Brent Donis would normally be chequebook in hand at the behemoth antique and horse-drawn equipment auction coming up in September north of Grande Prairie. He’s spent the past 30 years collecting similar antiques from all over western North America.
Donis will be there, but he won’t be buying. This remarkable collection of antiques and horse-drawn farm equipment — there’s even a reproduction stagecoach — belongs to him. It’s that kind of almost salacious interest in western antiquing that led him to acquire a kind of collection that rivals that of many museums.
Donis and his late wife spent three decades hitting every antique store and antique auction that caught their eye across Western Canada, Oregon and the northern States. Now that Donis is retiring, he’s ready to downsize. In preparation for the sale, he’s moved many pieces into a 1,000-sq.-ft. machine shop. It’s full of hoosiers, sideboards, chairs, desks, barrister bookcases, crockery and odds and ends.
Auctioneer Ged Willis said he expects people to come from as far away as Edmonton. “You’ll never find another collection like this,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything in such a wide range and good condition.”
It’s a sea change for Donis. After raising his family on a large acreage while building a successful oilfield company, Donis says he won’t be looking back. “We really enjoyed the old stuff, especially western Canadiana and some oddball items.”
Glancing around the massive collection, Donis laughs. “This is what happened when you stop in every antique store and auction you see over the course of 35 years.”
The collection is eclectic and includes an unusual mostly wooden barber chair. For years, it sat in his poolroom alongside a barber shop pole he picked up in Las Vegas and an array of vintage barbershop supplies. Then, there’s the 1886 Columbia portable gramophone (it works), a Feb. 24, 1927 edition of the Edmonton Journal (five cents per single copy!) blaring “Adzich Trial On, Courtroom Mobbed.”
The 1932 pinball machine isn’t very challenging, but it’s a super conversation piece. How about the wooden cash register from Tucker & Dorsey Mfg. Co. that can only be operated by pulling a series of handles just the right way? A collection of vintage cameras, a pair of handcuffs bears metal plates reading “Property of Alcatraz,” a scale to measure gold… complete with some gold.
Donis started buying antiques when he was 24. His first piece was an English hutch and sideboard and it too is in the sale. When the Donis family developed an interest in draft horses, he built a team and started buying horse-drawn farm equipment. Auction patrons will find equipment from the Amish in Pennsylvania. Also, an antique machine that uses dog or goat powered to pump water is a real kick. A don’t miss is the stagecoach Donis commissioned from Hugh Pomeroy, a local craftsman. Truly a work of art, the three-quarter-size coach is crafted out of birchwood and polished to a high gloss. It’s completely tongue and groove with no nails.
If all of that’s not enough to tweak interest, the full-size vintage windmill is for sale. At about 40 feet high, it’s sure to draw buyers. Willis said the TV show “Canadian Pickers” (History Television) has been contacted. “This is the kind of sale that’ll attract nutcases like me,” says Donis. “A few years ago, I’d have loved to go to an auction like this.”