Raising five girls kept Laidlaw hopping

Jim Laidlaw
Jim Laidlaw, owner of the Port Elmsley Emporium. Photo credit: Sally Smith
Posted on: June 26, 2019

“I’m the best father in the world…that’s what my kids tell me, anyway,” Jim Laidlaw says, grinning, as he settles back in his chair. Then he laughs.

Laidlaw, almost 58, has raised five daughters, initially as a navy-man and then eventually over the years becoming the owner of the Port Elmsley Emporium — essentially a (j)unkman.

“We don’t use that word here,” he says, a bit laconically. “That’s a swear word. These are all treasures. This is a flea-market, an emporium, soup to nuts…”

Sharp blue eyes, tanned face, well-cared-for white beard, Laidlaw ambles in and out and around the three or four room building containing the cast-offs of many homes and lives — pictures, beds, buffets, chairs, linen, lamps, knick-knacks — think about your own home and there’s probably a ‘twin’ at the emporium.

Father’s Day is Sunday, June 16 this year. Laidlaw has five daughters to help him celebrate. Most live close-by — Kemptville, Ottawa, Smiths Falls — but one is on Tortola Island in the British Virgin Islands. 

Hard work and a go-go-go work ethic (plus raising five girls) gave motivation to Laidlaw’s 17 years in the Navy as a marine engineer, then onto a few different endeavours such as a small advertising business in Halifax which he eventually relocated to the Smiths Falls area. He then became the owner of Midway Automotive garage between Smiths Falls and Perth. From there he sold for an HVAC company in Ottawa where for several years he was the number one salesman in eastern Canada. Now he’s settled (for the time being) at the Emporium, the same building that housed the garage.

At the moment Laidlaw figures he has 2,400 sq. ft. of space in his building with two trailers and six tent garages outside; that gives him a total, he estimates, of 4,000 sq. ft. He gathers his goods from all over. “Most are moving and down-sizing. Sometimes one partner has passed and the other can’t handle the big house.

“They’re always distraught.”

He tells them he’ll take it all and deal with it, gives them a fair price for items of value (and doesn’t always make back what he paid), but it lets them check it off the list of ‘things done.’

If he can, Laidlaw donates — to the Sally Anne’s, the dump on Code Road has a re-use centre, and recently he got a call asking for  help for the flood victims. “It’s not junk,” he says again. “It’s all treasure.”

At one time Laidlaw had three girls at university at the same time for two years in a row. Luckily he was in the HVAC sales industry and making a good income that allowed him to help his girls through school. Four of them went away to university, and he says, laughing, “they had to go to university at least five hours away.” Three of them ended up on the east coast and one at Western in London. It’s not that he was easy on them and gave them everything — they all had jobs growing up — but he helped. He knew, though, when they needed a little extra they’d text or email ‘D-a-a-d’ and that was the code word for ‘help’.

“I wouldn’t change a thing. They never asked for money unless they needed it.

“Now they send me money,” he quips.

As a people person, he loves his business. “There’s something new everyday. I don’t know what’s coming.” He admits, though, the winters are hard on his aches and pains. This one was especially hard but business is picking up now. 

If he had his ‘druthers’, he’d ‘druther’ be in the Caribbean — buy an RV and camp in the summer, winter in the Caribbean living on a boat. And this, unofficially, is his future plan.

On reflection, he says moving furniture in and out of his Emporium is a young man’s game. He admits, when he goes to a warmer climate, he’ll miss his girls, “but they could always come and visit,” he says, a bit wistfully.

If the family gathers for Father’s Day at the homestead off Code Rd. this year — Shannon, Brianna, Tia, Jenna and their kids and significant others, except for Kayla on Tortola Island, there should be about a dozen of them, mostly female, a couple of guys — a celebration to anticipate. Not all Dads are doctors, lawyers, clergy or accountants; some are (j)unkmen — and pretty happy about it.

Article by Sally Smith