There are collectors and history buffs – and there’s Sid van der Meer.
He received thousands of weathered old artifacts from the Yukon’s colorful history, collected over a lifetime and displayed in his home museum in Beaver Creek, Yukon.
“I just collect,” he said as he guided another drop-in visitor around his property, “I still collect when I find something.
“We lived in a house in Holland, it was built in 1491. So probably…I’ve been interested in ancient history all my life, I guess.”
Van der Meer was a child when his family immigrated to Canada in 1953 and moved from Alberta to the Yukon in 1961. He has been in the area ever since and has no plans to leave.
He worked in a remote Alaska Highway cottage on Beaver Creek Road for several decades before moving to the community in the 90s. His collection, which includes many artifacts from the Klondike Gold Rush and the construction of the highway, gradually grew by simply picking up random things that others had discarded – old tools, clothes, cans and bottles, antique cars and hand-painted road signs.
“A lot of it I just collected from old buildings and stuff. I tore down some old military camp buildings and built it all up,” he said, referring to the old wooden buildings that fill his property and make up the “Bordertown Garage and Museum.”
“I built my whole house with recycled materials from old army buildings and stuff. Everything – I didn’t buy anything new for my construction work… I was recycling long before the word became popular.”
He tried to replicate some of the typical Yukon businesses — a barber shop and drug store, a general store and a post office, complete with mailbags and real letters that were postmarked a century ago. He has lots of stuff from the former Livesay’s — Beaver Creek’s first store — which opened in 1949.
“They had everything. A general store, you could buy guns, ammunition, clothes, food, anything — everything was there. The post office was there,” he said.
“It kind of copies Livesay’s shop a little bit… keep the history alive, you know.”
There’s a shelf of old medicine bottles, some still containing a dose or two of a mysterious high-test elixir. They never freeze, Van der Meer says – not even on those -50C days at the end of winter.
“So it must be a good thing,” he said.
He is particularly fond of antique cars and has acquired “about 10”, some of which are in good condition. It is not unusual to see van der Meer rolling across Beaver Creek in the beauty he has restored.
Van der Meer calls his place a museum, although it couldn’t be more different from most modern museums, where clean and well-restored objects are kept at a distance behind glass and explained with interpretive boards and plaques. Van der Meer’s collection wears dirt and grime with pride, with most items still in the broken or weathered condition in which he found them.
“I like all museums, but most museums have fancy modern buildings with old things. I want the buildings to be part of the museum,” he said.
“You can’t do that in cities, of course, but it’s my own private collection, so I can do what I want with it.”
He was occasionally asked to donate some of his more unique finds to museums or sell them to antique dealers. He doesn’t care.
“That’s not what it’s for. That’s not what it’s about. I just like to collect it and show it to people while I can,” he said.