At six thirty am on Sunday November 18th 2007 the St Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto was bustling with activity. Over the antiques tables there was a buzz in the air; the pickers listened to the dealers describe the flood of stoneware coming out of the Bruce Peninsula… Somebody was digging. Gradually the story was distilled down to the very essence of the secret. ‘A bottle digger named Ace of Spades has found the oldest dump in Meaford.’
The gossip spread among Toronto’s pottery pickers like fresh pine tar on new pants. It left people wondering… who the heck is the Ace of Spades? And where the heck is Meaford?
Well of course Timbitz, who knows everyone, knows Ace personally and he knows just where all the dumps are in just about all of the historic towns in Southern Ontario… On Sunday November eighteenth Timbitz and I visited one of the oldest ports in Upper Canada. I suppose it’s fair to say we were caught up in a bottle rush and I was proud to be November digger along for the thrill of the last autumn safari. I feel privileged to be able to offer up this story as Bottle Rush in Meaford Ontario, Part One. It’s a three part adventure series that begins with a broken shovel.
Our route tripped through the very heart of Grey County, which is apple orchard country and where up to twenty five percent of Ontario’s apples are produced. November is past the peak of the harvest, but even still I could see tractors with wagons stacked high with crates full of red and yellow delicious apples, and the narrow gravel lots beside the highway markets bustled with Sunday shoppers.
In the town of Meaford, Tim stopped to buy a new shovel and I had some time to look around. On the corner of the hardware store I saw a signs for something called a Scarecrow Invasion, which is a weeklong event that precedes the Apple Craft Show and Quilt Auction in late September. I remember reading about that bizarre municipal marketing event in a Toronto Star article last year – those darn scarecrows were everywhere; on mailboxes, front porches, balconies and storefronts – the whole town went scarecrow crazy.
Before the village incorporated into the town of Meaford in 1874 it was called Peggy’s Landing in honour of a particularly charismatic pioneer. I would be interested to know if Peggy was a man or a woman. I suspect she was a man.
Situated on Georgian Bay, Meaford’s harbour was the center of industry and commerce, with its earliest saw mills and later factories being built close to water transport – a one day’s wagon ride south to the area’s largest markets.
An active trade developed around Georgian Bay after 1850 with fishing settlements along the shore. By 1855 a small set of locks was constructed at Sault Ste. Marie opening Lake Superior to small craft. In addition to steamers, there were dozens of schooners and small sailboats on the lakes. There were four famous steam ships in Meaford’s golden age; the names Algoma, Clifton, Ploughboy, Kaloola sound off in many local stories.
BRIEFING: In the truck Tim spelled out the particulars of the scenario. We were on our way to meet this self professed ‘Ace of Spades’, who came to Tim’s attention earlier in the summer when he sold two big crocks on eBay. Since then Tim has watched him like a hawk and even swooped down on a few superb Ontario ginger beers. Ace of Spades has been selling stoneware from all across the top of southern Ontario and recently vended a rare Thompson gingerbeer from as far away as Kingston.
The Ace of Spades is an ex Canadian infantry soldier named Jason Hayder; he’s a full time dumpdigger with two kids in a nearby small town. His wife teaches at a nearby beauty school. Like any lucky strike he wasn’t looking for it – he was just walking his dog along the wetland trails outside of Meaford when he spotted a cork top cobalt blue milk of magnesia bottle in the mud. That was six months ago. Jason started digging full time in the summer and struck a serious goody vein in August – he sold some spectacular stuff on eBay just last Saturday night.
Jason Hayder is a remarkable fellow and I liked him the first moment I laid eyes on him. He’s a digger with a heart of gold and his passion is as wide as his eyes and he digs too fast when he gets excited.
The three of us piled into Tim’s truck and the tour continued through the industrial backside of Meaford. We were off the beaten track
‘Okay park here’ Jason said. ‘Don’t worry. You won’t get a ticket here’. Tim looked at me and laughed. There was no doubt about that – we were in the middle of nowhere with no buildings in sight.
Each of us shouldering gym bags full of fresh clothing, lunch, and two large blimps full of water – and on top of that load we each carried at least one digging implement. With Jason in the lead we hiked for about a quarter mile through scrub brush and cow pasture on the edge of town to approach the site from the west, through one fence and over another older barricade.
In a jungle of wild rhubarb, not far from a babbling brook and within sight of Georgian Bay we came upon the secret spot that Jason Hayder had found six months earlier. His digging had now pockmarked the terrain with craters lined with broken glass bottles and pottery fragments. As we walked he remembered his pontiled prizes and pointed to the places where he had found them. ‘I forked out two blue Underwood inks there, and I got some milks and a nice amber pumpkinseed whiskey under that tree… etc’
‘Where do you reckon we should dig today Jason?’ Tim strolled about looking for angles into fresh dump and I marveled at the quality of some of the hackers lying forlorn on the sides of the dirt piles.
‘I’ve been working up this end’ Jason said as he disappeared behind a wall of wild rhubarb and only after I followed did I see the knoll that was to be the day’s dig zone. It was already partially excavated and Jason was quick to describe the fruit sealer jar inscribed The Rose that he had found in this very cavity.
Tim interrupted and took command of the situation when he stepped into the hole. He immediately began picking away at the top crust of the existing hole to widen the working area. After scraping off the grass and six inches of topsoil, and then smashing down the hard gravel strewn crust below that, the brown loam of the dump appeared on all of our shovels.
“Oh its close boys’ Jason said gleefully as he attacked the ground with his long handled shovel. ‘I sometimes find medicines and amber pill jars right below this black ash so keep an eye out.’
END of PART ONE
On November 18th 2007, while digging the oldest dump in Meaford Ontario with the Ace of Spades and Timbits, Roberrific found several 1920’s relics in the first ten minutes of the excavation, and some serious prizes four feet below, in the 1880’s Meaford dump.