It was four years ago that the AACA moved their automotive flea market away from the town of Stirling and into the city of Lindsay, an hour further westward. At the time, I wondered what the Lindsay show would be like, and I also wondered if the town of Stirling would step up and continue a similar event for those who were in the comfortable habit of travelling there. As it happens, you can’t keep a good town down, and the Stirling flea market / car show has thrived even without the involvement of the AACA. I still haven’t experienced the AACA event in Lindsay at its best, but my impression is that it’s picking up steam and is not to be counted out. So, my buddy Eric Vettoretti and I came up with a plan to try and capture the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, our plan also captured a lot of rain.
We decided a few weeks before that we would separately grovel before our wives and perform extra household chores and parenting duties so that we would get family approval for another plate trip a mere six days after Acton. The plan was to drive all the way to Lindsay on Friday night, stay in a hotel, shop in Lindsay for the morning and then commute to Stirling for the afternoon. Of course, our plan would involve shades and sunscreen, but in the end, those items were not needed.
Eric drove this time, and he picked me up at about 7:30 on Friday evening. Ottawa was in the midst of a rainfall warning, with no end in sight over all of Ontario. I had gone out a couple of hours before to buy a good pair of rain boots, and I wouldn’t learn until tomorrow how wise that decision was. The rain was heavy, and Eric opted not to take Highway 401. All you need is some idiot in a Subaru with a fat exhaust pipe, low-profile rims, 30-degree camber and bald hydroplaning tires to either kill you, or close the highway ahead of you. Eric opted to take the quieter, slower, two-lane Highway 7. Less oncoming traffic would mean less headlight glare.
The rain continued non-stop all through the evening, and all night long after we got to the Days Inn in Lindsay. It’s a brand-new hotel which is fairly close to the Lindsay fairgrounds, and it’s a lot better than the fleabag Howard Johnson, which Eric used one time only and reviles to this day. We headed to the fairgrounds and the AACA show. The rain was light, but steady. We were among the first to arrive.
We headed for the exhibition hall, where some vendors with brand-new and high-end items would be set up in warm and dry conditions. A few of them had plates, but not a huge selection, although we did find a couple of items. I got a big kick out of a jukebox restoration expert who had 1949 and 1952 jukes lovingly restored, with a price tag of $5k. Beautiful machines. They were the kind where you can see the mechanics through the glass as the machine selects a record and pulls it into a vertical position for the needle.
Eric and I had come for the plates, though, and that meant we’d have to venture outside. We wandered into the rain with ponchos on and boots ready for wading in the muck. We figured the pickings would be slim, and boy, were we ever right. My guess is that ¾ of the vendors had stayed home, and half of those who were on-site had tarpaulins over their wares. Now, this is a market where you have to be selling auto parts in order to be there, so everyone we passed could possibly have had plates for sale. So we just asked:
“Old licence plates?”
“Got any old car plates under that tarp?”
“Any licence plates for sale?”
The answer was generally a polite “no, sorry, but did you see the guy over there?” --They were referring to the man I call “license plate tarp guy”, by virtue of the fact that, in good weather, he has hundreds of old plates lined up neatly on a rec-room-sized tarpaulin. He was there, but all of his plates were crammed tightly into milk crates, and my fingers stung from rubbing against the wet, jagged rust as I tried to pull the contents apart. We spent ten minutes there, but we were having no luck or fun, and we gave up.
The rain occasionally reduced to drizzle, but there was never a moment when it wasn’t raining. Our ponchos and boots kept us reasonably comfortable, although walking through the mud was tiring on the feet as our feet slid sideways, and we had to step gingerly to avoid splashing ourselves. We saw very few classic cars at the show, and those we did see were for sale. I admire the worn, ratty look on working class vehicles, and I spent time taking pictures of a ’59 Chevy Apache. The one advantage to the sun not being out is that the lighting was perfect for photographing old cars… when I could find them.
We were almost done and were just covering the last of the outdoor vendors when we happened upon a small tarpaulin on the ground with plates laid out on top of it. There were quite a few natural non-reflective Ontario passenger plates from the 1990s, and they made me feel nostalgic for the days in the mid-90s when I would visit my parents up north, and head to a scrapyard that always used to let me in. My mission at the time was to find some then-elusive reflective plates for my collection, but all I ever found were non-reflective “Yours to Discover” plates from the reverse R, S and T series. They were in beautiful shape, but not quite what I wanted at the time. However, with this being 2017, and me being a sucker for nostalgia, I scooped up an armload of them, and was about to negotiate a price, when the lady who was in charge motioned us over. She was sitting on the tailgate of her truck, sheltered by the open cap hatch. She scootched over to one side to reveal some boxes of small plates, including some mint motorcycles, snowmobiles, and some small 1982 public vehicle permit plates. The numbers on these permits were all clustered together—apparently, they had come from the same source. One of them had a slip of paper with it, which turned out to be a number-matching paper permit that was issued with the plate! It had been used on a TTC bus—a GM fishbowl built in 1977—with plate BC1-279. That’s exactly the kind of thing I like to collect, so I added it to my purchase. It’s getting harder for me to find “bullseye” items like this for my collection, since I’ve been in the game so actively for the past 20 years.
With that, we were done with Lindsay, and it wasn’t even 9:30 am. Picking plates is fun, but the washout weather had really put a damper on our shopping. We used our extra time to hit a couple of antique places on the way to Stirling. One of them had some surprises. We saw a couple of passenger plates with cool, repetitive numbers, and in behind were a few truck quarterly plates, with the various colours of green, yellow and red. 20 years before, I learned that you always give red plates look in these situations because they could well be diplomatic plates (which is how I scored my super-rare 1962 CD plate). Anyway, I flipped to the red plates, expecting to see “JUN-78” or similar, as usual. But that’s not what we saw. Instead, we turned up a trio of 1981 Consular Corps plates—one a mint pair, plus a really nice single. A yellow plate turned out to be an excellent 1980s dealer, as opposed to more of the quarterly monotony that we’re used to seeing. Sold!
Time was starting to get on, so we decided to bypass an antique place in Norwood and just get going to Stirling. Eric put the pedal down on a few straight sections to pass people, and we arrived at the Stirling fairgrounds at about one o’clock. By then, the rain had reduced a little. We decided to comb the field quickly first, lest any good vendors decide to pack up for the day, or start putting things away if the rain started to gush again.
The Stirling market suffered from a lack of vendor turnout, although not quite as bad as Lindsay. A couple of our “go-to” vendors were absent, so we progressed through the field fairly quickly. The rain began to intensify. One vendor’s table had begun sinking and he was scrambling to pull items off it before the table capsized. We approached a gentleman and his wife who were wrapping heavy clear plastic around their table and securing it with bungee cords. They had had enough for the day, it seemed.
“I guess you’re packing it in for the day,” Eric called over. “Any old licence plates?”
The man gestured toward the far end of his tables. “Over on the far side,” he said.
Eric and I approached the other end of his tables, which were already covered in the clear plastic, beneath which we could clearly see the plates laid out. Eric focused on an interesting pair and noticed the letter combination “RTW-105”, and his mind immediately recalled our discussion in Acton about the short-lived rental vehicle series that Ontario had tried in 1973. Coincidentally, Eric had actually scored a matching pair of rental plates on his own way home from Acton. However, I looked at the same plates, and noticed something else. The slogan was embossed at the top, not the bottom, and it read “PROVINCE OF OPPORTUNITY.” They were in near-mint condition.
We could barely contain ourselves, but managed to stay cool. With all of our stops for coffee and antiques on the way to Stirling… if we had arrived at this vending spot barely 30 seconds later, we would have missed the seller completely, and quite possibly, these plates. The seller lifted the plastic for us, and we bought them on the spot.
We kept our shit together for a few more seconds, and hid behind a nearby van so that we could start jumping for joy. We took a selfie with the plates, and I posted it on the new Ontario plates Facebook group with no explanation. We couldn’t believe it. There are only a few of these prototypes known, all with seemingly unrelated serials in the ABC-123 pattern. On closer inspection of our plates, we flipped them over and noticed something interesting: In pencil, printed neatly on the back, was DOF-003 on one plate, and DOF-004 on the other. As I recall, there’s another similar “opportunity” prototype out there that may start with DOF. This is the first hint I’ve discovered that the numbers used on these plates may not be random and were selected for some reason. Initials, perhaps?
This is the first flea marking outing in years where I’ve found such a heavy-hitting item to go straight into my collection. Eric and I thought about it over lunch, and we think the only comparable time would be when we found a 1939 doctor pair in Deseronto, about ten years ago (we split the pair and still own our respective ’39 docs).
We stopped at another vendor and made another somewhat heavy-hitting find, but we both thought of Dave Steckley when we saw them—a run of trailer pairs from 1927 to 1931. I called Dave from the field and gave him a description while he ran down to his basement to check the condition of his trailers. As it turned out, the ’27 pair in the field would substantially upgrade his single, so I bought it on Dave’s behalf. We’ll figure out how to get the plates to him later.
We finished up in Stirling without much more fanfare or diversion, and headed back to Ottawa at 3 o’clock in the steady rain. We passed a number of small tributaries that had overspilled their banks. We saw some saturated farmers’ fields, submerged lawns and even a work crew barricading a flooded sideroad. We stopped in Tweed for a coffee, and I wandered out onto the bridge over the Moira River, which was very, very high. There were no houses that had water around their foundations, but a couple of outbuildings did stand very close to the waterline.
We were going to stop at Sharbot Lake to divide our bounty. It has a picnic area with tables under a rain shelter, but it was flooded with water from the adjacent lake. We waited until we got to the next one at Silver Lake. Luckily, it was much higher than the lake level, so we were able to spread our plates around, do the math, and divide the plates fairly. The rain continued.
As we came closer to Ottawa, we entered the range of the local TSN radio station, which was broadcasting game 5 of the NHL playoff series between the Senators and New York Rangers. The Senators had a one-goal lead, blew it, and then tied it up with about a minute remaining in the third period to force sudden-death overtime. Then—just as we were passing the Canadian Tire Centre on the highway—Kyle Turris scored the game winner. We yelled and pumped our fists in the air. The guy in the pickup beside us did the same. We thumbs-upped each other and honked our horns in celebration. A great ending to a great day.
And the rain continued.