Discovering the picker’s barns around Victoriaville

Our old Bell van which served us well for several years.

To continue were I left off in my last entry, after visiting Marcel Gosselin we went on to a large picker’s barn we had noticed on the way into Victoriaville which is where we met Jean (Kojak) Deshaies.  As we arrived , the place was buzzing with activity as several pickers clamored for the attention of a completely bald man; pointing at, and demanding prices of items still being unloaded from his pickup truck. Not being used to this type of “pressure’ buying we went inside and started to peruse the rows of furniture and items there.  Nothing was priced.  We made note of several things of interest, and waited.  After several minutes the bald man came in and approached us introducing himself in a distinctive, low raspy voice as Kojak, and stated simply “how can I help you”. I was slightly taken aback by the intensity of his voice, abrupt manner, powerful short build, and the fact  that he had absolutely no facial hair including eyebrows. He seemed slightly hostile. We explained that we were dealers from Ontario, and that this was our first trip to Quebec.  He immediately broke into a big smile and grabbed my hand and gave it a firm shake, and after introductions asked us what we found interesting.  As we pointed out several pieces of early furniture, rugs, carvings, etc, he would offer a short description and then bark out the prices.  As we said yes to an item, a young helper would grab the piece and haul it off to a place by the entrance where he started to make a pile.  Kojak wrote the prices on a scrap of paper.  He warmed with every item chosen and before long would sometimes follow up the price quoted with a second lower price he called “prix d’ami” or friend’s price.   After covering the first floor he took us upstairs to an equally large space covered with inexpensive lesser, or incomplete furniture and items.  We found many more things there and again they were taken out as soon as we chose them.

By the time we came downstairs I was quite shocked by the large pile we had accumulated.  I expressed my concern that I might not have enough cash for everything , but he said not to worry because a cheque would be fine.  I was surprised at this sign of trust but he joked that he knew I would be back, and besides if the cheque was not good he would soon be at my door to collect, and I wouldn’t want that to happen. He told us that he and a few of the other local dealers were just back from New York city were they had marched unannounced into the office of a downtown lawyer who had bought several items in the area with bad cheques, and had not answered their calls.  “we just waked into his office, grabbed him by the neck and told him we wanted our stuff back.  We didn’t have to do more.  He took us right to the warehouse.  We were back home ten hours later.”  This was the code he explained. If you had trouble covering a cheque it was fine as long as you were up front about it, and made it right. No problem.  Getting all that stuff into my truck was another thing but we managed.

Jeanine looking for fabrics in Michel Prince's basement.

Even though we had very little room left we felt we had to go on to Defoy to see the other picker’s barns there.  We stopped in at the three Boudin brothers barns which were almost side by side along the main route.  Rene, the oldest brother we had read about was off drinking in a nearby town when we arrived so we did not meet him this trip, but we managed to pick up a few smalls in his brother’s places.  Then we called a number we had for a new picker named Michel Prince who was still operating out of the basement of his house.  We were surprised when his wife said he was not yet home but to come anyway.  We did, and were delighted by the warmth and friendly manner of Pierrette, who tended to us while her little children ran in and out of the furniture piles.  Soon Michel arrived and enthusiastically showed us the things that he had picked that day.  It was all quite magical and exciting.  We bought a lot of hooked rugs and fabrics because there was little room left for anything else. Our money was spent, our truck was full,  and it was time to make the twelve hour trip back home.

A full truck. Even the top rack was loaded. Time to go home.