Worthless gewgaws, old logs, wax dummies, furniture for 37,000 homes — they’re all in Canada’s full storehouses

LAWRENCE EARL August 1 1947


Worthless gewgaws, old logs, wax dummies, furniture for 37,000 homes — they’re all in Canada’s full storehouses

LAWRENCE EARL August 1 1947



Worthless gewgaws, old logs, wax dummies, furniture for 37,000 homes — they’re all in Canada’s full storehouses


ONE recent Wednesday an elderly bachelor lady died in Toronto. She bequeathed her furniture and household effects to relatives -which was a surprise to them. "What furniture?" they asked. "What house hold effects?" They knew their spinster kin had lived thriftily for many years in the one-roomed loneliness of a boardinghouse.

The estate’s executor explained that 30 years ago, when the deceased’s New York home burned down, she had stored her possessions in a warehouse. One day, she hoped, she would again have a home. But after ten years of this “temporary” arrangement she moved to Toronto and transferred her belongings to a warehouse there.

For three whole decades the spinster lady paid fat storage fees on furniture she never once used.

“Ah,” beamed the relatives, “it must be very valuable stuff!”

Whereupon the executor sent a letter to the warehouse: “Please take the furniture out of

storage, unpack it and spread it out for the beneficiaries to examine.”

The warehousemen opened the 30-year-old crates and wrappings, lugged the furniture down two flights of stairs and set it up on display. The

relatives, tingling with anticipation, arrived and saw--cheap bamboo bookshelves, blistered and blackened by the forgotten fire, singed horsehair chairs and sofa plus an assortment of cheap, damaged gimeracks and gewgaws. The lot even at today’s prices— wasn’t worth unpacking.

Much deflated, the relatives eyed one another. “Send if to the Salvation Army,” one of them said finally. And they did.

This is no isolated instance of an eccentric’s folly. Every year thousands of Canadians ungrudgingly pay storage fees which are often more than the value of their belongings. What they have, they hold no matter what it costs.

And their reason? Sentiment!

Listen to R. M. Hill, who has a moving and storage business in Montreal, Toronto and Harnii-

ton. Says he: “Sentiment is the very heart of this business.”

And J. R. Warren, an executive in the firm of M. Rawlinson, whose Toronto warehouses are the largest in the country and among the largest in the world, agrees. “People are essentially sentimental,” he sums up. “That’s what keeps us in business.”

It is impossible to separate the storage business from the moving business with which it is so closely allied, but the combination in Canada represents an investment of $30 millions in land and buildings alone. It operates 1,000 trucks ranging from oneton runabouts to huge vans capable of swallowing all the furniture of a 12-room house.

Across Canada no less than 35 million cubic feet of warehouse space is available for household goods. Although 55' ; occupancy of this space is deemed satisfactory and normal, today’s boom in furniture storage has shot it to an all-time high of nearly 96?; !

Any warehouseman will tell you that it takes an average of 900 cubic feet to store the goods of a six-room house. A brief flight of mental mathematics, then, produces this astounding conclusion: Canadian warehouses, bulging as never before, could furnish from scratch every home in Halifax, Regina and Victoria—and still have a few end tables left over.

It’s fascinating to I walk through the honeycomb of a furniture warehouse-—and see the new refrigerators, white enamelled stoves and furniture that have been bought and stored by folks who haven’t a home to live in right now, but are preparing for THE DAY. The housing shortage is the chief reason warehouses are now filled to almost double normal occupancy. Said one warehouseman: "We are choked to the rafters and can take new customers only by calculating future vacancies, much as the hotels did a year ago.”

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With such a thriving business, it’s no surprise that warehousemen say in respectful chorus: “Sentiment is a

wonderful thing!”

And it is.

Consider the woman who stored her childhood tricycle in Montreal 32 years ago. Though the toy couldn’t have cost more than $20 spanking new, at the minimum storage fee of 50 cents a month she has already paid $192, and she seems prepared to pay indefinitely. In all that time she has never bothered to look at the tricycle.

You Can’t Value Sentiment

Or take the English gentleman who recently moved to Canada. Before leaving Britain lie had sold his belongings, all but two trunks full of odd bits ! of china, souvenirs and family heir! looms—all fragile, all cherished for j associations rather than value. The j trunks held his dearest memories of England, family and friends.

He watched them as they were loaded onto the ship at Southampton, cautioning the dock workers to take it easy. He was right there when they were taken from the hold in Saint John, N.B. He followed them to the warehouse in central Canada which was their ultimate destination. He saw them safely placed on the warehouse elevator.

Then lie breathed a sigh of relief and asked the warehouseman for a receipt. Suddenly, from the bowels of the ware! house there came a tremendous crash, j The elevator had fallen five floors to the basement.

Let Mr. Hill, the warehouseman in question, take over. “Iter a full five, »suffering minutes the Englishman stood there, his face twisted in torture. He examined the crushed trunks. Finally he raised his head and said: ‘Well,

boys, that’s that!’ He walked out. I’ve never seen him since. He could have held us responsible, you know—but what was the use? The broken bits in the trunks were broken bits of sentiment. You can’t pay off in that kind of currency.”

Human nature doesn’t always show up so well. One western warehouseman tells of a wealthy old lady who died and bequeathed to each of her grandchildren a single keepsake to be chosen from her beautiful and valuable eol-

lection of jewellery. Everything else was to be sold and the proceeds divided evenly.

Unfortunately Grandma had overlooked the possibility of family jealousy. The grandchildren were scarcely more than babies at the time of her death and the selection of keepsakes fell to their parents. Each wanted the most valuable piece for his particular Peter or Penelope. They argued and spat disgracefully.

Finally a truce was reached by putting the whole kaboodle back into the warehouse vault until the youngest heir should reach 21. This leaves 15 years still to go—15 years of storage charges.

Cupid in a Warehouse

But your average warehouseman dislikes to get his money out of arguments and misunderstandings. In the very envh-onment of his business he is apt to become a sentimentalist himself. He will often “carry” goods in storage long after his bill becomes outstanding, and his last wish is to sell warehoused goods for derelict dues.

One young couple in the Maritimes had stored their furniture while the husband served overseas as an infantry captain. During the long years apart the twosome became estranged, and on Captain X’s return they agreed to part.

The young man, out of khaki, arranged to meet his wife in the warehouse to apportion their belongings. “The division went along swimmingly,” reports our warehouseman, “until they came to an antique, four-poster double bed. The husband claimed it. The wife insisted it should be hers. The fight began, and a second later the young lady ran out into the street in tears. The job of deciding who was to have what was only a quarter done.”

It took two months before they got together for another try. When they came to the bed it was the same story all over again. The third time, the sentimental warehouseman could stand it no longer. “It was none of my business,” he admits, “but I suggested that since it was obvious neither would part with the four-poster bed, they give marriage another go—and share it.

"Weil, sir, that’s all the encouragement they needed. They kissed and made up—and promptly took all their furniture out of storage. Being a Nosy Parker cost me some business, sure, but it was worth it.”

Pampered Pianos

Furniture warehousing is no haphazard business, and methods of handling goods are fairly uniform across the country. In better warehouses a separate room for pianos is kept at an even, year-round temperature of between 56 and 60 degrees; a special room is equipped for the storage of chesterfields; there is a rug room; rooms where trunks are so placed that easy access may be had to each one; a chamber for office records—especially

useful in these days, with office space at a premium; a vault for valuables and a recently developed wardrobe room where freshly cleaned and pressed clothing may be hung up just as in your closet at home.

All right. You are putting your household goods into storage. What happens?

First you phone a warehouse. You ask for a man to look over your stuff. He estimates the cost of packing, trucking and storage, and he will be glad to send you a written confirmation.

Next, you are visited by a team of expert packers and movers. Your small, fragile treasures are packed right in your home. You could do the job yourself, but a warehouseman guarantees against breakage only if he does the packaging himself. This is only natural and fair, since he is equipped and experienced for the job and you are not.

Suppose, for example, you own an expensive and delicate chandelier— according to experts one of the most difficult items to crate. How will you pack it? One Toronto man who owned a chandelier made of 2,400 pieces of drop crystal wanted to ship it to his new home in New York. He handed it over to his warehouseman who had it dismantled and packed piece by piece. So complicated was the job that the man who took it apart went with it to New York to assemble it. No one there cared to finish so delicate a job they had not begun.

As your goods arrive at the warehouse a reception committee tags, numbers and lists each item. Finely finished furniture is not wrapped, on the recommendation of the experienced warehouseman. Some even refuse to store new furniture that comes from the shop in its original paper coverings, because it’s not possible to see if it is damaged on arrival.

Your piano goes to the temperaturecontrolled room. Your rugs and upholstered pieces are demothed and wrapped in tar paper and sometimes sewn in burlap. Other things you can put in a private room or open storage, as you choose.

Ball of Trouble

Rates vary in different parts of the country. Generally speaking warehouses in large cities charge more than their smail-town counterparts. ‘Montreal and Toronto are tops, but even so their storage costs are not excessive. Current top rates are two cents a cubic foot per month for a private room in a fire-resistant building, and these range down to a cent and a quarter for open storage in a brick building even in the high-priced cities. In Winnipeg, in Halifax, in Hamilton and elsewhere charges are lower all the way down the scale. Depending on the city, and on the type of storage, it would cost anywhere from $9 to $18 a month to store the contents of an average six-room house.

Breakages are comparatively rare, hut accidents do happen. The classic example is one that goes back to 1912, when a warehouseman had the unusual task of packing and shipping a colorless glass ball, 12 feet in diameter, from Dundas, Ont., to a mountainside palace in far-off Peru. The ball, to be used as a decoration, was carefully protected and crated and arrived safely after a long voyage by land and sea.

In due time the warehouseman received a letter which said: “I wish

to thank you for your excellent job of packing. The ball arrived without a scratch, but—” And the letter went on to describe how it took 10 native workers a day and a half to move the huge case up the steep mountainside on blocks. There they uncrated it, marvelled at its clear beauty, and sat down for a moment to rest.

“Just then,” the letter continued, “a sudden, fierce gust of wind came from the east, caught the ball and started it rolling. Before anyone could reach it, down the mountainside it went—and crashed into a thousand pieces. It cost me $25,000 to get it onto my plateau for less than five minutes!”

That’s not nearly as strange as the incident that occurred when an order came into one operator’s front office to send a man up to a west Toronto home to estimate a packing and storing job. He sent his man and an hour or two later got a phone call.

“All set,” his mover said. “Send me 60 barrels and 140 boxes and cartons.”

“Wha—at! I thought it was only a six-room house?”

“It is.”

“Now wait. You know as well as I do that a six-room house needs only half a dozen barrels, say, a dozen cartons and three medium-sized boxes. What’s the gag?”

“Listen, boss, I’m not kidding. I come into the house, see? I look around. In the living room the chairs and chesterfields are piled so high with cushions there’s no place to sit. I count 300 of them! On the walls are knickknacks, knives, shields and pictures— no room to stick a postage stamp. In every corner of every room there’s a curio cabinet absolutely loaded with hundreds of bottles of rare perfumes. And by the time I reach halfway up the landing I count, no less than 44 table and floor lamps!”

“Jehoshaphat!” the boss warehouse-

man yelled. “Where in blazes does it all come from?”

“The dame’s a collector, see? She travels around the world and sends stuff to herself from every port. 1 never seen a joint so jammed!”

“How does she live in it, then?”

“Boss, you won’t believe this. The house is so full the dame has pitched herself a tent in the back yard. That’s where she lives—until we move the stuff out!”

Circuses, Mousetraps

Warehouses have stored everything from a mousetrap to a circus. The latter arrived in Toronto one autumn, a week ahead of its scheduled appearance at the Maple Leaf Gardens, which, fully booked, could not provide accommodation. The circus’ agent phoned frantically all around town. Finally he sent his elephants, lions and tigers to Rawlinsons.

“The lions were somewhat noisy around feeding time,” an executive recalls, “and the neighbors all seemed edgy. Otherwise it was no trouble.”

Occasionally a warehouseman is stuck when a customer walks out on his goods without pausing to leave either forwarding address or payment. Just such an instance left ten wooden cases of old-time movie stars—in wax, of course—on the hands of one bewildered warehouse operator. The lifesize models of Janet Gaynor, Bessie Love, Clara Bow and others of that vintage had been brought from the States for window display purposes back in the days when IT meant sex appeal and PIN-UP meant nothing at all. When the depression hit, the owner, with the storage charges in mind, deserted his wax pretties. The warehouseman still has them, would like to get rid of them, but doesn’t know how.

But perhaps the least valuable item that has been stored in a Canadian warehouse is the two-foot length of rotting birch log that has been neatly wrapped in brown paper for, lo, these many years.

Says the foreman who is responsible for its safekeeping: “If that was ever

missing I’d get me throat cut—hut good! Y’see, it’s part of the tree that stood in front of the old homestead that burned down about 30 years ago.”

Ah, sentiment! jc