Over the past three decades Doug Evans has amassed more than 900 antique tools and related items, a hobby he originally started to supplement another hobby.
“I got out of university and I was farting around with old cedar strip boats,” said Evans. “I used to love going fishing with my dad and I got into that to the level that all of a sudden I had three boats in my yard.”
He needed the proper equipment if he wanted to use traditional methods.
“I needed a hand tool and there were two old guys locally that got me into hand tool collecting,” said Evans. “My wife, if she could have shot them on sight, look out, because, all of a sudden, Dougie is a user, a collector and a dealer all in the same first year.”
Evans was born in Red Rock in northern Ontario near Nipigon.
“We moved down to Oshawa where a lot of my family were from,” he said. “I went to school at Waterloo for engineering and was living in Guelph for a while and my wife and I sort of settled on Fergus in ’96. We have one son who just graduated from nursing at Western.”
Evans’ day job as an inspector in the nuclear energy industry may appear as a technological contrast to his passion but it has indirectly enabled him to grow his collection.
“I work in quality doing inspections at Darlington Nuclear so I’m away from home five days a week and I’m back home on weekends,” he said. “So, I can cover a lot of ground in the province. It facilitates my addiction.”
His Prior to Power hand tool exhibit is part of an ongoing series at the Wellington County Museum and Archives.
“It’s a program called Wellington County Collects and we work with different collectors all across Wellington County,” said exhibit curator Lindsay Woelfle. “It was interesting to go through his collection and try to decide how we narrow down his 900 plus pieces to one room. He is really passionate about the plane so that is something he wanted to include.”
Evans is constructing a timber framed building to properly store and display his growing collection in one place.
“In this room is probably 15 per cent of my collection,” he said. “We can’t get it all in here and display it well.”
Many of the tools come with interesting and sometimes tragic stories such as a Japanese ship builder’s tool kit that includes two antique wood planes.
“They wanted $100 for the chest with all these tools but they were odd tools and I thought, what am I going to do with this,” he said. “Finally, they called me back and said $50 if you want to come and get it. The guy came to Canada in 1900. He was basically a ship builder and he got hit by the boom and knocked unconscious. He was swept overboard and they never recovered the body.”
Evans is reluctant to assess the total value of his collection but individual, authenticated pieces can range from $50 to $4,000 or more and include pamphlets, catalogues, posters and photographs. Some of his more cherished items bear a pierced heart and shield stamp from the Evans family who were tool makers in Britain.
“I have to go with the family pieces even though they are suspect family pieces,” he said. “The Evans’ stamp is pretty good statistics but I have no concrete proof in either case.”
He laughed when an audience member at a presentation this past Sunday asked if he would describe himself as an eccentric.
“I don’t know about that,” he said with a grin. “But I am obsessive compulsive.”
Evans travels far and wide and often off the beaten path in search of what he calls “unobtainium” fuelled by a combination of curiousity, perseverance, tireless research, timing and luck.
“Sometimes it’s that piece of junk you see at the Aberfoyle Antique Market,” he said. “Why don’t other people find tools at Aberfoyle? Because Dougie is there at 5:59 a.m. and he is making waffles for his wife back in Fergus at 8 o’clock. The early bird gets the worm.”
He said the overall antique market crashed in 2003 but a young, user-market, subculture has helped the hand tool market maintain its value.
“I have an email list of almost 200 guys and 95 per cent are between 25 and 45 and they are all users,” he said. “Most users aren’t doing this for a living. Some are part of the knit-your-own-underwear-crowd.”
There is also demand from professional craftspeople.
“Conservation woodworkers are paid to use hand tools to do the work and it costs a fortune,” he said. “A lot of hobbyists are doctors, lawyers, and surgeons. Do you think they care what they are paying for these tools? They want the best. Is that what it costs? Send me two.”
The Prior to Power exhibit will run until Jan 5, 2020. For more info on the exhibit and others at the Wellington County Museum and Archives visit www.wellington.ca