A third Ontario swap meet in December? Is that what we have here? Well, it sure looks like it.
Over the past few years, my collecting pal Dave Grant has organized a dinner over the Christmas holidays for Ottawa-area plate collectors. The first one was in 2008, and at the time, it seemed to be sort of a one-off event. But Dave organized another one a few years later, and again every year afterward. There has always been a show-and-tell aspect to the dinner, as we sit around eating and sharing stories. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to arrange trades beforehand, and do the final exchange at the dinner table. And over the past couple of years, trade boxes have emerged from the woodwork, as have collectors from outside the National Capital region to join in the fun.
December 28, 2017 was a very cold evening, with the daytime high being no higher than minus 20, not counting the windchill. That’s the kind of cold where tires are just too hard to grip anything, and if you have to brake suddenly… well, good luck to you.
I was the second to arrive at Boston Pizza on Carling Avenue. One by one, folks filed in. Mike and Alannah Franks made the trip all the way from Guelph and arrived fashionably late with Eric Vettoretti, rounding out the table at 11 people, which equals the tally from the year before. Mike DeVouge decided to bring his chequebook this year, just in case. Indeed, we all had an inkling that a swap meet might break out.
We chit-chatted and looked at the menu, and slowly, as we started to order, the plates came out. Alan had been busy over the past month making a photo catalogue of his collection, and we passed his pocket album around the table with great interest. Alan also brought a trio of gems to show us. He had been posted in Iceland as Canada’s ambassador for a number of years, and has always been keen to learn about the plates of his host nation, and promote his life-long hobby of collecting plates. Some old friends in Iceland had somehow been able to acquire some old presidential plates—the only type of special issue in Iceland—and had given them to Alan as a gift.
John Hayes had recently scored some really nice Ontario pairs from the 1930s to the 1950s, and he brought them for show-and-tell-and-trade. His 1938 pair looked like it had been stored in a drawer: The robin’s-egg blue colour was very bright and unblemished by rust or the commonly-seen “greening” that happens slowly over the years. I admired the bright white of the 1941 pair that John brought… so often, even the nicest 1941 examples fade to an almond off-white, so it is very uncommon to see such a stark white background. Brian Woodard eventually bought them from John. Brian also picked up a ’44 short trailer plate from me, plus an armload of various other Ontario odds and sods. Brian invited Thomas Zimmerman, a new young collector, although when I said hello, Tom told me that we had met before. It was about seven years ago when I was showing my ’71 Bug and selling plates at Volksfest in Embrun, east of Ottawa. Tom recalled that he bought his very first plates from me that day: A pair of Ontario 1972s.
Eric and I had been working on a swap in the days leading up to the dinner. Somehow or other, the person who bid so exorbitantly on some key Ontario plates the previous month contacted Eric. He was able to swing a deal for a few of the plates. The one plate from that batch that I really wanted, a YOM-used 1941 doctor plate, was available, and Eric knew I’d be game for it. He swapped it to me in exchange for a rare undated motorcycle dealer plate from my collection. It wasn’t a trader, per se, but sometimes you have to give quality to get quality.
I had brought a handful of plates for Dave as well, who is actively patching holes in his quarterly truck run, and is now covering buses, too. I had a couple of duplicates for him, and I know he’ll give them a great home. It took me around ten years to collect 90% of my own quarterly bus run, and I’m down to the final two. However, it’s been a few years that I’ve been down to those last two (June 79 and December 79 in case anyone wants to check their duplicates).
We were well into our meal, the eleven of us, seated at a long table with plates and drinks interspersed throughout. There was just as much trading going on as there was eating and drinking. We continually passed plates and photo albums over the table while we ate. It was a great time! Years ago, it was more of a quiet dinner, with a bit of trade completion at the end. But this year, it was clear that we were all hungry to swap.
So I went back out to my car.
I came back with my “hundred plates for a hundred bucks” box. Contained therein were common Ontario cars and trucks, with some older issues, colourful quarterlies, and some out-of-province plates that, collectively, were surely a great deal at $100. If there was any doubt as to whether Boston Pizza was hosting a swap meet, that doubt was put to rest when I thumped the box on the floor. Brian, Tom and Mike all gathered around to have a look-see. Ultimately, Joe bought the box and wasted no time in selling some of the pickings to the others.
I had earlier bought a rare 1947 school vehicle plate from Joe, so the 100-box turned that into more of a trade when all was said and done. Mike DeVouge, who was seated next to me, took a look at a beautiful pair of 1919 Ontario plates that I had brought. Mike doesn’t collect pairs—he prefers singles when given a choice—but he decided to buy them. “They’re too nice to pass up!” he said. “Will you take a cheque?”
Two hours had gone by in a flash. It wasn’t a busy night in the restaurant overall, but it was plenty loud because of a long table of eleven people passing plates and ketchup bottles. We decided that the time had come to take a group photo. The ceiling pot lights turned Alan and Alannah’s hair a stark white in the picture, leaving the rest of us a little dark, but the so-so picture belies the terrific evening. I’d have to say, of the different venues we’ve tried, Boston Pizza gave us the right combination of useable space, cozy atmosphere, good food, patient staff, and late hours (the venue last year wanted us out by 10:30).
I think it speaks volumes that Mike and Alannah made the trip all the way from Guelph, for what’s advertised as a “dinner”. They tried it out last year, had great time, and came back again this year. I wonder, in coming years, will other out-of-towners make the journey? What is there to do in Ottawa once all the local collectors head home?
Well, Mike and Alannah stuck around in Ottawa for an extra day, just to explore. The following morning, they tried the Cumberland-Masson ferry over to the Quebec side of the river, and then met Dave for lunch in Hull (wish I could have joined them, but I couldn’t make it work). Later in the afternoon, they ended up down at the south-end antique store where Brian works. Mike bought some signs, maybe some plates, and stayed until after closing. I talked with Mike on the phone for part of it, and he helped Brian and I find a way to close out our transaction from the night before (we turned a purchase into a partial trade, with a cool King’s Highway sign coming my way).
Brian stopped by to deliver the sign, while Mike and Alannah drove off into the frigid evening. They had hoped to get home to Guelph that night, but they took too long and had too much fun, so they had to pull up for the night around Cobourg.
This dinner and quasi swap meet is an all-round great time, and I can’t understate how much we Ottawa locals enjoyed ourselves, or how welcome Alannah and Mike were to join us. Next year, It would be great to see even more of the good people that make this hobby as fun as it is!