Retro coolhunting:For your future antiquing day trips, head north to Barrie

Just about an hour north of Toronto, Barrie is known for its proximity to ski hills and cottage country, but it might not leap to mind as an obvious destination for an antiquing adventure. While the city may not have the well-known treasure-hunting reputation as Guelph, Dundas or Toronto, there’s a medley of markets and shops to entice day-tripping vintage lovers.

These out-of-the-way gems have attracted Philip Sparks, an antiquing enthusiast and Toronto-based tailor of bespoke suits. “With antiquing, there’s lots of driving around, but when you’re in a shop or outdoor market, there are usually flyers of other antique spots, or shop owners will share where other antique stores are — it’s a continuous resource,” he explains.

Sparks’ fondness for antique hunting started early, while accompanying his mom to shops in Fort Erie, Ont., where he grew up. A move to Toronto allowed him to discover the St. Lawrence Sunday Antique Market. “I love the hunt and a daylong road trip is one of my favourite pastimes,” says Sparks. “I’ve found many inspiring vintage pieces that make it into my work.” Buttons and old portrait photographs, for example, have influenced certain shapes and finishes of pieces in his collection.

Here, Sparks shares a few favourite spots in and around Barrie for your future antiquing day trips — plus, a word of advice: “Antiquing should always include buying some fresh produce and a butter tart, or two.” Duly noted.

Cookstown Antique Market is frequented by home stagers and prop stylists.

Cookstown Antique Market (5108 Simcoe County Rd. 27, Cookstown)

Housed in a quaint century-old barn, this market is a favourite for home stagers and prop stylists. Known for its stock of smaller accessories, it’s the spot for Depression-era glass, figurines, jewelry, classic toys, pottery and a plethora of kitchen wares. In addition to vintage goods, Cookstown’s signature honey and soy candles are also up for grabs. Although they’re open year-round, Sparks loves their “cabin fever sales,” when he can add to his collection of cooking gadgets and dishes.

Roadshow Antiques (2207 Industrial Park Rd., Innisfil)

For those who relish being neck-deep in bric-a-brac, this 32,000-square-foot multi-vendor mall has something for everyone. Grab a coffee and make your way through the maze of 200 merchants hawking much-loved items, from Lalique vases to large furniture. “It can be overwhelming, but I love the rummaging,” says Sparks, who hunts down vintage fabric and buttons here. “Sometimes if you go into places that are too curated, you lose that thrill.” Tip: Visit in the summer when there’s a farmer’s market right outside selling fresh produce.

No antiquing day trip is complete without a Don's Bakery butter tart.

Don’s Bakery (31 King St., Unit 2, Barrie)

For 72 years and counting, butter tart loyalists have been visiting Don’s Bakery for their take on this Canadian classic. The main bakery in Muskoka is only open May to October, but this wholesale pick-up outpost in Barrie (which opened in 2017 and was written up in The New York Times) offers their gooey goodness year-round. “What’s antique shopping without butter tarts?” says Sparks. “And these ones don’t mess around — slightly runny yet firm, they only come with raisins or without.”

Sanford and Son Emporium (formerly Barrie Antiques Centre) (272 Innisfil St., Barrie)



“I found this spot when I was working on costumes for an outdoor Shakespeare production by the lake in Barrie,” says Sparks. “I’ve been here so many times, but with two floors of antiques, I still get lost.” He’s unearthed some of his most prized possessions here. “I always find something from their huge selection of shellac 78 records, mainly jazz, and I scored a vintage heavy iron I had rewired and use at the shop. It’s really special because they don’t make them like that anymore.”

Refuel between shops at Homestead Artisan Bakery + Cafe.

Homestead Artisan Bakery + Café (80 Dunlop St. E., Barrie)

Owners and besties Cait Patrick and Lise Garden craft sourdough using local, organic ingredients in a plethora of versions: country blonde, six grain, deli-style rye and potato and leek, with flavours changing weekly. You’ll even find sourdough as the base for their cinnamon buns, blueberry muffins and waffles. “It’s the perfect spot for lunch,” says Sparks. “Order up a sandwich and picnic by the lake.”

The Star understands the restrictions on travel during the coronavirus pandemic. But like you, we dream of travelling again, and we’re publishing this story with future trips in mind.

No antiquing day trip is complete without a Don's Bakery butter tart.

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