in 2020 when COVID hit and the world turned sideways.

Don had previously looked at a church in Thorold, but it wasn’t a great fit. But then he suggested the West Niagara Agricultural Centre Fairgrounds. That’s in Grassie, which is a short drive up the escarpment south of Grimsby. The price was substantially higher, but it was a lot more central, the building was fairly new, and it was fully accessible. He visited the site, liked what he saw, and booked it. It was several times the size of the previous venue. Would it be too big? We hoped not. But we had to err on the side of spaciousness.

I was able to leave work early on Friday, a rarity for me. Not only was I Grimsby-bound; I also had a concert ticket for a show at Massey Hall. Unfortunately, I heard earlier in the week that the show was postponed (COVID). I had already booked the time off work, and didn’t want to waste it. But then something came up.

I was contacted directly by the wife of collector Ken Murdoch, who had been a long-time attendee of both the Grimsby and Acton meets. She informed me that Ken had passed away earlier in the year, and she was looking to dispense with his collection. Ken had left instructions to contact both myself and Dave Steckley for help. The collection was in the eastern reaches of the GTA, and I’d be passing relatively close to the Murdoch household on my way to Grimsby. I liaised with Dave and arranged with Mrs. Murdoch to stop by and view the collection on Friday afternoon.

Ken Murdoch on the left, and "Sam" Samis on the right. Both late gentlemen are shown at the 2004 fall meet in St. Catharines: The second of what would be later known as the "Grimsby" meet series.

I didn’t know Ken all that well. He was an amiable guy, and somewhat quiet. He joined ALPCA in the late nineties. His face can be seen in many group pictures of Ontario meets through the first fifteen years or so that we held them. Ken signed the guest register for the first of the “Grimsby series” of meets, held in Rockway in 2003. He was an enthusiastic collector of various familiar Ontario non-passenger types. He also collected graphic plates from the USA, some international plates, and he had maintained a 1947 birthyear run.

Better than a bathroom selfie... a stepladder selfie.

I brought a clipboard and made an inventory of the items as best I could, considering the time I had. There were no Holy Grails, but Ken’s was a solid collection. I presented a fair offer on behalf of Dave and myself, which was accepted. The neighbours from next door were there to help unscrew and box up the plates. They chatted about Ken all the while. Very nice people to meet; Ken was lucky to know them. The sun had just set when I got back on the highway, and I drove through the early evening for another hour-and-change until I arrived in Grimsby.

Left: Part of the Murdoch collection prior to loading. Right: Weighed down for the rest of the trip.

Dave Steckley, his wife Evelyn, and Eric Vettoretti were already there, so I met them for dinner. We talked about Ken, and about past meets, and wondered what the Grimsby turnout would be like after a two-year hiatus. After dinner, we went to the hotel to consolidate the boxes from Ken’s collection, which took a couple of hours. We were a little too tired to do much else.

Dave sorts through part of the Murdoch collection at the hotel.

Eric had gotten in touch with a person who had a number-one Ontario Lieutenant Governor plate from 1960: The mate to the one Eric already had. Through all Dave Steckley’s decades of collecting, he had never owned one of these treasures, with their distinctive large crowns. He was thrilled to finally have one.

Eric and Dave with their briefly-reunited pair of 1960 Lt. Governor plates.

I got a decent sleep, but woke up wired before five o’clock. I did some quiet examining of Ken’s plates, but I’d have to leave most of the sorting and valuation for a later date. There was too little time remaining before I had to meet Don at the event hall. I drove up the escarpment in the dark and was startled to see the town lights shining brightly, so far below me.

I arrived at the meet hall before dawn. Don Goodfellow was already there, ready to set tables up. We didn’t have the option of moving the tables the night before, so we’d have to be efficient if we were to open the hall by opening time. I was stunned at the size of the hall. It was at least four times the size of the previous venue. There was lots of wall space for displays, a loading dock, a stage, and even a PA system to make announcements. I loved the place as soon as I entered it. Hopefully, we’d have the money to make it feasible for future meets. More on that later.

Don at 6:45 am, lugging the first pallet of tables onto the floor.

Don and I got busy putting the fifty-odd tables into rows. We had a few early-morning helpers, including Dave, Eric, Paul Frater, and Frank Crooks, among others. Also came some earlybirds, who were ready to move in before the tables were set up. It was still pretty dark outside. We clearly advertised a start time of nine o’clock, but the birds were ready to unpack. There were bound to be hiccups; this was one of them. We just got on with the job, because opening time was coming.

A glimpse outside the hall at dawn, with Paul's car in the lot. We're still moving tables inside.

The hall was more or less ready by 8:30, so we threw the doors open and started greeting our guests. Don had arranged for a couple of high school volunteers to mind the registration table, but they cancelled at the last minute, so he and I were at the table full-time for the first hour or so. Once the initial crowd was in, things slowed down a little, so we were able to give each other brief breaks. This allowed me to sell a little from my nearby table, and I was able to go and talk to a couple of people, but I really didn’t have time to do much of any shopping. I didn’t even take any pictures of the meet in progress until almost ten o’clock!

The meet in full swing just before ten o'clock. Jake Shoychet and Mike Franks are glad it's finally underway!

Terry Ellsworth was downsizing, and brought a trove of plates to sell. I saw lots of people buying goodies from his table. I’d have to miss out on some finds, but I’d get over there sooner or later. I stood up on a chair in front of the registration table to take some pictures of the floor. It was amazing how truly busy the hall was. People wandered and chatted, plates changed hands, and yet more plates made the clack-clack-clack sound as eager collectors flipped through trade boxes. After three years, the next meet had finally arrived!

Bernie Angi chats with Eric.

Ten o’clock has generally marked the attendance peak for Ontario meets. With everyone having arrived, Don and I started doing the door prizes. Doing so was bittersweet, because I remember how the late John Powers always brought gas station gift cards, ice scrapers, jumper cables, and whatever else he could acquire as a donation from his local Canadian Tire. But we still had some goodies to give away: We had a couple of nifty bear-shaped booster plates from Dave Colonna, a framed item from Ken Murdoch’s collection, and a few more things courtesy of the late Bill Thoman.

Don and I auction off souvenir plate number 5, which went to high bidder Keith Murphy.

When I was helping Bill sell off his collection a year ago, he asked me to find homes for some of the non-plate items that he didn’t know what to do with. After he passed, his wife Lynda dropped them off at my house. There were a couple of books about vintage porcelain signage, a copy of Joe Sallmen’s Ontario plate book, and a beautiful copy of the now-out-of-print ALPCA hardcover, A Moving History, published over a decade ago. The ALPCA book is somewhat sought-after now, so we auctioned it as part of our Grimsby fundraiser.

Speaking of the fundraiser: I commissioned a limited set of sequentially-numbered plates, where the proceeds would be split between the respective reserve funds for the Acton and Grimsby meets. (The full backstory of these plates is worthy of its own 2Cents post, which will be posted on The Back Bumper in the near future.) We saved plates 8 and 9 as door prizes, and plates 5, 6 and 7 were auctioned off. Keith Murphy, Don McNeill and Terry Ellsworth were the respective high bidders for those. With the auctions and raffling done, we corralled everyone over to the stage for the traditional group photo. The photo was much easier to take than in previous years, where we’d all have to gather outside or move into a different part of the building.

Don McNeill with a couple of his meet souvenirs.

The Long Distance Award goes to the attendee who travelled the greatest distance to be at the meet. Keith Murphy travelled from Calgary, but his distance was topped by Don McNeill, who came all the way from Abbotsford, BC. In the week before the meet, I whipped up a topper award, made of painted sheet metal. It's a little more folksy than I intended—obviously hand-made—but it goes with the souvenir plates reasonably well. An honourable mention goes out to Andrew Turnbull, who made the two-day drive from Thunder Bay to Niagara Region. He slept in Sault Ste. Marie on the way down, and Parry Sound on the way back. Andrew, originally from the US, is mere days away from receiving his Canadian Citizenship! Congratulations, Andrew!

Andrew and Don flip through Joe Sallmen's traders.

I was able to escape the registration table for about a half hour, but I only browsed at a fraction of the vendor tables. I had a number of pending trades to complete, including with Krystian Kozinski, who pulled down about a dozen PCV plates from his wall. I knew he had his eye on a three-digit 1918 from my trade stock for a long time. I had always wanted to trade it for something cool, but the right deal never really presented itself until today. I didn’t want to bother adding up the values of the PCVs and compare to what I’d paid for the 1918. I got a good deal on it a long time ago, and I was happy with the PCVs I was getting in return. Sometimes a trade can’t be calculated; it just feels like the right thing to do.

Krystian's 1918 upgrader, via an old-fashioned swap.

I finally got myself over to Terry’s table. He had decided to sell off a large chunk of his collection, and his dozens of trade boxes had been buzzing with activity all morning. Eric Vettoretti met me there and we set out looking for YOM pairs, plus upgraders for our collections. We put together a pile, and I found some nice “gross weight” marker plates for my collection. We had to wait our turn, though… Terry and Martine Stonehouse were in the midst of some serious negotiations involving a 1911 porcelain plate, among other treasures.

Martine and Terry are figuring it all out.

Jake Shoychet had been stewing all morning over whether to buy one of Terry’s 1911 plates. Jake had number 6600, which is an awesome number. But Jake is from Toronto, and he wanted one that was issued from there. Terry happened to have number 5879. According to the 1911 registration records (de-archived and published by Eric a couple of years ago), 5879 was indeed issued out of Hogtown. The condition of Terry’s plate was basically the same. Terry couldn’t really budge on the price, so Jake had been looking for advice from lots of people (we all told him to go for it). Jake was briefly crushed when it appeared that Martine bought the plate, but that turned out not to be the case. Maybe it was the feeling of having missed out, but Jake decided to go with Terry’s 5879 shortly afterward. In the end, they did an even swap.

Jake finally gets a Toronto-issued porcelain plate in a swap with Terry.

Don had recruited a local food vendor, Dog Got It, to set up shop in front of the meet hall. Lots of us went out for a dog, burger or fries. The hope was that feeding everyone would keep more people on-site for a longer time, and it worked. Although some people had left, the meet was still going strong into the early afternoon, with some general trading and visiting still underway as late as 1:30. I ordered a burger and a pop. I love grilled onions and processed cheese. Terribly unhealthy for me, but I earned a treat.

Left: John Rubick couldn't make the meet, but still contributed a display. Middle: Krystian's cycle run. Right: Part of Don's 1970 birthyear display.

A young collector couple found their way to the hall late in the proceedings. The young man approached me at the registration table and asked if there was an ATM nearby. I’d been asked this about a dozen times already, and I didn’t have a solution. He was short five dollars to buy a plate. I mused about having him e-transfer me some funds and I’d just give him the cash, but sometimes it takes an hour for an EMT to go through. I wished him an early Merry Christmas and just gifted him five dollars. He was very grateful, and asked questions about Acton next spring. I gave him a flyer. Both he and his lady friend said they loved the Grimsby show and were very interested in attending Acton. Always be kind to those who are just discovering the hobby. You never know if you’ve met a future meet host, club president, or just a solid person who will make the hobby stronger. We’ve lost solid people recently in Jerry Woodhead, Ken Murdoch and Bill Thoman. Pass their goodwill forward.

The new collector couple browses through Joe's table. Also visible are Sandra Earles, Paul Frater, Dave Colonna, and Wendy-Ann Whitt.

By two o’clock, some collectors had departed to go and visit John Rubick in Thorold, who was hoping to make the meet, but he wasn’t feeling well. I would love to have seen Johnny, but duty called. There were tables and chairs to put away, and garbage cans to empty, and Don and I would need to sit down later and count money. Keith, Krystian, Mike, Don, Jake, Frank and some others gave us a hand folding tables and wheeling stacks of chairs back into the loading dock, and by about two-thirty, it was largely done.

Hearty congrats to Norm Ratcliffe, for bringing his stunning state trooper display, and for being the first Canadian inducted into the ALPCA Hall of Fame!

With the hall empty again, I sat down with Don to count the revenues and talk about the show’s successes. We were thrilled with the facility… it got five stars. The main downsides were having to set tables up the same morning, and the confusion caused by earlybirds finding open doors. Don and I did relatively little shopping of our own because our volunteers cancelled. We were too busy throughout the day to ask other collectors to help out… every time it occurred to me, someone else would need to pay admission, or I’d be asked to help find someone. There’s room for improvement. We’ll figure it out over the next 12 months.

Don didn't do much shopping, but found a few 1970 Newfoundland baseplates for his birthyear collection.

In my early days of collecting, I would attend a meet, pack up, and just leave, with my focus being on buying and selling. Later, as the friendships developed, I felt compelled to lend a hand. After Sam Samis passed away, I started helping Don with the promotion and organization. As the years have passed, I feel a larger reward from just helping to organize the event for other people. I would have liked to shop more—of course—but it doesn’t sting that I didn’t, and I’m not bitter. Far from it. As I sat with Don in the empty hall, I felt tremendously satisfied that the meet had run so smoothly and been so well-received. I didn’t get the 1919 truck plate, or the 1940 pump permit, or the error vanity plate pressed on a trailer base. But you know what? It doesn’t matter that much. What mattered was helping to deliver the meet to everyone else.

Mike Franks and Sir James Becksted look for treasures at Terry's table.

Don and I finally shut the lights off and locked the doors just before four o’clock. I’ve never before departed from Grimsby that late for the drive to Ottawa. It turned out to be a very late night of driving, because I took the Gardiner into Toronto so I could pick up a rare vinyl record (another hobby of mine, although I’m strictly a listener-spectator). 25 years ago, there was rarely a slowdown, except for the weekday morning or evening rushes. Saturday afternoons were never a problem. But nowadays, the highway is constantly clogged. What my GPS said was an hour-long delay was actually double that. The highway backed up at the Credit River and didn’t loosen up until I passed a stopped tow truck in front of Scotiabank Arena.

I stopped to pick up my vinyl as it was getting dark, had some chicken at a noisy intersection in Scarborough, and then drove straight home for four more hours. I thought about how the meet had gone—and how long it had been since last time—and how tired I was. But most of all, I just thought about how much fun it was.

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