In the late nineties, it was common knowledge that the two finest country antique shows in Quebec were the North Hatley show held in July, and The Eastman show which ran in late September. The two towns are situated about 30 kms apart in the beautiful Eastern townships region, and so you would think that many of the same people would attend both shows, but the reality is these shows reflect the “two solitudes” of Quebec, with the North Hatley show being attended mostly by local, English-speaking home and cottage owners, while Eastman is predominantly attended by local Francophones. In those days at least, not many of the English dealers who participated in North Hatley would consider doing Eastman. They believed that unless you were recognizably French Quebecois with good language skills you would be overlooked. We heard this over and over for a few years before we decided to test the theory. I get by fairly well with my high school French, and of course Jeanine being from France, speaks the language beautifully. The thing is although neither of us were Quebecois, we determined that we could overcome this by just being welcoming, open, and good natured. We also liked the town and would go through from time to time to visit a good shop there, Antiquities Rosalie. A family place where we often found good folk art and early smalls.
We knew also that the mayor there, Mr. Pierre Riverin was one of the biggest collectors of Quebec folk art in the country. He had “made” our show in North Hatley the previous year and suggested that we come to Eastman. So we contacted the show promoters and were happy when they welcomed us to come, and gave us a space in the main salon which was in the basement of the church at that time. This original space only held 15 dealers and as this was 1999 it was the first year that the show had been expanded to a second salon in a “Golden Years” club a couple of blocks away, bringing the total to 30 dealers. Of course people checked out both locations.
Unloading through the back door into the basement we definitely felt like the “new kids’ at school, but everyone was friendly and helpful and it didn’t take long to set up and feel quite at home. We discovered that Tom Devolpe, a dealer friend of ours from Montreal was doing the show as well, and we were staying at the same motel so we suggested that after setting up he come to our room for a glass of wine and a snack before going to the dealer welcome night, being held that evening in the restaurant of the same motel. What a nice idea to have all the dealers get together for dinner before the show. Dealers love to be fed.
We stopped in a local depanneur, or convenience store to pick up a bottle of red and some cheese and bread to share with Tom in the room. This is one of the wonderful things about this region. Even the smallest local stores have a good selection of wine and cheese, not to mention pates. We bought a great baguette, and a soft ripened cow cheese from France called Chaource which we had never encountered but which immediately became one of our favorites. I remember that it was 40% off because it was quite ripe, but this of course made it even more delicious. We should have had to pay more because it was perfect. It could have been that we were just really hungry from setting up and skipping lunch, but that snack of fresh baguette, Chaource, and a few olives with Tom in the motel room remains one of my favorite all time eating experiences.
I recall we were a little tipsy walking over to the restaurant for our 7 p.m. seating. When we arrived we were taken directly upstairs to a private room just large enough to hold the 60 or so people participating in the show. We were all assigned a table and presented with the menu, and a program. A program of all things. We sat next to our old friend Alan Chauvette who owned a pickers barn near Victoriaville. It was his first year as well.
The meal was excellent, and surprisingly we still had a bit of appetite after all that bread and cheese. The place was soon hopping, and quite noisy with all those ramped up dealers. Then came desert, and along with it a few friendly greetings and encouragements from the promoters, followed by a sing along. Yes. I didn’t see that one coming. There in the program were the words and tune to follow for three or four special antique dealers songs. Everybody now, let’s sing, “Nous sommes les Antiquaires” set to the tune of “Les Miserable “ or some such thing. I forget exactly but it was hilarious, and good natured, and friendly, and everybody sang along.
This was followed by the announcement of who had won the “best booth” award which was a prize of a free ad in a local trade magazine were you could announce your honor I suppose. Being newbies we had no expectation of winning, and it was no surprise when a local couple won who not only had a beautifully set up booth, but also wore (get this) period costumes. I looked over to Alan, and said “ah that’s it Alan, next year, – Costumes!” We just about fell out of chairs. The festivities and merriment continued well into the night, but we soon made our good-nights and left to get a good night’s sleep.
The show was great. People were friendly and interested, and sales were brisk. Contrary to the fears of our fellow Anglophone dealers we were made to feel most welcome and accepted. We went back for another four or five years until we changed policy and only did shows close to home. It’s still going on today but has been moved to a larger facility “La Grillade” where there are 50 dealers in one space. Well worth a trip to this region, especially in the fall.