One big yard sale
In As You Like It, Shakespeare wrote “All the world’s a stage.” In Vankleek Hill, Ontario on Saturday, all the village was a yard sale. Trash and Treasure – a village-wide yard sale – has been a tradition in the eastern Ontario community for 18 years.
Trash and Treasure is an annual effort of the local Business and Merchant Association. It began in 2000 through the efforts of now retired business owner Carole Robert and Louise Sproule, publisher of The Review, Vankleek Hill’s newspaper. Sproule said they started out using parking lots around the village to encourage both residents, and people from out of town, to set up. They convinced the town council to waive ordinances regulating yard sales for the day, too. Out of town vendors pay a $20 fee to set up along Main Street. The proceeds pay for the portable toilets that are rented for the day. The Review has provided free advertising for Trash or Treasure for 18 years and the event also gets advertised in newspapers in nearby parts of Quebec. Sproule said people come from the Montreal area in search of yard sale bargains.
Vankleek Hill is not a large village; the population is just under 2,000. I drove into town at 8:30 Saturday morning and noticed the population had already taken a temporary increase. The streets were lined with cars and people were browsing for bargains. A local contact graciously told me I could park at a special location behind the red brick buildings that line Main Street. From there, I walked around the village, scoping out the merchandise and the yard sale culture.
A cultural study
Some things are ubiquitous at yard sales. Elvis memorabilia is one of them. I saw countless old VHS videotapes and CD’s with cover photos depicting The King of Rock and Roll in his various stages ranging from 1950s teen idol to the 1970s days of vinyl suits and giant sideburns. Other items give a lot of insight into the character and complexity of individuals. While looking through a stack of old records, I thought to myself; “What kind of person owns albums of drinking songs along with albums of Tennessee Ernie Ford or George Beverly Shea singing hymns?” Hockey sticks indicated children grew up and realized they would not play in the NHL. Beer glasses looked like they had maybe been patriated from bars inside coats. A bidet sat waiting for a buyer in a country where few people use them or know what they are for.
Community yard sales are a real study in local religious habits, too. The Anglicans were set up inside their parish hall with tidy little tables of unwanted household items. Muffins and tea were being sold over the kitchen counter beside a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The religious books for sale included The Beer Drinkers Guide to God. One of the ladies assured me it was a very funny read. A few blocks away, the Presbyterian Sunday School rooms had been transferred into a marketplace with signs indicating the proceeds were predestined to send children to summer camp. Over at St. Gregoire Roman Catholic parish, the merchandise was out on the front lawn, where I noticed a jigsaw puzzle of St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican for sale. Just inside the door, church ladies were selling home baking.
Entrepreneurs of all ages
It wasn’t just church ladies who were leading the entrepreneurial spirit though. Children at St. Gregoire were making and selling popcorn. I passed several lemonade stands, which provided convenient refreshment when the warm morning sun started to be felt. A girl on Home Avenue was approaching passers by with a container collecting donations for a neonatal intensive care unit at an Ottawa hospital. She told me that if I bought something, I’d also get a free strawberry plant. I dropped my donation in her container. I live in an apartment and have no place – and no gardening skills – to grow strawberries.
It was easy to notice that the children were enjoying “playing store” for a Saturday. Adult vendors liked to bargain though. Vankleek Hill is a bilingual community, and I heard “we’ll negotiate on any price!” more than once in English and French.
I went to Trash and Treasure for the cultural experience. Shopping was a secondary reason. I only spent $5.50. I added a 1967 Canadian Centennial nickel to my coin collection and bought four wonderful tasting small deep-fried doughnuts from the bake table at St. Gregoire parish. It was a relaxing way to spend a Saturday morning and observe a community.