Canada’s strangest book store is in an old bank on the Saskatchewan Prairies

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WATCH: Tucked away in a Saskatchewan community of about 300 people is a treasure chest of literature – May 24, 2019

On a quiet street in the Saskatchewan village of Perdue sits a hidden gem – a treasure chest of literature.

It’s easy to miss – the weathered signage on the windows is the only indication of what’s inside the unassuming building.

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Ralph Crawford came to Perdue in 2004 with an overwhelming inventory of books in tow. One year later, Crawford’s Used Books opened its doors.

“I brought three transport trailer loads and then I had a bus that we used for a church bus and I filled it with things,” Crawford explained. “Then I rented two three-tonne trucks to haul the rest.”

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Prior to setting up shop in the community of about 300, for many years Crawford ran a book store in Sheffield, N.B. When he found out the Trans-Canada Highway would bypass his store, he started looking for real estate out west. In 2000, he bought an old bank building which dates back to the early 1900s.

Ralph Crawford stands in front of his bookstore in Perdue, Sask. Nicole Stillger / Global News

“The very first night I had moved out here I looked at the building and I thought this building will be here long after I’m not,” he said.

Crawford reflected on his life in Sheffield, where his passion for written works began at a young age. The pastor at his church knew of his interest in Christian literature and gave him most of his library.

“As a result that really gave me a taste for old books,” Crawford said. “Some of his books went back into the 1700s.”

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Not everything Crawford has is on display, but he estimates roughly 300,000 books are in his collection. For comparison, the Library of Parliament contains over 600,000 items and has a staff of more than 350 people.

Unlike your typical, modern bookstore, you’ll have to rely on Crawford to point you in the right direction, as there’s no directory to search through.

The 73-year-old, however, has a pretty good sense of what’s in stock.

“I have a general idea,” he said. “Many times you could ask me about a book and I can say with confidence that I don’t have it because I know I’ve never seen it.

Crawford’s Used Books houses an inventory of more than 300,000. Nicole Stillger / Global News

Crawford suggests leaving some time to browse – you may stumble across something you didn’t know existed.

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“It’s not necessarily a store to come in and be able to get the book instantly that you’re looking for,” he said. “Sometimes people spend a few hours.”

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The collection at Crawford’s is diverse – fiction, poetry, classics, business, Canadiana – that’s just a handful of the many genres you can find on the shelves.

If you rifle through the cookbooks you may discover one of his oldest – published in Paris in 1659 – all procured through various sources of the course of nearly 50 years.

“After that pastor had given me most of his library, I thought if he has books to give away there must be a lot of people who have books to sell,” he said.  “I started buying books and going to auctions.”

Ralph Crawford in his Perdue, Sask., bookstore. Nicole Stillger / Global News

“I’ve still been buying books,” he noted. “I always say I’ll quit buying books when you see them carrying me feet first out.”

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Crawford admits the book business is a bit slow. He doesn’t advertise and relies on word of mouth.

“I can always handle more let’s put it that way,” he explained. “But it’s a labour of love.”

He also blames electronic access in part, but is confident books will always have a place.

“If you’re a collector of books and you have first editions, well you don’t have a first edition on your screen,” he argued. “If you like signed copies – you don’t have signed copies on your electronic device.”

“I think there’s going to be a good future for books.”

If you plan on paying Crawford a visit, you should note he only takes cash or cheque.

The store is open from May until October, Monday to Saturday, but as the shop’s lone employee, he said it’s best to give him a call and make sure he’s around.

At 73, Crawford’s not quite ready to close this chapter of his life – for now, he said he’ll take it “one day at a time.”

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