I love old things. You can tell by the fact that I live in a house that was built in 1917. I love the imperfect walls (how they made flat walls with plaster & lathe is still beyond me!) and the stories that live in these walls. I love discovering hidden, forgotten things; like newspapers from the 50s which were used as insulation in our fireplace (that was a fun discovery when we had a lining inserted & repointed the chimney), the seven layers of paint and paper that line just about every room (in both directions, ceilings included), the two “Bottled in Stratford, Ontario” Coca~Cola bottle caps that were embedded in the plaster in our master bedroom, behind more painted over wallpaper, and I love living in a City where I find out more about this house from people that visit than I did from the previous owners (“oh, I remember when the tub fell through the ceiling!”; so that’s why the ceiling is wonky there!).
It’s this sensibility that draws me to places like Goodwill, Talize and Value Village. A lot. I have frequent buyer cards for two of the outfits that offer them; that and the fact that I have twin seven-year-old boys, who go through clothes like nobody’s business.
Actually, there are a number of good reasons that I love to stroll through these second hand stores. Need a second DVD? $7, check! Need a VCR to play all those Disney tapes I still have from when my university bound daughter was a toddler? $3, check! Weight scales, air popcorn poppers, cast iron skillets for camping, practically brand new, brand name clothes (a genuine Dolce & Gabbana trench for $14, swear to gawd!) sometimes with their original store tags still on them; I’m so happy when I find something for a few bucks that would’ve usually set me back thrice its value or more.
And then sometimes, I find a real treasure. Not one that’s worth any significant cash value, but ones that are worth much more to me because of their story, their history.
A couple of years ago now, I found a large, black frame (with a lousy picture in it) at my local Goodwill, so I bought it, brought it home and then found this picture behind it.
The gentleman’s name is Sam Cheezo from the Cree Nation who lived in Quebec. I couldn’t find anything online about the man or the photographer, so I searched a little harder and I found an email for the office of the Embassy of the Cree Nation in Ottawa. I forwarded a picture of the photograph to them and they were able to connect me with the Director of Operations for the Cree Nation of Nemaska and he was able to tell me this about Sam Cheezo:
As far I can remember, Sam was one of our village elders at Nemaska Post. I believe he passed away in the mid-fifties. Sam was one of those rare individuals who was quite active in his early years as he was a sought after Foreman for various community projects since he knew how to interact with people. He taught himself English (he never went school) and he became our interpreter at church services and other events.
He was a person of jovial character and he was one of the Cree voyageurs working for the Hudson’s Bay Company during the days of the canoe brigades before the arrival of the bush plane.
There is a reference to him from a manuscript made by the Reverend James Scanlon, titled ‘A Different Time Among the Northern Cree’ which can be purchased from the Highway Book Shop, Cobalt, Ontario.
I can’t tell you how happy I was to discover this smallest snippet of Sam’s story. I was moved that through the effort of a few emails, I was able to be connected to people that not only knew how to get to Sam’s story, but who actually knew Sam himself. Mostly though, I was happiest to send this large photo of Sam back to the Culture Director of the Nemaska First Nation, where it belonged.
Then, a few weeks ago now, I participated in a local, online auction where I purchased an entire box of cameras, lenses and other photography peripheries. The owner of the equipment obviously loved photography and cared for their equipment, because it was in impeccable shape. The best discovery for me though, was the fact that two of the cameras still had film in them. I immediately took them to my local camera shop and you can view the pictures yourself here (a couple of samples are below).
The photos aren’t particularly exceptional, or one of those incredible finds like John Maloof had of Vivian Maier’s work, but I love them. They capture a part of someone’s life. I’m guessing a teacher, a lover of art, a mother. I also found a receipt in the aging box, I’d love to find out more about Katherine Gatto. A Google search revealed nothing, but isn’t too surprising when you realize that the equipment and the pictures reveal a world that existed well before digital photography and just as personal computers were making their way onto the work desk.
My last adventure takes me from again, the Goodwill in Stratford to Cross Creek, New Brunswick. I came across this stunning, hand-stitched leather satchel, for which I paid all of $30 for. That girl was coming home with me.
The leather was not in rough shape, per se, but it’s definitely not as pliable as it would have once been. Thanks to an imprinted piece inside the bag, I was quickly able to find the maker of this beauty; Northern Lights Leathers was kind enough to respond to my email query and let me know that they made this type “school bag” about 10 years ago and it’s original sticker price would’ve been approximately $250. How is it a handmade leather bag from New Brunswick ended up in Stratford, Ontario? I really do hope one day to find that out…
…and that’s just one of those other amazingly beautiful things about using our social media networks and the technology and tools that are available to us. These are the ultimate storytelling tools, which puts the story right in our laps, if we want to take that journey…