MONTREAL – Even though Martin Gregory wasn’t one of the thousands of Montrealers swapping apartments on Tuesday, he was busy working his way through the city’s sweltering streets.
For Gregory, who refers to himself as a “professional scavenger,” Quebec’s traditional Moving Day is potentially one of the most lucrative of the year.
But he’s not the only one sifting through piles of abandoned mattresses, couches and broken dishes for a hidden gem.
“There’s a lot more competition. People know it’s a really good day,” said Gregory, 27.
“And you can never predict when you’re going to find something interesting, something vintage or an antique collectible.”
In Quebec, the official July 1 Moving Day dates back to 1750, when authorities mandated a summer moving date to avoid having tenants evicted in the middle of the province’s bitterly-cold winters.
It’s no longer required by law, but many leases still end at the end of June. It makes for a busy, sometimes chaotic day in Montreal.
Alongside the moving vans, scrap metal peddlers patrol the streets in their pickup trucks, searching for cast-aside appliances.
Hy Goldglass, who works at Miller Recycling in Montreal’s north end, said it’s one of the busiest times of the year.
His scrap yard pays for just about anything with metal in it — fridges, stoves, barbecues, and dishwashers.
“You don’t realize this stuff has value,” he said. “But the scrap peddlers have to come with a lot of stuff to make money.”
Goldglass said he pays about eight cents a pound for steel, 50 cents a pound for aluminum, and $2.75 a pound for highly-sought copper.
For Gregory, who keeps a blog called “Stuff I found the trash,” the biggest thrill comes from finding an item with historical significance. He said it’s amazing what people throw away.
“I found a Nazi German passport, dated 1939, belonging to a German Jew,” he said.
“I also found World War One dog tags that belonged to a lieutenant. I like these things because they are historically very interesting.”
Gregory devotes about 10 hours a week to hunting for treasures in the trash. He spends several more trying to sell his findings at pawnshops and on eBay.
On Tuesday, which approached record-setting temperatures in Montreal, Gregory managed to find a piece of gold jewelry he said would likely sell for $35.
One of his best finds, a collection of 1960s Chinese propaganda recordings on vinyl, netted $250.
In a year, Gregory estimated making about $8,000 — enough to make ends meet, without holding down a job, in a Montreal apartment he shares with roommates.
“It’s not going to be a forever deal,” said Gregory, who has been scavenging for a year and a half.
“It’s not a very rich lifestyle but I make enough to get by — pay the phone bills and stuff like that.”