Amongst the stars in Port Carling

There were many reasons to look forward to doing the Port Carling antique show in the early nineties. It was very well run and promoted by the Gadsden’s. Unlike today, the town and area had very few antique shops and there were a lot of rich people building and buying cottages. In those days they would actually trust their own taste and come to the show looking to furnish their cottages themselves.  Nowadays they don’t trust their judgement and not wanting to embarrass themselves with something that would have their friends questioning their taste, they bring along their decorators who tell them what they should buy.

Also, in those days the show opened Thursday night and ran Friday and Saturday, which was not only great from the perspective of getting home on a day when the southbound traffic was light, but also worked well because many wives would stay at the cottage with the kids during the week while hubby worked in the city.  These wives would come to the opening and buy as they wished, or make notes of what they wanted and then drag their husbands in on the Friday or Saturday.  It held the potential in those days of being our most profitable show, and we were always looking for “cottagy” things to take to the show.   Canoes, rustic furniture, folk art, and all things you associate with a vacation home were almost certain to sell.  The Thursday night opening was a feeding frenzy, and as soon as the doors opened and the line-up filled in you had to be on your toes because it was common to have more than one person wanting to buy something at the same time.  You had to be careful, especially with two sellers operating the booth that you didn’t sell the same thing twice, to two different people.  There’s your potential for some nasty exchanges.  Things would settle down a bit after that initial hour, but  sales would remain strong over the next two days.   And then there was the additional excitement of exchanges with movie stars. 

During set up on Thursday all the talk would be on whether Kurt and Goldie were in town, and which famous friends they might bring along to the opening.  Nancy Short, Martin’s wife could be counted on.  She came every year and would buy a lot.  She would also bring along friends and encourage them to buy.  She was also a very nice woman, so we definitely looked forward to seeing her.  I enjoyed selling a pyrotechnic decorated rocking chair to Mary Tyler Moore one year, who was as nice as you would imagine her to be.  When Joanna Cassidy bought a piece of folk art from me, I have to admit that the scene in Blade Runner of her running away from Harrison Ford and eventually being shot and falling through panes of glass, kept running in my head.  Quite distracting.   It was always a delight when the wonderful Catherine O’Hara would turn up looking like an un-made bed and trying to rope in two or three unruly children.  She was always funny and friendly, and would treat you like her neighbor.

It was the talk of the show one year when on the opening night,  Kurt and Goldie decided to buy a little side table from us. At the time, I was helping to load a dresser we had sold in the parking lot, but I heard all about it before I got back into the hall.  Jeanine does not know, or for that matter much care who Kurt Russell is. I don’t think she was into “Escape from New York’ the way I was. “Snake” didn’t mean anything to her.  She recognized Goldie Hawn of course, but she is not particularly impressed with stardom in any case, and tends to treat stars like anyone else. I think that for the most part most stars actually appreciate this, but they do get used to being treated as “special”. It started when she questioned Kurt about his visa card.  “well, I can assure you it’s good”.  “I’m not worried about that, it’s just that I’ve never seen a card like that before”.  It wasn’t that she mistrusted him, but it was from a bank she had never heard of.  “O.K., can you bring the table to the loading door, and I’ll get my car.”  “Well as you can see I am on my own here, so if you can wait until my husband returns he will do it, or otherwise might I suggest that you seem like a fit and strong man, perhaps you can carry it yourself. “  He looked surprised, and somewhat taken aback, but then smiled, and said “Of course I can.”   Our neighboring dealer could hardly contain herself.  She immediately rushed over. “Don’t you know who that was.  That’s Kurt Russell, he’s a movie star and married to Goldie Hawn”.  “Oh really.  How nice for him, but still I am right that he was perfectly capable of carrying that table himself”.  That’s the way Jeanine calls them.  I love that. Everything I hear suggests that Kurt’s a regular guy, he just forgot how it felt to be treated like one.  I think he enjoyed it.

our booth at Port Carling, one year in the early nineties

Remembering Billie Orr and his Muskoka folk art Paradise

Billy in front of his cabin

Billy in front of his cabin

Back in the nineties, Billie Orr was a familiar figure in Bracebridge, Ontario.  My friend Scott Beasley would see him at least once a week, shuffling along the street carrying his bags of groceries and supplies, as he headed out towards his property which lay about three miles out of town on an isolated craggy, wooded acreage overlooking a river.

With his perpetual Irish cap, and lower lip which seemed in danger of dragging on the ground, Billy was well known, and universally liked by the locals. Scott took to talking to him, and found out that Billie lived on his own on the property he was raised on, and having a good picker’s instinct, he eventually got Billie to invite him for a visit. What he found was fascinating. A bit later, I happened to be in the area and was interested, so Scott and I headed out one fine summer morning for a visit.bo2

Billie lived in a log cabin with no running water and one electrical outlet on a large remote acreage not far from town.  It was a pretty funky set up.  He had to go down the hill to fetch water, and the cabin looked like nothing had been done to it in several years.  We came down the long lane to the cabin and there was Billy standing in the open front door.  Although old, and obviously used to living alone, he was welcoming and articulate.  He started right in telling us about his upbringing.  His father was an inspector on the railroad, and had built the cabin in the first quarter of the century for his wife and Billie and his sister.  Billie’s sister moved away.  Bill never left.  He never married, and never drove a car.  He would walk into Bracebridge once a week and get what he needed, which wasn’t much.  Bill still cut all his own wood, fetched his water, and grew a large garden so he was practically self-sufficient.  bo5

We were chatting away in the main room of the cabin when suddenly a large mother raccoon appeared at the door.  Billie excused himself.  “Good morning little mother.  As you can see I have guests but I have your breakfast ready for you.”  At this he disappears into the kitchen and comes back with a granite plate full of table scraps, and sets it down outside the front door.  Mother raccoon made a friendly, grateful noise and set at it.   We continued the tour.

bo7

Billie’s carved Irish little people

At the side of the room here was a steep set of stairs which led to the second floor.  You could see that the top steps were completely covered in soot, and Billie explained that he had had a fire up there a couple of years back, but had managed to get it out before it destroyed the place. Obviously he was no longer using the upstairs as it had never been cleaned.  On the steps there were several small carvings of Irish people and little wheelbarrows which Billy had made some years back with a view to selling them to tourists.  I guess he never found a venue for selling them because he had several of them in a row, all covered in a layer of soot from the fire.  “These are cool Billie.  Any chance you would sell us a couple of them.”  “Well, I could sell you one or two I suppose. If you want to buy more, you will have to come back”.  I realised that this was Billie’s technique for assuring a future visit. He obviously enjoyed conversation, and “human” visitors were rare.

cement leprechaun

cement leprechaun

Next he took us out back to show us his other work.  There among the trees stood several hand formed cement figures depicting Irish Leprechauns, and Colleens (young women) and several figures depicting the signs of the Zodiac.  Billy explained that he made these free form by placing metal armatures (or skeletal forms) in the sand and then building them up with cement.   They were all wonderful folk art, and a vision to see in this natural setting.  Just behind them Billy had years before planted a circle of trees which grew to a great height and were meant to depict Stonehenge.   What an amazing creation.  I was awe struck.

There is so much more to say about Billie and my subsequent visits that I will continue the story next week in my Friday Blog.   Billie was a true “outsider” in every sense of the word, and I am honored and privileged to have known him.   bo4