A window to the past
CARDINAL - It is part theme park, part recycling depot, part outdoor heritage museum, part art studio...but mostly it's a retirement home where old cars go to rust in peace. It's the Eastern Ontario Boneyard.
Launched by Joe (Sr) and Connie Martelle in the early 1960s, the Boneyard (formerly known as Martelle Auto Wreckers) has seen decades of both cars and customers drive through their gate. Today, the current generation of ownership is trying to maintain the traditional business in a manner that includes preserving that history in the form of scrap automobiles.
"We have a couple different sides to the business," explains Joe (Jr), who along with his family members, still operates the facility located just north of Cardinal. "We do scrap metal recycling as our core product. The other side of the business, the side we like somewhat better, is the heritage vehicle aspect of our yard."
That particular portion of the Boneyard consists of a collection of hundreds of vehicles from the 1950s thru early 1990s. The ever-growing collection serves as a source of restoration parts for old-car enthusiasts throughout the region.
The collection also attracts a number of visitors annually that see yet a different view of the yard. Each year, hundreds of photographers will make the trip to the yard to capture the unique images from the landscape of rusting relics. The Boneyard hosts "photography days" several times each year when groups of shutterbugs are welcomed to roam the yard in search of that perfect picture. While there is no cost associated with participating, donations are encouraged and welcomed for the local food bank.
The onset of the COVID-19 crisis has temporarily halted any photographic/tourism traffic in the yard for 2020, but the regular business continues as close to normal as possible.
"Our daily recycling activities have been fairly consistent. We pulled the plug on our open house days and we have serviced our vintage-part visits by appointment for most of the summer," Joe states.
On the plus side of the 2020 equation, the lower traffic numbers, combined with a dry summer, have allowed the owners to do some extra maintenance to the yard this season.
"Some of our vehicles in the yard are from my parent's original collection. They have been sitting in the same spot for over 50 years. While they have been rusting, the foliage around them keeps on growing and nature waits for no one. Keeping hundreds of old vehicles accessible in the wild while trying to respect flora and fauna can be a bit of a challenge. This summer has given us a chance to bring in some equipment to reclaim a few of the roadways that were growing over and making some of the oldest parts of the yard more accessible to visitors," he explains, adding that the growing collection increases the challenge.
"The curve on what is collectable is continually growing along with the population. As society grows older, the benchmark in what becomes nostalgic and collectable changes. Once upon a time we used to crush 95% of the K-Cars and Sunfires that came in here. Now we have a whole new wave of 30-year-olds looking to restore an old Reliant like the one his parents owned. The upper curve of what we keep is a moving target," he says.
Right now the family target is to keep moving forward, building the collection while preparing, expanding...and growing with the return of tourist traffic.
"My brother Archie, who my mom credits with buying enough cars as a teenager to start the yard, still lives close by. My mom and my brother are still involved in the yard. Our son keeps the place looking great. My daughters keep us up to date with current social media trends and my son-in-law is now managing most of the parts sales. This business has always grown along with the family. I think that's one of the reasons it has thrived for almost 60 years. The next generation has always respected and built upon what the one before them had accomplished; that isn't about to change. I can only imagine what comes next," Joe concludes.
Until then, the Eastern Ontario Boneyard will remain as a rusty road through the past.