“My whole house, everything on my property except my garage is recycled, scavenged material,” Sid van der Meer Sr. explains as we stroll through the new but designed-to-look-old buildings that make up the Bordertown Garage and Museum in Beaver Creek, Yukon.
“Some of the windows are from the Westmark Hotel. The front door I found at the dump. Everything is from somewhere else. The front deck, those are planks and timbers from the old bridge. I was recycling before the word was ever invented.”
I’ve come to Sid’s house in tiny Beaver Creek to get a look at Bordertown, one of the quirkiest collections of antiques and artifacts anywhere in North America. But while his museum features such oddities as a 77 million-year-old turtle fossil, unusual license plates from around the world, and unopened pieces of mail from 1929, I quickly realize that the most fascinating attraction is Sid himself.
This is a man who rides around on a restored 1937 bicycle, regularly visits the town dump to seek out hidden treasure, and has been known to fly a small plane hundreds of miles to satisfy a craving for chicken.
Sid arrived in Canada in 1953 from Denmark and eight years later landed in Beaver Creek, where he literally married a princess (the daughter of a White River First Nations chief.) He’s been collecting things for more than 40 years, and officially created Bordertown a few years back to show off his assortment of peculiar objects.
And, boy, does he have some stories to tell.
The museum sits behind Sid’s house on a side road just off the Alaska Highway. One special touch he incorporated while building the place was using old Alaska Highway mileposts as support beams. How he came to possess the signs is a strange story:
“In the ‘70s, when they switched them all to kilometers, the highway guys took (the old signs) out. They were supposed to take them to the highway yard and save them. But the guys ended up taking them to the dump instead and piled them up over there, so I went and picked them up. They probably would’ve laid there rotting forever.
“When I was building the awning on that building, I needed some posts to hold it up. The mileposts are part of the history, so I made them part of the building. It worked out perfectly, the right length and everything. I didn’t have to cut ‘em.”
It’s appropriate that, in the land where hundreds of miners got rich by searching for gold in rivers and piles of mud during the Gold Rush, Sid continues to find treasure by digging through the junkyard. He’s a regular visitor there.
“Oh, yeah – two or three times a week, at least,” he confirms. And his dumpster diving isn’t limited to just Beaver Creek. “When I go to Whitehorse, sometimes I stop at different dumps and check things out. You never know what you can find there. That’s why it always takes me so long. My kids can go to Whitehorse and come back in four and a half hours – it takes me seven, eight hours.”
Some of the items in Sid’s museum are totally random, like vinyl record albums, various state maps from the 1950s, and gas pumps. Many of the artifacts in some way tell the story of the history of the Yukon, from the Gold Rush days through the building of the Alaska Highway and up through the present day.
There’s military memorabilia, a Mountie statue, a large metal map of Alaska, and cans of Uncle Ben’s, an old Canadian beer and malt liquor brand.
The inside of Sid’s house contains more treasure, including a scale from 1898 from the old Dawson City Bank that was used to weigh gold. How did he get such an important piece of Dawson history? He responds typically, “I just walked in and took it. The building was abandoned.”
His license collection includes plates from Japan, the Bahamas, and other faraway lands. He obtained most of them by trading with people from around the world. “Everyone wants Yukon plates,” he says.
Sid also owns several vintage cars, but the most impressive is his 1928 Model A Ford. Now this is what you call vintage. And believe it or not, the 85-year-old vehicle still runs. “Just yesterday, I had it at the visitor center,” Sid says.
There’s a famous tale circulating regarding Sid and KFC. The legend goes that he once flew his plane – did I forget to mention he’s also a pilot? – all the way to the Yukon’s capital city to get chicken for his ex-wife.
The real story is a bit less dramatic, but much funnier: “I was in Whitehorse, phoned home and said, ‘What do you need?’ She said, ‘Bring me back a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.’ I got hungry on the way home and decided to eat the chicken. I was throwing chicken bones out the window as I’m flying home. I got home and realized there was only wing left in the bucket, so I came in the house and set that on the table… She didn’t talk to me for two days.”
Visiting the Bordertown Garage and Museum
It’s not hard to find Sid van der Meer if you ever visit this town. Beaver Creek, population 100, is so small that the same woman runs both the bank (open two days a week) and the post office (three days a week.) It’s a place where you can leave your keys in the car. “I’d lose them otherwise,” Sid jokes.
The Bordertown Garage and Museum is open by appointment – basically, anytime Sid is home, he’ll be happy to show you around. Admission is free, though donations are accepted. The best place to find Sid is at the Beaver Creek Visitor Center, where he works.
Although some of his stuff would certainly have value to collectors, Sid insists that the items at Bordertown are currently not for sale. “Maybe when I’m 99 years old, then I might sell them. I’m only 76. It’s too early to think about that!”