Antique shops, flea markets and other purveyors of vintage curios allow us to do something that few museums can. For starters, you can touch many of the items on display, and for a negotiable price; you take the artifacts and exhibits home for personal enjoyment.
Confession time: I am an unapologetic retro-fanatic. There’s something I find both surreal and elemental about flipping through a box of old comics, music albums, movies, books, or toys. Each antique shop or flea market I visit is akin to exploring the most epic and interactive time capsules imaginable.
Filling the car with family or friends, and setting out on an antiquing mission is an excellent way to enhance an already breathtaking drive through the Great Waterway this time of year.
Without further delay, I am excited to share some of Southeastern Ontario’s best locations for a Retro Road Trip of your own.
Cedar Hollow Antiques & Collectibles
Situated roughly 30 minutes North of Belleville and on the very edge of Quinte West, you’ll find Stirling Ontario. This quaint little hamlet is both incredibly charming and rife with nostalgic bliss. Located on the ‘main strip’ you will find Cedar Hollow a quaint little antique shop with an eclectic collection of items.
What sets Cedar Hollow apart is their selection of hand-made sweaters, pillows and other lovingly knitted items that are ideal for both kids and adults. Stirling also has a handful other antique shops within short walking distance that are more than worth checking out.
Coolest find: “Das Boot!”
This adorable, footwear inspired beer mug and accompanying pair of hand painted shot glasses would look great behind the bar at home. They also remind me of a certain movie involving a beer festival and a certain giant boot-shaped mug.
Among the fantastic shops and dining venues of Belleville’s gorgeous and newly revived downtown area is one particular store with a certain flair for the evocative. Stepping into the Boretski Antique Gallery is more like teleporting back to the 1920’s showroom of a fine clothier and social outfitter.
Everywhere you look in this store is a selection of captivating couture such as original Stetson hats, vibrantly tailored dresses and vintage evening gowns of the roaring twenties. While browsing through Mr. and Mrs. Boretski’s immaculate store, it’s easy to spend several hours in absolute awe of just how much swagger our great grandparents had.
Coolest Find: Faux-Stain Glass Coca Cola Phone
As someone who took advertising and marketing in college, I admittedly ‘geek out’ when I see things like this. Branded merchandise like this is a fantastic example of just how far companies went to get their brand names into the household.
Dead People’s Stuff
Dead People’s Stuff in Prince Edward County is the most aptly named antique store I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The shop itself is situated in what appears to be an old carriage house or stable and is jam packed with some truly memorable items.
The store has limited hours (currently Friday through Sunday), but the store’s super-nice owner Sue is happy to book appointments for groups. This store is a must-visit for anyone interested in antiques and interesting items of yesteryear.
Cool Find: Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr. Conway Twitty!
Family Guy references aside, this album is only one example of the awesome collection of dead people’s vinyl you can sort through. Also, be sure to ask Sue (the owner) about her collection of laser discs. They’re pretty much the gigantic great-great grandfather of CD’s DVD’s Blu-Ray Disc. Learning is fun!
Karen Brown’s Antiques & Collectibles
While cruising along Highway 2, it’s hard to miss this immense antique store located on the Eastern edge of the Town Deseronto. Inside this converted warehouse space is a literal treasure trove of items and rare collectibles.
I could easily spend an entire day browsing through Karen’s expansive selection of items and still not see everything. One of my favourite aspects of this particular antique spot was the sheer amount of vintage advertising items. From old store displays to metal signs for beverages, beer labels and more it was like walking through a museum of merchandising.
Cool Find: Dibs on that O’Keefe Merchandise!
I wasn’t nearly old enough to drink when O’Keefe existed, and nor was I when this brand of beer vanished. I do, however, remember my aunt taking me to see shows at the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto (now the Sony Centre for Performing Arts.) as a child.
Kingston’s enchanting downtown area permeates a nostalgic and even inspiring energy of its own which draws from the city’s potent history and vibrant atmosphere for arts and culture. No pun intended, wandering around town never gets old.
Tucked away from the mainstays of Princess Street, at 207b Wellington St. – is a 4000 square foot and elegantly arranged treasure vault known as Antique Alley. For 30 years the store’s owner Gayle Dawdy has been working with other prominent Kingston collectors of antiques and unusual items to provide a diverse and visually stimulating shopping experience.
Among the coveted collection of curios at Antique Alley, what truly captivated me was the most beautiful Underwood No. 5 Typewriter I have ever laid eyes upon.
Cool Find: Turn of the Century Underwood Typewriter (manufactured 1900-1920)
This near century-old machine with its scuffed black finish and visibly worn keys spoke to my inner scribe. I envisioned a previous owner passionately slamming words onto the page, with a literary fervor that rivals my own. This lovingly used typewriter was once the other half of the bond that exists between a writer and medium. A bridge between the imaginary and physical realms.
I would have taken it home – and believe me I was tempted, but I already own a vintage typewriter of my own. Perhaps this literary relic will speak out to someone else, and with some TLC – fill the air with the rhythmic song of its keys once more.
Old Love Antiques
I happened upon this particular shop while exploring Gananoque for this very article. There are two other flea markets in town that are fabulous (Never Enough Antiques & Collectibles & Gananoque Flea Market) – but I was immediately smitten with this exceptional little boutique.
The store is situated on King Street East just steps away from the town’s exciting menagerie of shopping and dining choices. Old Love possesses a visually captivating arrangement of vintage jewelry, curios and ladies’ clothing. This location is an ideal stop for couples. There is a certain romantic tinge to the air that one can feel while exploring Old Love’s collection.
Side note: while browsing the store with my wife I found myself transfixed by a small nook-display labeled “Mantiquing Section.” It was a small wooden dresser, each drawer of which containing collections of vintage lighters, tie-clips, pocket knives, little green army figurines, belt buckles, cufflinks and other objects of a gentleman’s intrigue.
Cool Find: Vintage Coca Cola Bottle Opener (Circa 1904?)
At this point, I am ready to admit I have a possible obsession with bottle openers. This one, in particular, stood out because of the “Drink Coca-Cola” slogan – which was used by the company shortly after the turn of the century. It’s a bit worn, but a nice cleaning will revitalize this little beauty that’s been opening people’s drinks for a little over a century.
Seaway Treasures Antiques
Brockville is famous the world-over for its gorgeous waterfront, shopping, fantastic attractions and fascinating history. Hidden in plain sight at 175 King Street West – Seaway Treasures is easily one of my favorite places to score some old school collectibles.
There are two floors, featuring a remarkable variety of items including art, home décor, old electronics, military curios and so much more. I was most impressed by the collection of vintage toy train sets and parts. My father would have gone bonkers in this place.
Cool, Find: “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” (Star Wars Action Figure, circa 1995)
I happened upon this little guy by chance at the front counter as I was about to leave. There was a storage rack filled with old toys and action figures – and it wasn’t long before I was digging through it. When I was a kid, I had this exact toy, but it was lost somewhere or ended up buried in my sandbox.
At first glance, my inner seven year old demanded this small totemic reminder of the countless hours spent in an imaginary galaxy far, far, away. He’s now enjoying his retirement by taking selfies from my bookcase.
Just Southwest of Smiths Falls, in the scenic Rideau Lakes region, is a legendary destination that is best described as the El Dorado or King Solomon’s Treasure of Antique spots. Rideau Antiques is easily the most colossal collection of antiques, primitives, and Canadiana I have ever seen in one location.
To say that the experience is overwhelming would be a vast understatement. The yards surrounding the house are covered with row after row of miscellaneous items in shoulder high piles. Beside the house is a barn-style building packed to the near-bursting point with furniture, as well as another barn across the street filled with yet another bounty of items.
The house itself is more of a treasure vault of mythical proportions. I’m not exaggerating when I say it would be impossible to see every item within a human lifetime, let alone six.
If you are at all claustrophobic or have mobility challenges, this destination might not be ideal. It is an adventure in itself just navigating the massive columns of stacked items throughout the house and premises. There were areas I could not physically get to. However, the sheer amount of visual and tactile stimuli and fascinating magnitude of it all makes Rideau Antiques well worth the short drive.
McHaffie Flea Market
A short detour North of Morrisburg on County Road 31 and conveniently close to the 401 is what I refer to as Southeastern Ontario’s Shangri-La for both flea market and antique enthusiasts alike. This gargantuan flea market which consists of over 150 booths is only open on Sundays – but it’s a prime destination for families, large groups, and even pets. That’s right – this sprawling flea market is dog-friendly.
I can (and have) spent an entire day wandering around McHaffie’s in absolute bliss sorting through comics, antiques, electronics and pretty much anything you can think of. Each visit is in its way unique in that; you will always discover something new each time you go.
My absolute favourite booth here is called Welcome to Memory Lane located on the market’s lower level. The booth’s owners Terry and Kim Lickfold have the most abundant variety of retro gaming systems, parts, and toys I’ve ever seen.
Cool Find: Optimus Prime’s Real Arch Nemesis
When I was a kid, there was a brutal but short-lived rivalry between not one but two factions of robots-in-disguise. In one corner, was Hasbro’s Transformers and in the other, their similar but just never as cool competition: The Go-Bots.
I had this very vehicle when I was just a little kid torn between two feuding teams of robots that were more than met the eye. This baby is still available as far as I know – and would be a great conversation piece for any man-cave, rec room or a shameless play session in the garage with your buddies.
Plan a Retro Road-Trip Today!
I had an amazing time cruising the Great Waterway’s jaw-dropping autumn landscapes and snooping through some truly epic antique stores, flea markets, and other vintage vendors. Nostalgia is a powerful and contagious phenomenon.
Each and every location I explore is like a spectrum or universe in and of itself. A copious cornucopia of tactile portals through time and space. Whether you go at it alone or bring friends and family along for a shared experience – be sure to find out for yourself just how awesome and fun antiquing is.
Until next time – thanks for reading!
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