Antique stores closing their doors on the past

Some people live in the past but Frederick Sutherland has made a career of it.

Frederick Sutherland antiques

The owner of Cloverdale Antiques & Collectables fondly remembers a time when Cloverdale was home to 14 antique stores, but in recent years that number has dwindled and now just a handful remain in Surrey as online shopping takes hold in the minds of Canadians.

He also blames foreign made, modern and disposable styles for the shutting of antique store doors, not just in Surrey but around the globe.

“All over the world it’s happening, because China is buying antiques from all over the world. They’ve got our money and they’re doing the buying,” said Sutherland.

He sees it as part of a trend that signals a decline of western civilization.

“Our young people will no longer know what we had in the past, they won’t know how to recreate it. They’ve been taught basically that technology is everything.”

Keeping Canada’s resources and supporting local industry is one of his more pressing concerns.

“We’ve turned our backs against our ancestry and what we were able to do. We made our own furniture, we made our own clothes,” said Sutherland, who makes his own soap and bakes his own bread. He also repurposes the antiques that come in through his doors.

“I was taught how to fix things, how to change a tire on your bicycle . . . if your typewriter broke and you could fix it, how do you feel? You got it going again. There was something wrong with you if you didn’t know how to do something.”

And that’s another one of his fears: that we’re losing our ability to do anything.

“Sure we’re learning to press buttons, but eventually it will mean nothing, because computers will do everything,” he said.

A fondness for the past was imbued early in Sutherland. His grandparents raised him and growing up all they had was old furniture. In time he realized he wanted to have nice things in his own home.

“Once you see a beautiful piece of antiquity, or I should say it’s a work of art, these are usually pieces that are made by a master cabinet maker, why wouldn’t you want them in your home?”

He started collecting and opened his first shop in Vancouver in 1972. He slept in the back room and opened the front. Those were what he calls “the hippie dippie days.”

“You start off collecting, you end up with a one bedroom apartment, a two bedroom apartment, three bedroom apartment, you sell one chest of drawers, two chest of drawers, and you slowly start to sell and you realize you can make money at this business and you’re the boss,” he said.

It was an attractive life decision for Sutherland, who’d always found having a job difficult because he wanted to be in charge.

“You make mistakes, sometimes you pay too much for something, or you bought a fake, but that’s education,” he said. “You go to school, they give you an education, you pay for it. Life can also give you an education, you pay for that too.”

Antiques teach you quality, he said, and if people have no knowledge of quality they’ll end up buying junk.

Sutherland’s grandparents were from the 19th century and their values made a deep impression on their grandson.

“I’m really talking like my grandfather would talk . . . you’re actually talking to somebody who’s almost from the 19th century because of those values, and I thought they made sense.”

For Sutherland, the greatest era was the 18th century, when the finest pieces were made.

“Everything has been just a copy ever since. And each generation gets worse.”

Cloverdale Antiques & Collectables is located at 5754 176th Street. They not only have a vast selection of antique furniture and fine art, but also a man who is – almost – from the Victorian era.

Bronwyn Scott
Bronwyn has lived in Ottawa, P.E.I., Victoria, Squamish and Surrey, B.C. She has an English degree (SFU, 2011) and a journalism degree (Langara College, 2013) and for four years worked with Sandra Djwa on Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page, which won the Governor-General’s Non-Fiction prize in 2013. She’s an adventurous spirit who loves the outdoors and all things artsy. She’s written for the Surrey Leader, the Langley Times and The Squamish Reporter.