An article from The Hamilton Spectator calls The Cabinet of Curiosities ‘The strangest place in Hamilton.’ Now, this hobby gallery is relocating to the corner of Ottawa and Barton and is becoming even more bizarre – with a friendly twist.
“I want to create a WOW effect”, said The Cabinet of Curiosities owner, Mark Draak, during our first interview over the phone. Mark told us that he just picked up a human leg and it is going to be the store’s newest arrival. When The Point visited his store, Mark pointed to a leg bone and clarified that he had actually just picked it up from a shipment. “Every creature comes to its end of life, and what we have here were all deceased in nature.”
Their collections are not limited to human body parts like skulls or hearts. There is a Victorian coffin and an 1800’s wooden tombstone at the store entrance, and a lion is standing in the window to welcome visitors. You can also find old books from the 1600’s.
The Cabinet of Curiosities sells antiques, collectibles, and oddities, and its business goal is to introduce people to different experiences and lifestyles. In the new Ottawa Street store, there will be a designated area that has ghost hunting kits, and fishing magnets which can pull items up to 300 pounds out of the water. Mark explained that in this new section, people can buy their own equipment to do weekend treasure hunting instead of just buying house décor items to display on a shelf.
Mark states that he and his partner Dave never dreamt of getting rich from this business. What they really want is to be an inspiration. To encourage people who love history, anthropology, or archaeology, to go out there and enjoy their own adventures while embracing life.
Mark’s background is in advertising and marketing. Seeing commercial chain stores everywhere, he admires more of the artistic parts of independent businesses. The Cabinet of Curiosities is his childhood dream coming true. After reading The Hardy Boys stories, he began treasure hunting at the age of 12. He is a fan of Steven King, too.
Mark brought his own collections, piece by piece, to his advertising agency until they filled the entire basement. Later, Canadian reality television star Billy Jamieson, who was a treasure and antique dealer, bought the Niagara Falls Museum in 1999. That inspired Mark, and he established his first store in Dundas, Ontario in 2011.
“This business is 24-7”, Mark explains. To find those one-of-a-kind goods, he constantly searches on the internet. “I want to be that guy whom people can’t wait to see what new stuff I’ve got over the weekend, and they rush to see them in person.”
Since Mark has been in this industry for so long, dealers know him and call him when they have something special, too. Mark’s treasures are from all around the world. For example, people can conveniently find ancient shark teeth from Indonesia in his store, or wooden masks from the Solomon Islands.
Moving to Ottawa Street was the perfect fit for Mark. He sees antique shoppers – who are also treasure hunters, coming to the textile and antique district in droves so it only made sense. The new retail space is 4000 square feet and there are more than 1,000 collectibles. Describing The Cabinet of Curiosities as a museum is not an exaggeration at all. There are priceless treasures because “the value is in the beholder’s eyes”, Mark said. However, he emphasized that there is always something affordable, because “everyone is welcome.”
“We share the sense of wonder with people”, he said. There will be workshops, such as entomology and gold panning, for different ages. If you have personal collections and want to make it a side business, you can rent display space from them. Mark will host online auctions too.
Ever since The Cabinet of Curiosities storefront signs were put out in early May, there have been people banging on the doors asking about the grand opening. Mark has supporters such as mind readers, sword swallowers, and buskers ready to celebrate the big day. For sure COVID has delayed everything and he might not even be able to follow his plan to throw a party for the new store. Mark is keeping high hopes to greet visitors in mid-June.
The Cabinet of Curiosities will operate 5 days a week, and Monday and Tuesdays by appointment.