Here’s a curious item I found on my balcony when I first moved into my current apartment.


It’s a crudely made iron (?) ashtray, and it was being used to weigh down a garbage-can lid. The previous tennants left a few things behind that they didn’t seem to think worth taking. So I inherited one of my favourite things, an antique mystery.

The enscription around the edge says “Gorgona Shops Smoker, May 17, 1913” and in the centre, “Panama Canal.”

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

As the Panama Canal was officially opened in 1914, this souvenir predates the opening. The Gorgona Shops were a large complex near the mid-point of the canal, where the engineers serviced the machinery used to build the canal. A “smoker” was a party deemed suitable for men only (likely because lots of smoking was going on).

So best guess: the men who worked in the Gorgona workshops held a party for some reason, maybe a construction milestone, and as they were handy types, they crafted their own souvenir ashtrays in their shop.

And then somehow one of these ashtrays made its way back to Little Portugal in Toronto. Maybe one of the gentlemen in this picture lived on my street, or even in this house.

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