When, in about 1986 we decided to expand our show calendar beyond the weekly Toronto Harbourfront Market and the spring and fall Christie shows, we decided that we would like to include the North Hatley Antique and Folk Art Show, held annually in early July in the beautiful Eastern Townships region of Quebec. Known as Canada’s oldest antique show, it also had and still has a deserved reputation for presenting top quality antique and folk art to an exclusive and appreciative clientele. North Hatley is a picturesque charmer of a small town on the banks of Lake Massawippi, and a playground to the affluent and powerful of Montreal and surrounding areas. The show, put on by the local Recreational Society is held in the old curling club with about fifteen dealers set up where the ice would be, and another 6 or so set up in the onlooking lounge. For the years we attended, until his death in 2007 it was run by the legendary Sam Pollock, who among many other things was the manager of the Montreal Canadians for 14 years, during which they won the Stanley Cup nine times. As you can imagine, Sam ran a tight ship. Every year he, and his loyal fellow volunteers would do everything from planning and preparing, to set up, and everything else involved in running a top notch show right down to the making of the delicious home-made egg salad sandwiches at the lunch bar. They may have been up in years, but those ladies knew their way around a good egg salad sandwich.
In those days, it was not easy to get invited to do the show. We were lucky to have friends like Peter Baker and Gerry Marks who had been doing the show for years to recommend us. The first year we had a tiny 10’ x 10’ booth wedged into a corner of the lounge area, which was mostly dedicated to book, pottery, and silver sellers, with the furniture dealers all being in the main room. We didn’t mind because being an unknown in terms of results, the rent was cheaper and we came with a smaller truck. We focused mainly on folk art, which was what the promoters wanted from us because it was becoming increasingly popular with this crowd. It went very well, and we had a great time to boot. Good sales, lovely people, and a stunning area to explore.
An interesting feature of the show is the gala Friday night opening. From 6:30 to 9:00 on the Friday night a $30 ticket buys you first crack at the stuff, and all the delicious hors-d’oeuvres, and wine you want. Lovely young waiters and waitresses passing amongst the crowd with trays. The experienced dealers warned us that opening night it is packed, and it may seem that all they do is talk to each other, and glance over your stuff. It is a big social event after all. But not to despair because when they see something they like they are in a good and competitive mood to buy. Also, they may go home and discuss it, and come back Saturday morning to buy. It worked out pretty much just like that. A few sales Friday night, then good sales all day Saturday, and even a few more on Sunday.
We kept the same booth for a couple of years and then moved to a bigger one in the same room when it became available. Then one year when I was doing the show by myself; I can’t remember when exactly, it must have been the late nineties, Sam came up to me and asked me if I would be interested in taking over a large room upstairs they had for the same price. He pitched “You can spread out the art and make it like a gallery. I think you can do well up there.” I knew the space. It was a big space, about 20’ x 30’ with two front facing windows which brought in a lot of natural light. It must have been used for meetings.
“Well, yes Sam the space is great, but not to mention that everything has to go up and down the fire escape, I will be on my own up there, apart from the show. It might get pretty lonely”. “Ah, but don’t forget Phil, that’s where the woman’s washroom is. All the ladies will pass by eventually, and they’ll drag their husband’s up”. I thought about it for a minute and decided he was probably right. It just might work, and if it did the price was right. So I agreed, and started to haul everything up the steep fire escape that led directly to the room. A big task, but much easier than dragging everything through the inside. It took the whole afternoon to set up, but in the end it looked like a gallery. I even had a table and chairs in front of the window where I could sit and do business, or read the paper in slow times. Not to mention eating egg salad sandwiches. So close. So tasty. So affordable. I put up a little sign with an arrow pointing up at the base of the inside staircase announcing “Folk Art Upstairs”. I hoped that somebody might see it.
6:30 arrived and at first I wondered if I had made a horrible mistake because I could hear the people coming in, chatting and having fun for a full thirty minutes before anyone showed their face. But then it started. The first lady poked her nose in, and was surprised to find me and my offerings. Fortunately she was a folk art enthusiast and went directly to several pieces of carvers she recognized. She bought three things right then and there, and I was off to the races. It was out of the way, but when the folk art people found me, they really connected, and would not only buy, but go down and drag their friends up. I met several people that year that became long -time friends and customers. It was already a great show by Saturday at noon and then Pierre Riverin walked in. I’d heard about the “collecting” mayor of the town of Eastman for several years but we had never crossed paths. We talked for over an hour, he bought several pieces, and it was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. It is a rare and precious moment when you find yourself in the right place, at the right time, with the right stuff. Even with all the effort of getting everything up and down those stairs, it was worth it many times over. I had a wonderful show and I was happy up there. I repeated this for a few more years before the hauling up and down began to outweigh the benefit, so when a bigger booth on the main floor became available I grabbed it.
Over the years we got to know several of the Quebec dealers, designers, and collectors who frequent this unique annual show. For a time many of us participating dealers would get together on Saturday night and enjoy the evening together at some wonderful local Inn or restaurant. There are several to choose from. Then through our friend Tom De Volpi, and our friends Jim and Ilona Fleming, we were invited to an annual Saturday night dealer’s dinner held at the nearby summer home of a lovely Montreal designer named Valery. It was always a wonderful, warm get together, not to mention a delicious dinner; and we were grateful for her hospitality and the chance to spend some happy time with our fellows.
Eventually, as in all stories, the pages turn, and times change, and so it was that by 2008, (I remember it because, although still a good show, it just didn’t feel the same without Sam being there), along with slumping sales, we reached the point and age where we just couldn’t justify the ten hour drive to and from home, and all the work that doing the show entailed. Mind you this was part of a larger retreat from doing shows altogether. We truly don’t miss the work, but we do miss the people. They were some very good times.