Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Introducing Malcolm Mcleod

This picture perfectly describes Malcolm Mcleod . He’s an ace in the hole. His toothy smile raises moral. His sharp tongue keeps everyone honest. At one time Malcolm was called ‘The Captain’, but now seems to have outgrown the title, as well as the hat with the ship’s wheel that inspired the moniker.

On Sunday April 26th the Dumpdiggers were in a secret spot which I cannot reveal (yet…) But I can report the occasion. The day was hot and bright and became a red letter day for all Canadian diggers as Timbits and Malcolm reunited; they dug a hole together in a secluded ravine in Toronto's Treasure Triangle.

Toronto's Treasure Triangle?

Do you know what it means when I say they dug a hole together in the triangle? That's the area all along the Lakeshore from The Distillery to Church and Dundas st. That's the oldest and historically richest (albeit the economically poorest) section of Toronto - inside this huge right angled triangle is where you find the oldest stuff in the city.

But let me tell you about the initial walk and talk over the property as these two great veterans did a general survey of this secluded century old dump. With only their boots and spade shovels they probed the area. Then came two separate historical reports as they each recounted what secrets they knew about the site. Next they sunk some test pits to peak under the top soil. And then finally it happened...

The two great men pitched a hole together.

Timbits and Malcolm Mcleod are among the best and most prolific diggers in the Canada. They rule the Southern Ontario scene and have contacts all over this great nation. They are also childhood friends and adventure companions. Nothing could keep them apart, but something did. What was it? Who cares because that's old news and they're together again now.

Taking turns we all dug hard until noon – nothing of value was recovered, but I took home the best of what was found and that included a ceramic master ink, a cobalt blue Bromo Seltzer 2 oz jar and a Union Soda bottle. Malcolm also gave me a Toronto druggist bottle with my name on it. How cool is that? I promise to photograph that piece and blog that story soon.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Big Larry digs a hole in Toronto's history

Big Larry is a professional excavator with a backhoe and a reputation for finding early Canadian glass and pottery. He brings thirty years of digging experience to the Diggers' collective. He also brings a healthy sense of humor - here's a picture of Big Larry on the job, in the oldest part of Toronto (east of Yonge st, south of Queen).

April 25th 2008 was an exciting day. Big Larry was removing some suspicious soil under the parking lot behind 252 Adelaide St E, which any knowledgeable local historian will tell you is the site of Toronto’s very first post office (circa 1834).

The Town of York website hosts the story of Toronto's first post office amid the trappings of so many dedicated historians; this page is a veritable treasure trove of facts and information concerning James Scott Howard. The dig site also contained something valuable - what Larry found in the ground is important.

It was a small hole, and not even that deep, but look at the stratigraphy. On the morning of April 25th 2008 it was possible to see the shifting sands under this great city right back to 1834 when this exact spot was a mini marsh with cattails and bullfrogs.

Look carefully and note the bottom is clay and layers of top soil and finally gravel and asphalt as each generation used and improved the property. And of course let’s notice that log at the very bottom of the hole. That’s not a fence post, or a foundation beam…

According to Big Larry that post is the mooring of a small dock which may have existed here on the south side of a swampy pond almost two hundred years ago. The piles may have once supported a wooden dock or retaining wall – the whole mess was covered in and filled over in the 1830s and the land supported the busy post office and Toronto dentist.

Big Larry was just doing his job; he was digging a hole in a construction site. But like the wise old man, Larry keeps his eyes open all the time – especially when he’s working in history. As I watched him, he watched the hole. After a glimpse of ash, and the flash of glass, Larry jumped out of the cab and down into the pit, to grub knee deep in the mud on a hunt for the prize.

And it was worth it – from the depths of time Big Larry retrieved a ‘Riddel & Burns / 406 Yonge St / Toronto’ aqua torpedo bottle.

How did this bottle get here? The site is not a dump, but may have been dumped on all the same... This bottle was probably pitched into a water filled ditch sometime in the late 1860's or early 1870s by someone who wasn't interested in collecting the deposit. TimBits tells me that the bottle was made in 1869 by Francis Ridell and AW Burns, the proprietors of the beaver soda company. It was one of the last torpedo bottles made, before they came back into fashion again briefly in the early 1900s.

This is a very rare bottle; even good information is hard to find.

When Dumpdiggers went searching about for data on these two early Toronto beverage makers, we rediscovered the Canadian Bottle Lover's pages, and their wonderful photo gallery collection of early Toronto sodas.

But there's no Riddel & Burns torpedos on display here; the only similar specimen is a broken 'bowling pin' squat soda.

When Larry cleans and tumbles this piece I hope to do a follow-up on Francis Riddel & AW Burns. Anyway Big Larry, nice find.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Watermarks on Wood Furniture

There was a time not long ago when I moved deeper into the heart of Toronto on a quest for a better apartment. I made the switch in the middle of winter, and in the middle of a snowstorm; it was painful on so many levels. But I live downtown now, and all I left behind were bad memories.

Like this one particular bad memory I shall relate here:

Do you have any watermarks on your wood furniture?

Inside my old apartment I had kept an avocado tree in the window.

I had raised this plant from a seed. One of the first avocados I ever consumed no doubt. The plant is a good friend and almost ten years old.

See here how it has wept for me... But I did not know this.

For many months, I did not realize that the water leaked from a tiny hole in the bottom of the pot to leave a circular ring underneath. The water had scared the top of the white oak window ledge. Honestly, I did not know the urn had been compromised.

The wise old man has taught me that anyone can turn any disaster into a learning opportunity.

And as a blogger with a popular domain, I can learn and teach at the same time.

Here's an article I wrote last year that's devoted to the subject of How To Get Watermarks off Wood Surfaces. This was just the second hand knowledge I needed, and so I followed my own 'terrific' advice.

Without any hesitation, I retrieved my camera and a jar of mayonnaise and I set about rubbing the smelly stuff into the wood using an old rag (which I threw out after as it was so disgusting) .

I worked up quite a steam and soon the whole room smelled like a chip wagon.

In summary, although the author of this Gomestic article is a genius, the work is just not accurate in many respects, and it fails to note how long term damage cannot be cured by any miracle polish short of paint. The only remedy here is to sand the watermarks out of the surface and reapply lacquer.