Friday, August 31, 2007

Digging Dumps in Downtown Toronto, again.

On Sunday, August 26th 2007 Timbit the Treasure Hunter took me dumpdigging in downtown Toronto. The dig master had a few spots lined up, and he let me choose a new situation in a dump he calls ‘Cherry Street.’ We had an immediate discussion (disagreement) about the concept of gentrification, which was just defined here on this week. Tim denied the area around this dump is improving, but I contend that this region of Toronto is rapidly ‘gentrifying’ and that the contaminated grounds are being removed one by one as each properties’ market value escalates.

Tim is a veteran adventure conductor; he reasoned that the amount of digging required to hit pay dirt in this spot was just about equal to the amount of daylight remaining and the amount of bottled water in our bags.

Obscured from the curious glances of cyclists and passing automobiles in the thin shade of some soft maple trees, we sunk a new shaft beside an older hole.

Timbit had dug in this particular spot before, about ten years earlier, and now there were small trees growing up through the top of his old dirt piles. Tim noticed with mild amusement that the hole he had created in 1997 was now square in one end, where, no doubt, one of Toronto’s many homeless people had sheltered. I always find it ironice that if they had the time or the inclination they too could burrow for treasure in this sleepy hollow…

As Tim described his earlier escapade I listened carefully to the details… he had found a few crocks here and some whiskeys. I opened my ears as he related the history of the area, and I nodded in agreement when it felt appropriate - when he proposed the exact position in which we should expend our energies, I started digging,

Tim Braithwaite is a professional dumpdigger; he is a fulltime treasure hunter and an avid bottle collector. When other dumpdiggers share their stories he listens with patience and understanding; he has already seen everything once and dug everywhere twice.

I am a faithful servant, a documentarian who details his adventures, a soldier with a shovel who moves a lot of dirt.


More than a little superstitious, I marveled at a bent horseshoe I uncovered in my first shovel full of dump. This object was our dig’s first omen – was it good or bad? A bent horseshoe must signify something… “What would cause a horseshoe to bend like this?’ I wondered aloud.

“One hell of a traffic accident’ Tim replied and of course I then imagined a cart horse going too fast, cornering too hard, and upsetting his cargo… but that was nonsense – this horseshoe had been crushed by a machine. ‘That horse was eaten… ’ Tim said with conviction ‘and a glue factory worker removed that shoe after it was bent in some machine or plow or sledge.’ Anything was possible - we dumpdiggers could only speculate.


Early on our August 26th dig in the Cherry St dump Timbits uncovered many broken jam crocks. The small white stoneware is an enduring icon to the pioneer age. This was locally manufactured kitchenware that allowed settlers to preserve native fruits and berries throughout the winter. In the summer months a 1800’s family might enjoy home baked bread, butter and jam, cucumber sandwiches and cold pork.

I’m sure the aboriginals taught the European settlers a thing or two about making jam in Canada. Both the Iroquois and the Huron peoples had been making some of North America’s best pemmican for ages, and had evolved a very sophisticated trade network – depending on the season and the territory, blueberries, cranberries, and wild currents were combined with dried deer meat, sunflower seeds and other nuts; all was thoroughly mixed in animal fats, and pounded into a mash before being dehydrated in the hot August sun. Timbits laughed when I suggested that blueberry pemmican and strawberry pemmican were no doubt crowd favorites.


In the next goody vein we hit Timbits dredged out some small medicines, blanks and a T Eaton Drug Company bottle. A small cobalt blue Bromo Seltzer bottle which, when recovered in absolute mint condition is only worth about five dollars.


Dumpdiggers are not wont to walk away without a fight and the rebar in the hole that prevented us from getting a good swing was really annoying.


Three feet beyond those finds there appeared in the hole a sheer top OT sauce bottle, this clear glass specimen featured a sharp embossing of a hot pepper. Imported sauce bottles were common in the early 1900’s. Timbits incidentally dismissed all of his discoveries so far as junk, and in his opinion nothing yet recovered was worth ‘cleaning time’- he is right of course. I found this LINK on Ebay to a Seller in Australia trying to merchandise a beautiful green antique OT sauce bottle that’s older than mine and better embossed with the words ‘Granny Sauce’ for five bucks and getting no buyers.


A pair of LT Kirkland pop bottles came up next – the two units appeared intact, they had been sitting beside each other for ninety five years. The aqua glass was stained and a little ‘sick’ but the embossing on the sides of each bottle was quite sharp. If cleaned and polished the units might fetch two dollars each – but I doubt anyone would buy them. Toronto soda pop collectors probably already have enough L.T Kirkland bottles.

One of the more interesting conversations that erupted that day was ‘when was the golden age of bottle collecting?’. I tendered the notion that perhaps the golden age was still in the future, and I pointed to all the new information resources and sales portals on the internet feeding a future collecting frenzy. Tim however shook his head - negative. In his mind the golden age was twenty years ago when many bottles were more common. People who found the bottles back then were more apt to try and collect more specimens – and they were more apt to go digging for them too…


At the end of the dig Timbit recovered only one item worth keeping. I suppose this object, an amber crown top quart SANFORD INK & LIBRARY PASTE will be vended down in the USA among ink collectors as soon as Tim tumbles it clean...

In this photo the amber Sanford Ink and Library Paste bottle is on its side in front of the Kirkland sodas and the small medicines.

Click on the photos -- they expand.

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