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