Every August long weekend the Whiteshell Community Centre hosts their annual flea market. Cottagers come from far and wide – many lining up before the 9:00 a.m. start time – pay their $2 entry fee, and stroll the lap of tables set up to sell any manner of knick-knacks, books, clothing, jewelry, kitchenware and other such trinkets. If it’s been sitting in a cottage for fifty years, you’ll find it at the flea market.
My family has had a cottage at Caddy Lake (north of West Hawk Lake, about a ten-minute drive from Falcon Lake) since 1958. My grandparents bought the land in 1957 and spent the first year clearing the land and starting construction on a small, one-room building that we all refer to as “the shack.” By 1960 they had built and moved into the main cottage – a modest three-bedroom building – having made all this progress while chasing after three children under the age of 12, with another on the way. Construction was done almost entirely by my grandparents, bringing lumber in by a handmade boat powered by a one-horsepower motor, up until 1959, when the road that now takes you into our lot was built. They hired a man to erect the frame of the main cottage, and finished the rest themselves. Since 1960 the cottage has been expanded to include a fourth bedroom, two more down below, a kitchen, a bathroom and a veranda overlooking the lake – plenty of room to fit our expanding family. Four generations of my family have enjoyed the hard work they put into this cottage (and continues to be put into maintaining it); my childhood was heavily influenced by summers spent here with cousins from other provinces who I otherwise wouldn’t see. Each one of us has made the one-kilometre swim across the lake (I was the youngest girl in my family to do so, at age 10, thank you very much), taken swimming lessons at West Hawk Lake, picked enough blueberries to feed an army (whether we liked it or not) and spent evenings on the dock bonding over beer and jokes while our parents and grandparents slept. My grandfather’s ashes are spread over the land between the cottage and the lake, as this was his favourite place to be.
Every year, without fail, I completely forget about the Falcon Lake Flea Market until my mother reminds me. This year I was contemplating which day to drive out to the lake until I got the call: “don’t forget about the Flea Market.” Decision made – I drove out here Friday night so I could be well-rested and ready for Saturday’s 8:30 a.m. departure to Falcon. Trinkets, here I come.
This year, as with every year, did not disappoint. We arrived at 9:00 a.m. sharp, paid our cover fee, had our hands stamped and began the perusal for weird treasures. My family immediately split up – each of us knowing which table they were most interested in scouring first. I prefer the man who has a five-table set up in the back corner. He must be an antique dealer, as he has such an impressive collection of depression-era glassware, weird salt and pepper shakers, old-lady-style clip-on earrings, various pocketknives and vaguely racist shot glasses from the 1950s (how charming).
Walking down the aisle (well really it’s more of a loop, with tables set up on the outside, against the wall, and tables set up back-to-back in the centre) I realized that the flea market has become home to many more slick-looking tables than I remembered. One table, featuring Swarovzki crystal jewelry, had its own overhead lighting. Another table had a woman selling Arbonne products – essentially modern-day Avon products skewing to a younger market. There was the Pampered Chef, a Tupperware salesperson, a woman selling protein smoothies and another jewelry table advertising at-home parties. One minute I’m eyeing an owl-shaped ring and the next I’m trying to politely back out of having a woman come to my home to sell my friends jewelry. Over the years, there has been less flea market and more professional marketing, it seems. Perhaps all of those fifty-year-old cottages have been cleaned out by now.
At any rate, it’s a bit disappointing to see so much of the Flea Market overrun by these tables of commercial products, as it really takes away from the sense of joy you get from digging through a box of chotchkis to find a tiny porcelain dog that looks just like yours; or scanning a table of ashtrays and pocketknives to find a straight razor set, complete with blades, from the 50s; or flipping through a pile of old postcards to find one with a scenic photo of Killarney, MB from 1936 with a note on the back from a woman to her sister.
But, despite this, the Flea Market continues to be a highlight of my summer, with its $0.75 styrofoam cups of coffee and pleasant small talk and piles of hardcover books for $1 each. Mark your calendars for next year and bring some cash and that antique casserole dish, or the duck-shaped bookends could be yours.
Jessica Antony is a wordsmith and winesmith from Winnipeg. Follow her immature jokes on twitter @boozeandbooks