Recently, Antony put something else in the window: a red sign, announcing something she has never done in the 62 years she’s been in business.
Henrietta Antony had a sale.
“I never put anything on sale, because my things are always better tomorrow then yesterday,” she said.
But now, times are changing. At the age of 80, Antony is closing down her shop.
The gallery is full of treasures: ornate furniture, hand-painted china, and, of course, chandeliers. But despite the opulence of her surroundings, Antony’s beginnings are humble.
Born in Czechoslovakia, she came to Canada at 16 when her family had to flee during the 1949 Communist coup d’etat. After a stint in a refugee camp and a harrowing ocean crossing, she landed in Montreal, where she found a job making custom lampshades for $0.50 an hour.
“People hear my story and think it’s terrible,” she said. “But I don’t. I considered myself so lucky to be in a country where the only limits imposed on me were the limits of my capabilities.”
Blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit, Antony soon expanded into china repair and antiques, eventually opening a small store downtown.
She moved her shop to Greene in 1978, motivated by cheap real estate and an idea planted in her head by an acquaintance, who told her that her antiques were beautiful enough to be displayed like art.
When she saw the Royal Bank building, she knew she had found her perfect gallery. The building was designed in 1904 by Edward Maxwell, the architect who also worked on Windsor Station and the Royal Victoria hospital. The stone building had classic details: Ionic columns, a decorative coat of arms, and carved wooden beams.
And now, after years of 70-hour weeks, raising three children alone (she was widowed in 1974), and running around the world after antiques, she has sold the building. -
It had been a bank, a dry goods store, and, most recently, a refrigerator store. The previous owner had ripped out the original stone entrance and put cheap acoustic tiles over the woodwork, but Antony saw the potential.
The architects told her the restoration would cost $60,000. It ended up totalling over $350,000.
“Lucky the bank trusted me so much!” she said.
And now, after years of 70-hour weeks, raising three children alone (she was widowed in 1974), and running around the world after antiques, she has sold the building.
Antony doesn’t know what the new owner plans, “but I wish her well,” she said.
She plans to move to her vineyard in the Eastern Townships, which she built to look like a European village – trying without knowing it, she says, to recapture the country of her youth.
She says her customers can’t believe she’s leaving.
“All these years we gave advice, we ran a workshop, we were always ready to help the community,” she said.
“This wasn’t a shop, it was an institution.”