Gervais auction draws international attention to Alida

Automobile aficionados and collectors from around the world shifted their attention to Alida during the August long weekend, thanks to the Gervais Family Farm Wheels Museum auction.

Approximately 2,500 people attended the auction Aug. 4 and 5 at the Gervais farm, which is located about 10 kilometres north of Alida. An estimated 1,300 people registered for the auction, including those who participated online. Approximately 1,000 items were auctioned off, and while the exact amount of revenue was not disclosed, auctioneer Norm Mack said hundreds of thousands of dollars was generated through the sale.

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Mack Auction Company served as the auctioneers.

The auction involved the collection of Alexandre Gervais, who died in 2013 at the age of 93. If Alexandre was still alive, Aug. 4 would have been his 99th birthday.

“It’s not too often that you find a collection of that size, that’s been sitting in a time capsule … for 50 to 60 years, and hasn’t moved,” said Mack. “A lot of these cars have been out of circulation.”

Therefore, many of the vehicles that were sold are hard to find.

“It’s probably one of the biggest barn finds in Saskatchewan history … or possibly Canadian history. It’s just a big barn find that excites people,” said Mack.

Among the highlights for the vehicles was a rare 1911 Case car that sold for $11,000, a 1929 Packard that went for $19,000, a George White steam engine was sold for $36,000; and a 1907 International Auto Buggy fetched $32,000.

Mack noted that these cars weren’t running when they were sold on the weekend, and they haven’t been running for 50 to 60 years.

“We didn’t attempt to run them,” said Mack. “We left the barn dust on them, because we wanted to sell them the way we found them.” 

But it wasn’t just automobiles and machines that were sold. A collection of enamel Saskatchewan licence plates from the early 20th century sold for $10,250; a toy steam engine sold for $12,000; an old schoolhouse register went for $3,700; an old Ford enamel sign was purchased for $10,250; antique curling rocks went for $1,100; and a small collection of sparkplugs was sold for $700.

A motorcycle frame – without the wheels or the engine – sold for $1,900, old headlights for a vehicle went for thousands, and airplane propellers fetched nearly $2,000.

The automobiles were sold on Aug. 4, and then the collectibles and the other items were auctioned off the following day.

A lot of the items sold will be shipped to England and to the U.S.

Mack said he has handled large auctions like this one in the past, but this one was one of the biggest in terms of time required and interest from potential buyers. They started working on it with the Gervais family more than a year ago.  

This one might have generated the most attention of any auctions in the past.

“We knew it was going to be big,” said Mack.

Alexandre Gervais’ son, Louis, said they knew there was going to be a large turnout, thanks to the amount of publicity prior to the auction. They were able to handle all the people at the site of the auction, which is about three metres in size. There were four areas where people could eat and drink.  

He said he needed to sell the collection to settle his father’s estate.

“I’m not going to hold on to that all the rest of my life, because then who’s going to take it over after me? I’m the last one,” Louis Gervais said.

His brother Noel died in an accident a few years ago, so Louis Gervais was responsible for the collection and the estate.

“To put that in the hands of lawyers, the rest of the family would have suffered a lot more than they are going to suffer now,” Louis said.

It was tough to sell his father’s cherished collection. Louis said his house faces the area where the auction was, and he watched the proceedings from his deck. He went out into the crowd for a while, but he had to return to his deck, because of the emotion.

Among the items sold was a 1965 Honda that sold for more than $20,000.

“That’s the one that I picked up my wife in, and she’s still with me,” said Louis.

The only item that didn’t do as well he thought was a 1915 electric car, but Louis attributed that to people being skittish about purchasing old electric cars. That vehicle was well ahead of its time.

Louis said his father first started collecting after hearing about some items that were being smashed following the Second World War. But he also found these items interesting, and he would participate in parades. He viewed them as fun.

One of Alexandre Gervais’ favourites was a 1927 six-cylinder Star, made by Durant Motors. The elder Gervais took it to Expo ’67 in Montreal, and finished third in a competition.

There isn’t much of the collection left on the farm, and the trucks have been coming steadily since the auction to retrieve the items that were sold.

The auction was also beneficial for the village of Alida, thanks to the influx of visitors. Mayor Jim Boettcher said the village’s arena was particularly busy, as they prepared a supper on Aug. 4 that attracted about 300 people, and a buffet breakfast the following day that drew another 100 visitors.  

“There was definitely more people around,” said Boettcher. 

The event was good news for others in the community as well. Some people stayed at the campground in the village. The store was busy during the two days, the mayor said, and the restaurant was very busy the morning of Aug. 4. 

© Copyright 2018 Estevan Mercury

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