I wrote a 2Cents post two years ago that says, “The trick to enjoying the Barrie Automotive Flea Market these days is to keep one’s expectations low.” I followed my own advice for September 2021, which was my first time back there in two years. If I’d had any optimistic illusions about seeing improvement, or finding enough YOM stock for my business to make the trip worthwhile, I’d have been thoroughly disappointed. That’s not to say it was a bad trip overall; there were some very nice aspects about it, but those aspects didn’t involve the market.
I dispensed with the idea of filing the trip as a business expense, and planned instead for some quiet bonding time with my son, Greg. I had been exhausted over the summer with endless home improvement tasks, while he waited in the wings. We would spend the majority of this trip camping and exploring, and that would be the big win. If I found any plates at the market on Saturday, I’d consider that a bonus.
It’s a pleasant, five-hour drive through the forested highlands to get to Barrie from Ottawa. But I didn’t want to pitch our tent late at night. So rather than drive the full five hours, we stopped short at Balsam Lake and camped there. The sun sets early in September, so we had to set up after dark, using the car’s headlights. However, the park was still fairly active, with many families gathered around their fires and toasting marshmallows. We lit a fire of our own in the pit, looked at the stars, and searched for lightning bugs.
We slept well and woke up before dawn. We stopped at the docks on our way out of the park to check out the lake. It’s a good size for an inland body, with many cottages dotting the far shore. The floating docks bobbed under our feet as Greg looked at the fishing chart. It would have been nice to have brought our tackle and maybe spend another night there, but it wasn’t to be.
My GPS led me westward through the Kawarthas and north of Kirkfield, where the lift lock sends the Trent-Severn canal up and over the roadway. From a distance, the lift lock looks like a freeway overpass. But getting closer to it, we could see the elevated canal to the east, and the lift to the west that brings boat traffic up to the canal’s highest elevation. In retrospect, we should have stopped to explore. We did have the time, although we probably would have stayed for at least an hour. The flea market beckoned, so we moved onward.
We arrived at the market at around 8:30. It opens at seven, but vendors don’t wake up that early anymore, so there’s no longer any point in being super-early. All the vendors were open, with no tarp-covered tables to be seen. The bulk of them were on the northwestern side of the field. There are other vendors down a slope along the southeastern side, but there was lots of empty space there. Apparently, the organizers still can’t fill the field. The size of the market has not recovered from its upending following the sale of the land to new owners.
Masking appeared to be a personal option. There was no mention in the media as to whether there would be masks required. I was expecting some directive, given the sheer number of people in close proximity, and the rise in cases of COVID-19 at this time. No one at the gates inquired about masks, and masking wasn’t mentioned on any signage. However, there was plenty of hand sanitizer available at the outhouse stations. Greg and I wore masks continuously to protect his health, as he’s still too young for the vaccine. From what I saw, about 20% of the people I saw were masked. There was plenty of room to move around, and a decent breeze. Between that and our own precautions, we felt safe.
This year, I was equipped with a spreadsheet on my phone with all the various plates in my collection. I could look up whether I was missing a plate, rather than guessing on the field and ending up with two of them at home. I created that spreadsheet as one of my busy-projects during the pandemic shutdowns. I wish I’d done it years ago! My collecting interests have branched into the smaller permit plates, like PCV, public vehicle, and school vehicle. They’re easy to get mixed up, and my new sheet prevented me from buying plates I already had. I did find a ‘73 public vehicle plate for my collection, and stayed away from several others that I didn’t need.
I found a curiosity on the field: A small, hand-painted plate, purportedly from the Bahamas. I’ve seen pictures from other collectors of Bahamian plates, with many of them being very rough or having home-made repairs. It was scratched up, with authentic-looking bolt marks. For ten dollars, I decided to take a chance. My plate-sense told me that this wasn’t a souvenir. The vendor concurred, and said he’d actually been to the Bahamas and had seen a bunch of hand-painted plates himself. (A look later at the ALPCA Archives indicates that it’s a self-drive motorcycle plate, and there are several styles of hand-painted examples known. The format on my plate is unique from the others that are found in the Archives, but I’m convinced that it’s the Real McCoy.
I picked up a couple of quarterly trailer plates, which I would have left behind in prior years. I completed my quarterly truck run long ago, but never cared for the trailer plates, until recently. The red June plates are the toughest to find. I was actively looking for them, but didn’t find any. The only June quarterly trailer plates that I have are 1963 and 1965. I shudder to think of all the nice examples I’ve declined in past years!
I’m in a bit of a rut lately, when it comes to finding examples of my own handiwork on YOM-registered vehicles. I only saw one of my “babies” in show car field, but it was a gem: A 1964 Ford pickup, plated with historically-correct 1964 truck plates. Ontario is not so on-the-ball as to require a suffix letter on any YOM vehicle with a cargo bed: There’s no one left at the MTO who knows the minutiae of which letters went to which vehicle types, and the rules don’t get that specific. But real truck plates are YOM-clear very infrequently, so it’s nice to see them mounted on a pickup.
My son is an active kid, but he’s still too young to have enough stamina to plow through an entire morning of walking. It wasn’t quite lunchtime, but I figured a snack or a can of pop would help. We made our way to the far end of the field to see about getting some refreshments.
The last time I was at the Barrie Automotive Flea Market, there were only two food vendors, and the lines were unreasonably long. I wrote to the management and suggested that they bring in more options. They indicated that improvements would be made. However, Greg and I were met with a frustrating sight: Only two food vendors, with lines in front of each that were 30-40 people deep. I overheard one guy walking the other way, with a dish of fries, who complained that he waited for close to an hour. There was no way I could ask Greg to stand in line for that long. He was tired and needed something to eat, and the only alternative was a tree in the market field that was dropping ripe apples. But my kid doesn’t like his fruits or veggies.
I reached a compromise with Greg: I’d take him to the car and leave it running with the AC on, and rush through the half-dozen vendor rows that I’d still yet to visit. Then, after about 45 more minutes, we’d leave early for McDonald’s in Orillia.
I strode angrily through the remaining rows. The previous incarnation of the Barrie market always had multiple food vendors along the central alley. If the line was too long at the burger place, I could get something at the pizza place. The wait was never long with a half-dozen options from which to choose. Thousands of visitors get hungry and need to eat, but the inept management hadn’t provided enough services… again.
I walked past the 50-50 booth, run by the The Orillia Fish and Game Conservation Club. I smelled burgers on a barbecue and stopped in my tracks. Years ago, the local service clubs like the Oro Lions Club would cook burgers and dogs. I wondered if Fish & Game were selling food, but unfortunately, they were only feeding the club volunteers who had been circulating the market to sell their 50-50 tickets. Can’t say I blame them.
Nearby was an unmanned booth to promote an upcoming racing event at the remote Bonfield event park in Nipissing District. I had heard someone say that vendors were not offered any chance to pre-register for a Barrie market event next spring, which begs the question: Is this the last year for the Barrie Automotive Flea Market? Is it moving north to Bonfield next year? Would there be anything to eat in Bonfield? I wanted to ask someone, but the info booth was devoid of any people whom I could have asked for info. I guessed they were stuck in the hour-long lineup for lunch.
I zipped through the rest of the field. I surely missed some items, but the car was running, and I promised Greg I’d be back soon. My final purchase of the day was for a trio of Historic Vehicle pairs, at one of the last vendors I visited. I was able to score them for a reasonable package deal. At least one of them would upgrade my collection. That brought my day’s total to seven plate items.
Was this trip a waste? I found next to nothing in terms of valuable YOM potential. Even though I did find a couple of items for my collection, they were low-priority items. I was hungry and cranky, despite eating some apples from the tree. This event was a shadow of its former self, poorly-organized, with little to no official information for those with questions. If this was indeed the final year of an automotive market event in Barrie, then I welcomed the end. Surely someone better-equipped would come in to fill the void.
I left the market, possibly for the final time, and met Greg in the car. He had enjoyed camping the night before, and he was eager to explore other things. We picked up some McFood in Orillia and drove to Tudhope Park beach to eat. We had to be quick, because the parking lot there is only open to Orillia residents. The non-resident parking lot is a couple hundred metres away from the beach, and users have to pay a $50 flat fee to use it. I had hoped to take Greg swimming, but the parking situation made that impossible. No worries... I had a backup plan.
We drove homeward and stopped at the self-serve World’s Smallest Book Store outside of Kinmount. Greg bought a book there a couple of years before, but he didn’t get one this time. It was nice to stretch our legs, though.
Our next stop was at Furnace Falls, which I had shown to Greg a couple of years before. We both enjoy watching the rushing water and looking for fish or animals. We didn’t see any, but Greg did find a shed snake skin on a rock.
A new stop for me was the Irondale, Bancroft & Ottawa Railway trail, just west of Tory Hill. It’s not well-marked from the highway, and there is next to zero room to park, with the steep embankments. The railway was opened as a short line in the 1880s. It was never used much through the decades, and the rails were pulled up in 1960. Much of the railway has since be reclaimed by forest, but some of it has been maintained as a trail. It doesn’t lend itself well to stopovers from the highway, because it’s just a single-direction trail with no loops. But we walked for a little while down one part of it, just to say that we’d seen it.
I knew Greg still wanted to swim, so we stopped at Centre Lake south of Wilberforce. It has a boat launch with a stable sand bottom that drops off fairly quickly, and fairly clean water. We jumped in and completed our camping / hiking / swimming trifecta.
The day was wearing on, and I wanted to be home at a decent hour, so we made one more stop for ice cream in Bancroft. Greg was happy about that. However forgettable the Barrie market had been, we had more than made up for it with some father-son bonding time. I had forgotten all about the metal rectangles in my backpack. It was time to make other memories!