Placing a bid: Auctions & auctioneers in Kawartha Lakes

Just in Time local history series

By Ian McKechnie

McLean's original auction centre, located in a former dairy barn, always attracted a good crowd! Photo courtesy of the McLean family.

Travel back in time to Oct. 29, 1898. It’s a crisp autumn day in Lindsay, and a crowd is gathering on the lawn of Judge McIntyre’s former residence. Located on Waverley Avenue (as Bond Street was once known), the leaf-strewn grounds of this stately house are piled high with carpets, furniture, “and many other articles of household goods too numerous to mention,” reads an ad placed in the Watchman newspaper a week or so prior.

Then as now, people come from all over to look at the offerings and, after placing the highest bid, will take home something with which to furnish their own house or cottage. Years pass, and as tastes and circumstances change, those same household goods are once more sold through auction. Perhaps you have something in your living room that once graced Judge McIntyre’s home on Waverley Avenue?

Elias Bowes, who auctioned off the contents of McIntyre’s house 125 years ago, was one of several auctioneers across our area who did a thriving business around the turn of the 20th century. While Bowes was busy conducting sales between Eldon Township and Lindsay, the Irish-born Thomas Cashore was calling for bids in Fenelon Falls and points farther north. W.A. Silverwood worked out of Woodville, while T.A. Mitchell handled auctions in and around Omemee.

These gentlemen were all itinerant auctioneers, often travelling around the countryside to oversee the home furnishing and livestock sales they had been entrusted with. One of the first auctioneers to have his own base of operations, though, was James H. Lennon. Born in 1854, Lennon was by the 1890s the proud proprietor of The Auction Mart, a business located opposite the Benson House Hotel in downtown Lindsay. (Like Bowes, Lennon was also called upon to run estate auctions – and his advertising sometimes revealed the sad circumstances that resulted in having to auction off one’s possessions: “Mr. Petty has decided on breaking up house-keeping owing to Mrs. Petty’s ill health,” Lennon remarked in an auction notice dated Oct. 15, 1889.)

James Lennon died in 1946, aged 92. By this point in time, several Lindsay-based auctions were being overseen by Charles Lamb – who was perhaps best known for being a two-term mayor, and later a Member of Parliament. In February 1962, Lamb and his son, Kenneth, auctioned off the late M. Sootheran’s household wares over the course of seven and a half hours – not even stopping for a bite to eat. “There were hundreds of people at the sale, including antique buyers from many Ontario points,” Lamb informed the Lindsay Daily Post.

A few years before the Sootheran sale, a young man named Orval McLean conducted his first auction. “I had owned Midtown Furniture since 1956, when a lady phoned to sell her mother’s estate contents, but I had no space left in the store,” McLean remembers. “I mentioned that it was unfortunate timing, as I had plans of going to auction school in the spring. She liked the idea of an auction as a timely way to settle the estate, pleaded that I auction the contents, and finally convinced me to do the auction on site at her mother’s house.” This, McLean’s first auction, transpired on Jan. 24, 1959.

Twelve years later, in 1971, McLean acquired a farm south of Lindsay and began converting a former dairy barn and milk parlour into a permanent auction centre. (This facility, destroyed by fire in 2016, was subsequently relocated to a former cattle auction barn next door.) While Orval McLean himself never did end up attending auction school, sons Dale and Barry later enrolled in the Reisch World Wide College of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa.

The late Don Corneil, founder of Corneil Auctions. Photo courtesy of the Corneil family.

A little over six kilometres down the road from McLeans, Don Corneil opened a sale barn on June 27, 1975. “As a child, he always dreamed of being an auctioneer,” says Corneil’s widow, Sheila. “He used to practice auctioneering skills as a child on his way to school.” Like McLean’s, Corneil’s grew with the support of the immediate and extended family – and after being in the auction business for decades, both families have more than their fair share of stories to tell.

Sheila Corneil remembers doing an auction in which some 1,200 people showed up to place bids on fishing and hunting equipment that had been confiscated by the Ministry of Natural Resources. Corneil’s has conducted a lot of auctions over the last 48 years, and this was probably the largest. For the McLean family, one of their most memorable events was the five-day auction of the historic Boyd estate in Bobcaygeon. This extravaganza took place from Oct. 19-22, 1983, in McLean’s Lindsay sale barn, followed by an onsite auction in Bobcaygeon on Oct. 29. The sale drew buyers from across Canada, the United States, and as far away as England.

Much has changed in the auction world over the years, from the emergence of online auctions to changing tastes in collectibles and home décor. Even so, the thrill of a fast-paced live auction – during which one might catch up with friends over a coffee, hot dog and slice of pie from the lunch booth – is an experience that local auctioneers hope will never completely vanish.

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