Friday 28 June 2013

A Curious Experience

When you first set foot into the "Cabinet of Curiosities" located at 30 Hatt Street in Dundas, Ontario,  you feel like you've stepped into one of those "hidden object games". You are immediately overwhelmed by the sheer amount of unique and interesting items to examine and it's a bit of sensory overload. It's hard to believe that everything in the place is actually for sale and that you haven't stumbled into a museum of rare and unusual objects. On any given day you might find anything from Turkish pirate guns from the 1770s to a 19th century  embalming table and, according to their Facebook page, over one weekend this past January, every purchase over $20 came with a "bonus" piece of genuine dinosaur poo. It's the stuff of your wildest dreams and probably a few nightmares.

Opened late last year by antiques and oddities enthusiast Mark Draak, this is the collection of a lifetime and it truly has to be seen to be believed. The shop is located on the main floor of Draak's primary business called "Wide Eyed Communications", a full service advertising, branding and communications company. Despite the initial sense of chaos when you enter the shop, you can tell that this has been arranged by someone with an understanding of visual space because your eye is drawn to several key areas where items of particular visual interest are displayed and collections are grouped together in interesting ways so as to create mood and atmosphere.

Draak has spent years scouring antique sales in Toronto as well as the Christie Antiques Market and other venues. Old bottles are a big passion for him and he's got everything from apothecary type bottles to quack medicine pieces.

There's a large cabinet in both rooms with parts of the bottle collection on display along with a portion of Draak's extensive collection of antique photos. This gives a sense of time standing still where you can see the kinds of people who used these items and the world for which they were created. Of particular note is the fact that the shop features an impressive collection of bottles that are specific to Dundas and Hamilton that offer a bit of local history.

Adding a touch of whimsy are displays of antique and retro toys that will delight the kid in all of us. You'll find wind-up toys, board games and Disney memorabilia as well as marionettes and old children's books.

In addition to antiques there are also items from the natural world including a large collection of animals skulls and skeletons. One case has a fully reconstructed skeleton of what is likely a baby deer.

Displays of beetles and other creepy crawlies make you glad they're behind glass. At one time the shop possessed an even larger insect display case that was purchased by a school teacher who wanted it to hang in her classroom. Once you get past the ick factor you realize that outside of a museum, the average person simply does not have access to items like this, however unlike a museum items get sold and may not be there the next time you return.

During my visit yesterday, a normal looking couple were looking at a few items they wanted to add to their "shock" collection which they like to display at Hallowe'en. Speaking with Erin Montemurro who does sales and marketing for the shop, the couple inquired about purchasing some coffin accessories as well as a shrunken head that were for sale. The bartering that ensued was a scene straight out of one of those specialty shows on tv about antique dealers. Unable to come to a common ground on pricing, the couple left with just with some antique embalming fluid bottles while they took some time to consider the bigger purchases. Erin shares a passion for the business and he has stories about most of the items on display which is an important part of what you're paying for.  The promotional materials list the shop as "Cabinet of Curiosities AND OTHERWISE NEEDFUL THINGS", but you probably don't actually need anything you would be inclined to purchase. But that's not the point. You're buying the stories and the fantasies that these objects embody and visiting this shop is akin to walking into the coolest museum you've ever seen and being told you can have whatever you want to take home.... for the right price. I dare you to walk out empty handed.

 Be sure to check out "The Cabinet of Curiosities" on facebook at  or visit their website at for regular updates on what's "new" in their shop.

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