Road trip Ontario: Searching for treasures at antique and vintage markets

A sign off of the Bluewater Highway points to the Pinery Flea Market in Grand Bend, Ont. Kevin Nielsen / Global News

If you are looking to hit the road this summer, and would like a new experience with an old twist, perhaps you should consider going on an antique hunt.

Within the province of Ontario, you could create your own experience involving antique stores, flea markets, auctions or antique shows.

Going antiquing is also very flexible as there are options across the province and in terms of how long you want to spend on the road. There are probably shows, flea markets or stores in your area which will allow you to search for a special treasure for your collection or a unique piece of décor.

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Your newly found item(s) will become a conversation piece with family and friends but even if you come home empty-handed, the journey itself becomes quality water cooler fodder.

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What follows is a list of options to help you plan your road trip and some tips for newcomers from veterans of the antique industry.

Antique Shows, Markets and Flea Markets in Ontario

There are a few different options to consider if you are interested in exploring antique shows or markets.

The first would be a traditional antique or vintage market that occurs once or twice a year. A couple of sites that list those are the Wayback Times and Auctions Ontario. A quick internet search and you will find other options as well. There are still some major shows to take place in the second half of the summer including the Muskoka Antique & Vintage Show and Christie Conservation Area Antique Show.

The view inside a booth at a recent Antiques Canada show. Antiques Canada

There are also weekly antique markets in some places as well. A couple of the more well known ones in Southern Ontario would be the Aberfoyle Antique Market in Guelph on Sundays and for those that don’t want to leave Toronto, there is also the St. Lawrence Sunday Antique Market.

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There are also some more traditional flea markets which don’t just specialize in socks and cellphone cases. At these markets you will also find a dozen or more vendors selling antiques and vintage goods.

There are a couple of good ones in Grand Bend on Sundays and a hidden gem is the Keady Livestock Market. It sets up on Tuesdays and also provides an opportunity to see a weekly livestock auction.

This third option tends to be more hit or miss, so do some exploring online to see what the flea market tends to offer. Look on Google Maps to see if there is one in an area you would like to explore and go from there.

Visitors wander through the Pinery Antique Flea Market in Grand Bend, Ont. Kevin Nielsen / Global News

Veteran antique dealer Ben Lennox says that if you are headed to an antique show or market, such as the Aberfoyle Antique Market for the first time, expect the unexpected.

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(Newcomers) will see everything,” he said. “So don’t expect that everything is going to be antique.”

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He said there will be everything from vintage items to signs to other collectible items at many of the markets.

“So they need to do some due diligence as well and ask questions,” he recommended.

Lennox says that every dealer is different but by asking questions you may learn more about the items you are interested in.

“Some people who are setting up at shows are simply pickers. They bought the item yesterday. They’re selling it today,” Lennox said. “In some cases you know they’re not going to give you much in the way of provenance.”

Lennox, who is the co-owner of the Bowmanville Antique Show, also said that there is the other end of the spectrum as well as far as the people selling at shows and markets.

They would look for full provenance or as much provenance as they can provide,” he said. “They will have a full written tag.”

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Yank Azman, who has been selling antiques and vintage goods in Toronto for more than 40 years, has some practical advice before you head out, including to bring cash, writing materials (so you can mark the location of the booth where you have seen a treasure you may want to go back for) and to dress properly for the weather.

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A vendor’s wares at the Waterford Antique Market. Kevin Nielsen / Global News

He also says to “remember the size of your front door, or else that stuffed moose head is not going to fit through.”

Azman says that haggling is allowed “but don’t point out the flaws, the dealer knows.”

Azman, who on occasion sets up to sell at St. Lawrence Sunday Antique Market, warns not to question the price of an object as you risk offending the seller.

“If you don’t know about an object, ask. Try very special extra hard not to say: ‘why is this sooooo expensive?’” he said. “Remember that the best deal is the one where both sides are pleased with the transaction.”

And if you’re going to make an offer, ask if the the dealer will accept cash, not tell the dealer what you will give.

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Auctions in Ontario

Much like many other forms of shopping, the online world has had a major effect on the number of live auctions which occur within Ontario.

Despite diminishing in numbers, they still take place on almost a daily basis throughout the province offering everything from livestock to automobiles to antiques. Some houses even change ownership through auction.

The Auction Advertiser and Auctions Ontario are two of the more common sites which will allow you to see where auctions are held and will also allow you to see many of the items which might be available.

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Lennox, who also works with Miller and Miller Auctions in New Hamburg suggests having a close look at the auction listings before attending one.

Auctions are held weekly at TNT Auctions in Brampton, Ont. Kevin Nielsen / Global News

“Do your homework ahead of time,” he explained. “If there are items that you’re interested in, set a target price, recognizing that there is typically a buyer’s premium and tax on top of that.”

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Stephano Aguirre, owner of Retrodromme, has been buying at auctions for years. He echoes Lennox’s warning about setting a target price. He warns to try not to imagine owning the item because you may slip past your target price.

“Don’t fall in love with an item before you buy it because you may not get it or you could overbid and pay too much,” Aguirre advised.

He also advises first-time attendees to not be afraid to get aggressive either. Aguirre recently took family members to their first auction and they were intimidated by the other bidders.

“Eventually you will develop a thick skin,” he said.

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Aguirre, who is a second generation dealer, provided a piece of advice he got from his father which has paid off on occasion.

“My dad always told me at an auction that the best deals are in the first five minutes and in the final five minutes,” he said, while also cautioning that this advice is situational.

Both Aguirre and Lennox warned to make sure you get to the sale early so you can inspect an item before it goes on the auction block as the items are often sold as is. This means once the hammer drops you are going home with an item whether you have spotted a flaw or not.

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Antique malls in Ontario

Many of the antique malls across the province are located in beautiful old factories such as the one in Waterford or the one in Woodstock, which purports to be the province’s largest.

Similar to antique markets and shows, you never know what you will find.

You can find a list of antique malls across Ontario on, but be careful, a few have closed of late so make sure to double check with the storefront before you hit the road.

The Crossroads Antique Market in Brantford, Ont. is crammed full of antique and vintage goodies. Kevin Nielsen / Global News

Jeff Gadsden, who has been running antique shows in Ontario for decades, suggests visiting Southworks in Cambridge, or Memory Lane in London.

“You can browse many booths at one time,” he said while noting, “you won’t meet many dealers there since the booths are mainly unattended.“

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He suggested it was a good way to figure out the types of antiques and vintage goods you might see at an antique show.

“You need to become familiar with the kind of merchandise that people in the business deal in,” he explained.

Lennox says that similar to antique shows and markets, your phone is often your best weapon at some of these places.

“It’s the type of thing where you see an item sometimes and you’re like, ‘is it too expensive?’” he offered. “Now it’s easy enough to pull out your phone and if it’s something you really like, you know you can buy it.”