Just another jackass from Newfoundland is how Vernon Smith of Swift Current sometimes describes himself. Living the dream is maybe a better way to put it.
Fifty years ago he was a young boy fascinated by the big shiny cars heading up and down the Burin Peninsula highway. Today he’s the proud owner of one of the most impressive car collections in Canada. It's a hobby that keeps him travelling to some of the most exclusive car shows in North America, winning prizes and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jay Leno and the late Carrol Shelby.
It started as a private indulgence after making his money in construction. Now it’s a jaw-dropping collection thoughtfully presented in museum-like surroundings. The size of the building approaches that of a small-town shopping mall. Carefully arranged on gleaming tiles are 50 rare automobiles. All in pristine condition, batteries charged, fueled up and ready to roll. Vernon limits his collection to North American cars. "If not, where would it stop?" he says.
The oldest is a 1908 Buick. He’s sweet on convertibles, especially big limited-edition models from the 1950s when air conditioning, power windows and fuel injection were considered exotic.
Another weakness is muscle cars from the late 1960’s. He loves their sense of excess, how they defined American culture. Take the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, the one with the extended nose and over-the-top rear wing, the only car in his collection so powerful it scares him a little when he gets behind the wheel.
The 1933 Chrysler Imperial is another favourite. So is the 1957 Ford Fairlane with the power retractable hardtop. But when it comes to choosing his very most favourite from a room full of favourites, Vernon hesitates. Then he points to his 1959 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. Pure Cold War Americana - all fins and bullets and chrome wrapped up in shiny black metal. That’s the one he picks when he takes his mother for a Sunday drive.
Vernon’s Antique Toy Shop is open to visitors seven days a week. Admission $8 for adults and $5 for children. All proceeds go to community groups in Swift Current.