Legends of Vancouver

As part of my effort to do more self-care, I’ve been trying to walk every day. I set a goal of 7500 steps a day. The default on the app is 10000, because it’s a round number I guess, but apparently there’s no scientific basis for that number. Also, I can walk for an hour and get like 6000 steps, so it doesn’t feel like an achievable goal. Anyways, I’ve gotten those steps in 41 of the past 42 days, and the one missed day was because I went to a board game night.

Sometimes I coordinate these walks with the various trash days, but other times I just walk aimlessly. Even in those times, though, I sometimes find trash. I spotted this little pile of junk wood in an alley, not super exciting other than the…

… big ol’ chunk of copper lying on top! This thing is hefty and probably worth like 15$ at the scrap yard. Not the find of the year, I know, but sometimes it’s the little things right? And maybe it feels a little more special when you find these things when you’re not even really trying.

I only started thinking about scrap metals (besides silver and gold) maybe 3-4 years ago. I definitely left a lot of money on the table by not knowing about it sooner… just another lesson I had to learn the hard way. Copper and brass in particular are easy money.

Otherwise, one of my better finds this year came from this recycling bin. I’ve been keeping an eye on this spot since late 2021, but there was a good multi-month stretch in the middle where these folks didn’t throw out anything at all. The recycling bin has often been loaded with books. Clearly they belonged to a collector, because many were quite old and the names sketched on the insides of the covers were always different.

One night in late September or early October I picked this book out of the bin. It was definitely old, and the cover had an unusual embossed look to it. It had the look of something not mass produced (the name of the book is also written on the spine, in pen), and I set it aside for further research.

I had never heard of E. Pauline Johnson before, but she sounds like a pretty interesting figure. I don’t really think I could do justice to her life story here, but the short version was that she was a writer and performer who was fairly well known in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Her father was a hereditary Mohawk chief, and her mother an English immigrant. She never married, despite apparently having a dozen proposals, and is generally viewed as a “New Woman.” She moved to Vancouver late in life, and upon her death her ashes were spread in Stanley Park near Siwash Rock, which is mentioned in this book (you can see the passage here). For a quick modern take, here’s an article by someone who argues that Johnson should be on our 100$ bill.

So, the book is interesting enough on its own. It was published in 1911, and is the 4th edition (though these embossed cover editions seem to be pretty uncommon in any edition). But what makes it really special is the inscription on the 2nd page.

So, apparently this was former Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier’s copy of this book? Seems a little crazy, but it’s certainly plausible – apparently the two were friendly, and I found a letter where Laurier “[begs] the honour of introducing” Johnson to Lord Brassey. As for the handwriting, it looks like a match to me (see the signature on the second page of that letter).

Also noteworthy is that Johnson died just a little over a month after signing this book, on March 7, 1913. Laurier died six years later, in 1919. My guess is that this book was purchased at a few different estates sales, before finding its way into that recycling bin over 100 years after both Johnson and Laurier passed on. Perhaps someone, or a few different someones didn’t notice the signature along the way – the pages do open in a way where you can easily skip over that first page.

Anyways, it’s mine (for) now. For pricing, it’s hard to find a comparison. This is the only signed copy I found online… it’s going for around 700 USD, but is that a realistic price, or an ask? On the other hand, my copy is in better (though not perfect) condition, and also belonged to the guy on our 5$ bill. I’m thinking that this is the kind of sale that’s best left to a high-end auction house, like Waddington’s in Toronto.

Any other ideas, comments, etc? Please share them below!


1. My eBay listings, Sign up for eBay (Canada, US), Search for something you want / research something you have (Canada, US) – FYI these are Ebay Partner Network links, so I make a few bucks if you sign up for an account or buy something after getting to eBay using these links
2. Facebook page
3. Follow @garbagefinds and @garbagefindssells (selling account, operated by someone else) on Instagram
4. Email: thingsifindinthegarbage@gmail.com – note that I can’t fulfill most requests for items, many are already gone by the time they are posted here.

19 thoughts on “Legends of Vancouver”

  1. What a fascinating find that book is! A piece of Canadian history and a notable author. I enjoyed learning about her. Thanks, Martin, for posting so thoroughly.

    I always used to wonder why TVs left out for garbage pickup were all torn up until I learned that people ripped out the copper to sell. Glad you found a hefty piece.

    Keep walking—it’s great! 🤗

  2. That’s super cool. I’d like to read the other on on the top of the pile in the bin too. How are these being recycled!!!! Aaaahhhhhhhh

  3. Swann is also a well know place to sell at auction. They have a book and manuscript auction coming up.I sold a book with them once and the process was quite easy. You fill out the form and send a few pictures and they will let you know if they are interested. https://www.swanngalleries.com/schedule
    Good luck!

  4. That is one amazing find Martin; a connection to Canadian history has landed in your hands.

  5. Congratulations on your walking plan! You are correct when you say sometimes the money is in the small finds. Happy Holidays!

  6. There is the Wilfred Laurier home in Ottawa run by Parks Canada. It’s close to the U of O. I think he was a bachelor. I’m in my 60’s but remember learning about Pauline Johnson .
    I think the book you have is quite unique ,what an amazing piece of Canadian history. Possibly Parks Canada would be interested in the book for the house. As you look at an appropriate valuation for the book consider contacting them to see if they might purchase it.

    1. Oops , sorry he mentions his wife in the inscription. I meant he was not married when he lived in the house when he was Prime Minister.

  7. My mother went to an elementary school in Hamilton Ontario, named for Pauline Johnson. Not sure if it still goes by that name though, as my mom is 80 and the name could have been changed since then.

  8. What a wonderful find, wow! I had not heard of her but find her history fascinating and will look for more about her. I imagine a rare book seller could easily find a buyer, since the interest in First Nations history is very high now. I inherited a signed copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which is my most treasured item. My great-grandmother was his friend when they both lived in Manhattan, which is how our family ended up with his book. I once contacted a rare book seller to find out the value, and the seller gave me a range, as it’s not something that turns up often. He stressed that the condition of a rare old book affects the price greatly, of course. I decided I’d keep it because of the family connection, and also I’m a huge fan of poetry and old books. Good luck with your research, and keep the great stories coming, Martin!

  9. I just want to say how much I look forward to reading your writing when you post here. Glad you are walking and still finding things!

  10. Super cool find. I agree it would be best at an auction house. The provenance is fantastic.

  11. Thank you for rescuing those vintage books.Walking is a great way to relieve stress.I too walk around a bit and rescue quality trash.Besides walking,indoor gardening,listening to music,playing a musical instrument,playing card games,meditation and cooking also help relieve stress.And regardless of whether you are straight or gay,making love to another man or a woman helps relieve stress and calms one down.Nothing quite like sex.

  12. A copper pipe, and a rare(ish) book … quite the combo … but a great contrast. Great research and excellent presentation of the salient facts with all the links. 🙂 I hope that old book nets you a very tidy sum; you’ve definitely earned it. With any luck, your December finds will be all uphill, and you’ll end the fiscal year with a bang. Good work, Martin.

  13. What a wonderful find; I’m so glad you rescued this book. We studied some of Johnson’s poetry in school (N.S.), including The Song My Paddle Sings. I love her handwriting, too. Penmanship used to be an art form in itself. Well done on the walking regimen. I’ve always enjoyed walking alone; it gives me time to think in a totally different environment than at home.

  14. Always a delight to see a new post from my favorite blogger. Thanks for taking the time to share with your fans.

Comments are closed.