All makes and models: Auto scrapyard a mecca for photographers

At the Eastern Ontario Boneyard in Cardinal, Ont., they've been setting aside the best classic cars for three generations. Now, visitors are just as likely to show up with a camera as they are with a wrench.

Eastern Ontario Boneyard has been setting aside classic cars since the 1960s

Paul Choquette captured model Savannah Atout and this mid-80s Chevrolet Suburban on a trip to the Boneyard last year. (Submitted/Photomix)

An automobile wrecking yard in Cardinal, Ont., has become a go-to destination for Instagrammers and other shutterbugs on the hunt for vintage vehicles you're unlikely to see anywhere else.

Unlike most commercial auto recyclers, the Eastern Ontario Boneyard, 80 kilometres south of downtown Ottawa near Highway 401 and the St. Lawrence River, has gone out of its way to to save historically interesting cars from the crusher, holding onto hundreds of classic and unusual autos since the 1960s.

'Everything there has been sort of eroded and consumed by time,' Atout noted. (Stu Mills/CBC)

With more than 400 decaying vintage automobiles spread across 20 hectares, the site has become a mecca for photographers, with an esthetic somewhere between haunting and enchanting.

That means most visitors today are more likely to be looking for a photograph of a '56 Chevy than a windshield for one.

A rare American Motors Corporation muscle car, the Javelin, is overtaken by vegetation. (Stu Mills/CBC)

"My brother-in-law describes it as a rest home for the old cars," joked Joe Martelle, the proprietor. "Somebody's got to take care of history or history gets forgotten."

Martelle said the collection probably began with his brother, who used to push cars he liked to the edge of the field in the hopes that parts-pickers wouldn't find them and he might one day restore them.

'It’s just a different kind of history we’re taking care of,' said the Boneyard's Joe Martelle. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Now the trees have grown in from the edges, partially concealing Oldsmobiles, Javelins, Coronets, Falcons, DeSotos and dozens of other nameplates from yesteryear.

A few times each year, photographers like Garry Black organize day trips to the Boneyard with models and lighting equipment in tow.

A shattered mid-70s Chevrolet Corvette, with jagged fibreglass edges, sits near the yard gates. (Stu Mills/CBC)

"Everything there has been sort of eroded and consumed by time," explained Savannah Atout, an Ottawa model who visited the Boneyard last year.

Photographer Paul Choquette captured Atout in a yellow dress as golden hour light fell upon a heavily weathered crimson Suburban.

The Interior of a 1955 Oldsmobile awaits its closeup. (Stu Mills/CBC)

"There's an irony there," Atout noted. "There's these young women on cars that have lived full lives, longer than ours," she said.

Ottawa photographer Garry Black agrees.

"I think the whole thing is just a juxtaposition of old and new," he said, adding that he hopes to return when pandemic restrictions lift.

Cristiana Bodnariuc models a gown in front of one of the Boneyard's 1950s pickup trucks. (Garry Black)

In return for turning the property over to the arts for a day, Martelle asks visitors to make a donation to the South Grenville Food Bank.

He and his family are working on a trail through the trees that will take visitors past the most classic parts of the collection.

The challenge, he said, is trying to figure out which worn-out cars arriving today will still hold special significance for tomorrow's visitors.

A 1939 Dodge nicknamed Louise sits near the front of the scrapyard. (Stu Mills/CBC)

In one clearing, a cluster of three Chrysler PT Cruisers from the early 2000s seem out of place.

But like a good curator defending the addition of a controversial canvas to the gallery, Martelle is prepared.

The Cruisers were a design anomaly, something different from what everybody else was doing, he said. They'll seem more remarkable once some time has passed.

Jordana Lee takes a rest with a 1950s DeSoto, as photographed by Garry Black. (Garry Black)

After all, he and his family have been making the right choices for several decades.

"We're kind of the stewards of history here, it's just a different kind of history we're taking care of."

Wrecking yard becomes draw for photographers in Cardinal, Ont.

1 year ago
Duration 1:39
Joe Martelle, who owns the Eastern Ontario Boneyard, says staff open up the yard to photographers on designated days after seeing rising demand — and instead of charging them, ask that they donate to the local food bank instead.


  • An earlier version of this story referred to PT Cruisers from the 1990s, before the cars were manufactured. The cars in question are from the early 2000s.
    Jun 07, 2021 3:50 PM ET