I can remember standing in the partially dilapidated main hall of the old Wyecombe Methodist church for the first time, and thinking “this would make a fabulous antique store.” It’s 1981 and Jeanine has read a classified ad in the London Free Press about a church for sale in Norfolk County for $21,000. We decided to take a ride in the country and have a look just for the fun of it. Seemed harmless enough. Well damned if we didn’t fall in love with the vaulted, 28’ patterned tin ceiling, and surrounding 14’ Gothic windows. We loved the size, exposure and location of the place and saw the potential; and so in spite of all our friends and family advice against it, we bought the dream. Thus along with our new alternative life style we began several years of hard labor renovating and maintaining the joint. We soon discovered why these church halls are typically taken on by a community, and not individuals. Everything is large scale. Thirty gallons of paint rather than four. We loved the challenge. We could see the phoenix rising from the ashes.
As life demands, simultaneous to the renovation we began to buy and sell antiques, to meet our needs, and so our main concern was to sell every weekend at the Toronto Harbourfront market. We didn’t think many would find us in the outback and we were happy with the income from the market. But it wasn’t long before dealers and other customers started to make the trip out to see what we had at home. At first it was more of a warehouse than a show room, but over the years we refined and added showcases, and shelving and by about 1990 it was usually quite full and fairly organized. Of course everything had to be dragged up and down the wide, front steps, but we were young and stupid; and didn’t care. Like many of us at that time who found themselves being full-time antique dealers, it was the alternative lifestyle thing that attracted us. It was more out of an aesthetic interest than any well thought out business plan that the sales room of Old Church Trading came about. That and the natural tendency for things to pile up as you continue in this business, and thus the need to find some place to keep them.
In the fall of 1996 a Quebec dealer friend of ours started to bring huge loads of mediocre stuff to a Guelph auction every other week, and proposed that he also bring along some good things for us to sell for him. Things were changing in Quebec. We had the room, and had done good business together over the years so we said yes. It was great. He kept bringing us wonderful things. Not a lot at a time, but excellent quality. We loved to see him pull in. It was like Christmas.
Our Harbourfront days were now behind us, but with some good dealer trade and with a schedule of about twelve shows a year we continued to go through a lot of stock. People who had not been by for a while often commented that it was amazing how much the stock kept changing. That, and it just kept getting fuller. Cupboards were now in rows and stacked one on top of the other. I felt proud that it was looking like a Quebec picker’s barn. I loved to stand at the front of the big room and look over the variety of interesting things. Although visitors were few and sometimes far between, those who made the trip usually were serious and went home with something, or often with lots of things. We really didn’t advertise all that much, or encourage passing trade. There was a small sign at the road but that was all. Most who came were people we knew from shows. Or people who learned about us through them. I guess we could have pushed harder, but we like staying a bit out of the way. Mysterious and a bit aloof. Not in a “pearls before swine sort of way”, but just by saying “here it is. We think it’s great. If you think it’s great and want to take it home, we are happy to help you carry it out. Otherwise, we hope you had a nice time and it was worth the drive.” You could be that cocky back then.
Late in 1997 our Quebec pal’s arrangement with the auction house ended and he stopped coming, so we bought about half the stock we had, and sent the rest home with him. The market was changing, and so were we. We were becoming more interested in the folk art, and although I loved the furniture, my back was just about pooched, and the furniture market was slowing, so we decided to downsize and focus on smalls. Oh how dismissive a young me and my colleagues had been watching the “smalls” dealers bringing in their boxes, and now I was one of them. Less and less furniture came up those stairs.
Our daughter Cassandra had left for Queens a few years earlier, so by the year 2000 we started to think about ourselves in the not too distant future being old, and a bit crazy, rambling around the church in old patched sweaters, so we decided that a move into town and a new scene was the next project. It took us three years to wind down the church and move on to Port Dover, and don’t get me wrong. We’re happy we did. But for a while there we were living our dream. A great shop, in the middle of nowhere, which almost nobody knows about. Looking back, I can see that it was almost like building a folly.