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Great Village: Hamlet emerges as antiquing mecca

The old Leyton family General Store is now an antiques operation. JOHN DEMONT
The old Leyton family General Store is now an antiques operation. JOHN DEMONT - The Chronicle Herald

Things, as you would expect given its name, catch the eye in the community of Great Village: the chocolate mudflats against fields that its most famous resident described as “pale lime greens and yellows” before they deepened into the “dark bluegreen” of the forest beyond.

But also the multi-hued garb of the migrant farm workers, most of them Jamaican, flickering on clotheslines in skies that the poet Elizabeth Bishop called “pure blue.”

Your head swivels to take in the sombre statue for the hamlet’s Great War dead on the way into town, the old homesteads redolent of its shipbuilding and lumbering past, a grand elementary school built in some earlier time when the hamlet’s population must have been more than its current 500.

I am standing in the middle of the main drag, which is actually Highway 2, iPhone on its side as the newspaper’s photo editor has instructed me, when a man in a ball hat and orange shirt walks over and says, “You’d be surprised how many people want to take that picture.”

He is talking about a white, wooden, pitched-roof building with the words Onslow Trading Co. emblazoned in a fancy font above the door and windows.

Clair Peers says that it’s his place.

Today, as I imagine it is most days, the enterprise is a vision to behold, the way the wooden highchair and aged end tables stand amidst the old cart wheel, the handmade bird feeders, the child’s wagon, the ceramic pots, the doodads, whatnots and thingamajigs.

My senses begin to overload when I walk around to the north side of the building, where I spy bed posts and cupboards, a stool made out of a tree stump, a window frame, fisherman’s buoys, lots of shovels and other tools, old metal and wooden signs for Coca-Cola, a bed-and-breakfast, and places where a person may and may not park.

Am I staggering a little, undone by the layers of place and history gathered together, as I make my way back to the front of the building and step inside?

All I know is that there, amid the clutter and bric-a-brac, I see a child’s sleigh and I feel like I’m watching the last scene of Citizen Kane, fixing the moment forever in my memory.

“It’s more a flea market,” explains the shop’s owner, who used to be a civil servant working in property assessment, which somehow led to him doing estate appraisals.

In time, the latter naturally segued into handling estate lots — “I would help you get rid of anything” — and then, eventually, into the antique business.

Peers has got company in this great little village where, come the weekend, the locals drive slowly for fear of taking out a visitor crossing the road, eyes glazed over in antique-hunting lust.

“It’s just a coincidence,” he says of the way the village has blossomed into arguably the bestknown antiquing mecca in the province.

Well, sort of.

There have been antique stores, some legitimate, some underground, in Great Village since 2005 or so.

Then Peers came along and opened his shop.

Then Grant Dickie took over the old Layton family General Store and started selling a few old things in there.

Four years ago, Cees van den Hoek, who comes from a cheesemaking family but had been selling antiques himself for a decade or so, began renting the store.

“We really cleaned it up,” he told me, adding, “It’s really taken off.”

Now the 6,000-square-foot Great Village Antiques Exchange is home to some 30 dealers, all of whom rent space in the white building, which is just down the street from Elizabeth Bishop’s childhood home.

Some of their wares can also be found across the road inside St. James United Church which, a few years back, was bought by the community for $1.

Visitors there still walk beneath the stained glass window commemorating Peter McLellan, Great Village’s first British settler, among the pews where Capt. J.W. McCully, the famous mariner, may have sat, past pictures from the life of Bishop, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award as well as the one-time poet laureate of the United States.

But in there, near a hymnal open to the old Methodist roofraiser Son of My Soul, is a stunning marble hall table on sale for $675.

In a room where Bible study, perhaps, once took place, there are enough chairs to handle a good chunk of the present-day population of Great Village, and a collection of children’s dolls that looks eerie when gathered together, as dolls tend to do.

Later this summer the antique hunters will have more options in Great Village. Van den Hoek has bought the village community centre which was “fit for the wrecking ball” after 30 years of water damage and has been fixing it up.

He also wants to buy the Layton building, sink some money into it, and create some parking, which is now in short supply.

“I want it to be such an interesting place that even if you don’t like antiques you will have fun,” he says, speaking of his vision for the building, but in a way that could apply to the village where it stands, too.

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