June 2, 2001: That was the date of the second of two plate-collecting swaps meet in Ottawa, held in the gymnasium of Laurentian High School. Joe Sallmen organized the event, hoping to build on his successful swap meet in Ottawa the year before. I was pretty stoked about it. I recall heading to the school the night before to help move the heavy cafeteria tables into the gym.
At the time, it was a ten-minute drive for me to attend, making it my shortest-ever commute to a swap meet. But now, 20 years later, I live in the same neighbourhood, and it would be a five-minute walk to get to the same spot—That is, if Laurentian High School still existed. It closed in 2005, and I actually worked there for its final year of operation. A WalMart has since opened on the site, along with some smaller retail stores. One chunk of the former school property remained untouched: The southern half of the former football field and running track, as seen in the background of the swap meet group picture. Ironically, a contractor is beginning excavation of that field—just at the time of my writing this post—in order to develop that one remaining vestige of the Laurentian High School property.
My original 2Cents column about this swap meet was a short piece. Despite the ideal location, there was a slim turnout, with about 20 people showing up. I remember feeling bummed out about that. However, it was great to talk to people and meet some for the first time. As I recall, this was the occasion where I first met Mike DeVouge, Paul Cafarella, Jack Lammert, Terry Ellsworth, Don Goodfellow, and Gary Doherty, who made the trip from New Brunswick.
I was just five years into my ALPCA membership by this time, and I was slowly piecing my Ontario passenger run together. After a half-decade, that run finally had fewer plates missing than acquired, but it was still not complete enough to put them on display. I needed a different theme if I was going to bring anything to show. I really wanted to collect fully-repeating Ontario plates, but I hadn’t found any yet. I had come close, though, so I cobbled together my partial repeaters and gave it the name “Close, But No Cigar.” It certainly wasn’t an award-winner by any stretch of the imagination. But twenty years later, I now reflect on that display, and its humble beginnings. It helps me realize how far I’ve come as a collector, and how long it’s taken, and how many road trips I’ve made to swap meets and markets and hangouts. It took a lot of time and effort for me to find plates in those days.
I did manage to snag six plates for my collection during our meet in the gym. I upgraded my Ontario passenger run in three different spots, although I don’t recall which years I acquired. I found a historic vehicle plate I needed, traded for a rare 69 PEI reflective passenger plate, and added another crown jewel to my collection—a yellow Ontario Papal plate, through a deal with Joe. After five years of hunting, I finally had one... number 145. I would swap it for lower-numbered examples over the years (now I have 025).
The late Jacques Cyr was a long-time collector from Ottawa. He suffered from multiple sclerosis, and by the time I met him, his mobility was limited, so an in-town meet was his only option. He attended both this meet, as well as the previous Ottawa meet in 2000. The late Sam Samis, by this time retired and living a day's drive away in Thedford, made the journey to Ottawa for both the 2000 and 2001 meets. Terry Ellsworth, who doesn't appear in the group photo, made the trip from Prince Edward County, and Arnie Lukas, who also is missing from the group photo, came from Toronto. Other collectors were about, but these were the days of film cameras, so my photos from the meet are limited.
There wouldn’t be another Ottawa meet after this one. Joe moved down to the US, where he still lives and works. The reins for a 2002 Ottawa meet were free for anyone to take, but I ended up living in North Bay for much of the following year while attending university there. My hands were pretty full, so I didn’t sweat it. Besides, the ALPCA Convention would be held in Niagara Falls in 2002, so it would fill the void for most Ontario collectors. By the time 2003 rolled around, Dave Steckley had plans to host a local swap meet in Acton. And, as they say, the rest is history!