one person’s junque…

When I climbed down the creaky stairs into the Junque Cellar’s basement location, I had my heart set on an adventure. It was a Friday afternoon and Reading Week stretched ahead of me, all possibility and promise. I had been into the store many times before – for me, it’s always been the sort of place you enjoy the most when you’re not looking for anything in particular and are in the mood to be amused or enchanted or some fun combination of the two. On this particular afternoon, I was hoping for exactly that – and I found it.

The Junque Cellar, located on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue, has been a fixture in Old Strathcona since 1993. It carries a mix of antique furniture, secondhand clothing, used books and all sorts of retro knickknacks. There is always something to catch your attention, whether it’s a rotary phone or a case full of costume jewelry or a copy of LIFE magazine from 1973. The majority of its merchandise comes from auction sales, estate sales, or from independent consignors. The sheer amount of stuff packed into its basement room is initially overwhelming, but with a little time and patience, it quickly becomes exercise in treasure hunting.

The treasure I found this time was a box of old photographs. I almost didn’t see them at all. Although they were displayed in plain sight, I was too distracted by typewriters and vintage cameras and pillbox hats to notice them until I was about to leave the store. Given to the Junque Cellar by a consignor, the photos ranged from the turn of the century until about the 1970’s. According to the salesperson, the consignor who brought the photos to the store was of no relation to the people in them.

I was immediately fascinated. I love photography of all kinds, but more than that, I love the idea of any sort of history. One of my favourite things about vintage clothing is the idea that the clothes I’m wearing had a life before they were mine. These pictures intrigued me because they were real-live evidence of exactly that, in the eras whose clothing I love the most – eras I’ve always longed to have lived in myself.

But the whole thing was saddening, too. Any number of circumstances could have separated these photos from the people they belonged to, and the events that brought them to the Junque Cellar may very well have been completely un-tragic. (I tend to imagine drama all the time.) But as I picked each photo up, and flipped it over to see the carefully handwritten dates and descriptions on the back, I couldn’t help being a little bit upset by the fact that all of these snapshots – that obviously meant a lot to somebody at some time – now had nobody to remember them for what they originally were.

I ended up leaving the store with a small stack of pictures. I know they will never mean the same things to me as they did to the people who took them – but I also know that I can love them and learn from them anyway. I can’t add memories to old photos the way I can to old clothing, but I can appreciate the meaning these photos must have had for someone.

And I can hope that someday, when I’m in my later years, I will wear a cute dress and laugh in the sunshine and somebody will notice that moment and freeze it in time.

- Hailey Siracky

10 thoughts on “one person’s junque…

  1. When Rachel and I were in Berlin, every little flea market had boxes and bags of old photos. I couldn’t resist them, either. There was one that showed a very large, very expressive man in a suit with his arms stretched wide; on the back, someone had written, “Bomburg embraces the world!” Naturally, I took it home.

    Maybe some day we should put together an imaginary family album!
    *files away for later project*

    x.g.

  2. This is a really nice post! I once went to a used book store in Nashville and spent more than an hour looking through stacks of old photo albums. They even had high school yearbooks, and it was so fun reading the personal messages written in them.

  3. I have a photo I picked up from what I can guess is the 40s. It has two smiling women with their arms thrown around each other, one is wearing a cross and one is wearing a star of David. I so would love to know the story behind it…

  4. Great post, Hailey! I know you weren’t in Toronto very long on your last visit, but next time you come you should visit Gadabout Vintage in Leslieville – they have drawers and drawers full of old photos like these! I could look through them forever.

  5. These photos are great! I went to a shop in Paris that had thousands of old photographs all sectioned by theme and decade. Although it was very organized each new picture never ceased to begin a dramatic tale spinning in my head. Wonderful post Hailey

  6. A lot of these photos had really lovely, personal comments written on the backs, too. There was one photo of a small child, maybe 4 or 5 years old, and on the back someone had written, “Would you have ever guessed he’d look so much like you?” The whole thing was just so sweet.

    I love the idea of an imaginary family album. And I’m glad to know there are pictures like this in other places, too… and that other people are appreciating them.

  7. I wish we had places like this hiding in Florida. However, in Philly near where I used to live there was this old church that they turned into a place just like this one. It was wonderful. So many treasures hiding in there.

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