“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books”

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”

~Virginia Woolf, Street Haunting: A London Adventure (1930)

books framed

A wall of wild books — domesticated by the dedicated owner of the Book Trader in Brockville, Ontario.

The Book Trader is a mainstay on main street in Brockville, Ontario, Canada (93 King Street W). People go out of their way — actually getting off the highway or the seaway on route to Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal — to visit this small town, second-hand book shop.

It’s not one of those pretty antiquarian shops with comfy seats and classical music (you’ll get that one block up at the lovely independent bookstore, Leeds County Books).

From the outside, the Book Trader looks a bit like a pawn shop. Inside, it’s a busy, jam packed, well organized place where locals trade their old books for something new (and gently used) to read. Located along the St. Lawrence River, it’s not unusual to find boaters stopping in to pick up a good read for the next leg of their journey.

book trader

It’s the great selection of classics, history, travel, nature and field guides that draw me back every summer. My daughter is always enticed with the hopes of finding a new (but vintage) Nancy Drew.

It’s the type of place Virginia Woolf describes in her 1930 essay, Street Haunting, where there is “always hope” of discovering new friends in the pages of an old book:

“There is always a hope, as we reach down some grayish-white book from an upper shelf, directed by its air of shabbiness and desertion, of meeting here with a man who set out on horseback over a hundred years ago to explore the woollen market in the Midlands and Wales; an unknown traveller, who stayed at inns, drank his pint, noted pretty girls and serious customs, wrote it all down stiffly, laboriously for sheer love of it (the book was published at his own expense)…”

If you’ve an hour, or two, or three, to browse, you might just find a treasure or two…

book trader 2 book trader 3 book trader 4

A good bookshop is usually close to good food (in my experience, anyway). And this one is only a few minutes away from some of the best fish and chips outside of England — Don’s Fish & Chips (40 Water Street W). It’s not a surprise to find good British fare in this town — Brockville is steeped (like a strong cup of tea) in British history. It was founded in 1785 by settlers loyal to the British crown, and was named after an English general who died defending Upper Canada from American invasion in the war of 1812.

dons fish and chips

Don’s is close enough to the water, that you can sit and eat while watching the boats bouncing along on the beautiful St. Lawrence River:

fish and chips

Not quite London. But still, a good place to do a bit of street haunting.


  1. Wonderful! The perfect day out… Bliss! My daughter and I would be in heaven there… I love the Virginia Woolf quotes – second-hand books as ‘wild books’ – I know just what she means! And I always love that sense of ‘hope’ and discovery whenever following second-hand book treasure-trails…

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