Our little Ottawa Christmas dinner seems to have caught fire!
It was only a few years ago that iffy weather and various other holiday commitments meant that only five of of us were around the table. There’d be a little show-and-tell, but aside from a small handful of plates to trade, there wasn’t much transacting going on. But it was still a nice evening out, and it was great to catch up with some local collector friends. It wasn’t a “thing” back then. But times have changed. Two basic ingredients are needed to be able to call it a swap meet: You need at least half of those present to bring a box of traders (or at least an armload), and you need a good percentage of people to make the trip from out of town. In both those respects, our dinner has morphed into a swap meet.
We booked a big table at Boston Pizza again… centrally located, good food, and they’re open until 1 am, so we wouldn’t be shown the door before we were ready, just in case anyone felt like trading after dinner. John Hayes was already there with Dave Grant and Joe Sallmen when I arrived. John had carried in a stack of traders. I had a bin of my own plates to trade. Alan Bones, who arrived at the same time as me, also had some goodies in hand. Eric Vettoretti arrived moments later, and——surprise, surprise——he had a box of traders as well. Brian Woodard and Tom Zimmerman arrived soon after, with an appetite to look through all the goods.
Then, the wild card showed up. I knew Mike and Alannah Franks were coming, but they walked up to the table with none other than Jim Becksted! Jim has some family history that is firmly rooted in this end of Ontario, so it was fitting for him to be there. Still, with Jim coming from Toronto, Mike and Alannah from Lindsay, and Ottawa-raised Joe coming from West Virginia, one-third of our company had driven quite some distance join us at the table.
Mike DeVouge arrived soon after, to make it a full dozen. Mike brought a whole pile of interesting plates, including some old Prince Edward Island Antique Auto plates. I’d never actually held one before. They’re white with brown, saloon-like letters and numbers, but I didn’t realize that they were made of plexiglass with the face of the plate screened on reflective sheeting. They look like amatueur car club plates, but they were actually recognized by PEI as a legitimate issue. Mike had some other jaw-droppers in hand, including a 1919 porcelain PEI plate. The similar PEI plate that Joe is holding in the picture is a reproduction, complete with fake brown rust pocks… but that plate was just a sheet a stainless steel with sheeting on it to simulate the face of a PEI porcelain plate. As if a porcelain PEI wasn’t enough, Mike also brought 1914 and 1915 Alberta wire-rimmed tin plates. The 1914 has the same construction as the 1915, but it’s half the size. Very striking to see in person!
Mike Franks brought some hot-off-the-press Alberta NHL graphic plates for show-and-tell. The Flames and Oilers logos really stand out with their respective red and orange backgrounds. Ontario could learn a thing or two about how to go on a limb and actually make an interesting graphic plate.
My most-anticipated acquisition of the night was a King’s Highway 4 shield sign from the 1930s, courtesy of Eric. That was a deal that we had planned beforehand to complete over dinner. Highway 4 isn’t an Ottawa-area highway. At its full length before downloading, it ran from Singhampton (just south of Collingwood), across rural southwestern Ontario, and through London and St. Thomas before terminating in Port Stanley on the Erie shore. I lived in London for four years and once took my bicycle along Highway 4 from London all the way to Port Stanley (right past the late Sam Samis’ house, too). For my final year in London, I lived near Richmond Row, a block away from Highway 4. I’m happy to have one of its signs!
My most-unexpected acquisition of the night was through an impromptu swap with Alan Bones. I found a triple-A Alaska plate for his AAA collection, and he swapped to me a delightful 1975 Ontario diplomat plate, complete with the original ownership slip! Interestingly, the vehicle type is listed as simply “passenger”, despite the distinctive plate type. The slip also includes the previous CDA plate number that the owner used from 1974. I absolutely love plates that come with documentation.
The dinner was served promptly, and at the same time for everyone. We were forced to put down our traders for a while, but less than half an hour later, someone broke the ice by grabbing a trade box and hoisting it up to table level. Before long, the dishes were cleared away and virtually everyone was doing something plate-related. Eric and Jim checked their phones for want list items and pictures from their collections to see if they could upgrade. Dave pawed through a small box of traders at the dinner table. There wasn’t enough room for my trade bin, so since we had the place to ourselves, I walked over to a nearby booth and plonked it down there so Brian and Tom could have a look. Alan passed around his photo albums. Mike Franks and John Hayes retreated to a nearby booth to hammer out some trade details. Joe was carefully going through PEI antique auto plates with Mike DeVouge. Alannah decided that she’d had her fill of trading, so she ordered a cheesecake for dessert——and then Eric did, too——and so did Jim, as the evening lingered.
Canada finished off Team Switzerland 3-2 in the IIHF junior game on TV, and with a hockey game being finished, we began to realize that it was nearly 11 o’clock. A few of us had to work the next day, and a few others would have to start the long drive home the next morning, so we called it a night.
The next morning, I joined Jim, Mike, Alannah and Dave for breakfast across the street at the diner where Dave and I sometimes go for breakfast. No trading at the breakfast table… just some hearty food and strong coffee to see off our out-of-towners.
What will 2019 hold?