Norman Sam Elder (born August 12, 1939) was the son of Robert James Elder, the founder of Elder Carriage Works. Elder Carriage Works was a very successful company
that built delivery vans for furniture movers, bakeries and retailers such as Eaton’s. In 1945 the business made a profit of what would today be $5.5 million by supplying vehicles to the federal government for the war.
Norman was a world traveler who might have been considered eccentric by those who knew him. The main floor of his home located at 140 Bedford Rd. in Toronto served as the Norm Elder Museum. The museum (founded in 1967) showcased the many creatures that he collected during his world travels. The upper floor of the museum provided housing for ten tenants.
Visitors to the museum could meet 'Tony', a Galapagos Islands tortoise who'd walk over to meet people and enjoyed having his neck scratched. Tony eventually became ill and
was transported to Guelph University Hospital where he died. Tony was frozen until he could be taken to a taxidermist and was then returned to the museum stuffed.
Two large pythons lived in the museum along with a boa constrictor that lived in the basement. The boa constrictor was known to escape to different parts of the house. The tenants must have slept well at night knowing this.
The museum also contained a fruit bat, three lemurs, chinchillas and ferrets. Artifacts included a panther skeleton,
malachite eggs, fossilized elephant bird eggs, dried elephant dung balls, a stuffed dingo and human skulls from the Ganges River.
The front garden of the museum was surrounded by an 8 foot high iron fence that had been used to contain polar bears and was purchased from the Riverdale Zoo. The back garden contained an underground granite-walled tunnel which led to a room known as the 'tomb', The way into the tunnel was through a secret doorway under Norm's bed.
Besides operating the museum, Norm was a world traveler who visited remote areas such as Papua New Guinea, Namibia, the Amazon, Congo, the Arctic and Madagascar.
Norm was an accomplished equestrian who competed in the 1960 Rome Olynpics and 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Norm had a summer cottage located in Muskoka. The property contained three buildings and what appeared to be a chapel. The first building with the fridge was the living quarters. The second and third connected buildings appeared to be where Norm worked on sketching and painting.
Chapel and two of the outbuildings on the property
The workshop consisted of two buildings connected in an L-shape. The first part of the workshop (third photo above) contained old National Geographic magazines, reel to reel films and many photo albums showing Norm's world travels.
To the left of the entrance were numerous photo albums and reel to reel canisters. Making your way through the hallway you'd pass the wood stove and enter the area where Norm's paintings were displayed. It was particularly dark in this section of the workshop so flash photography had to be used.
Some of the paintings had been left outside where the elements were slowing destroying them. The unwritten rule is not to take items home with you (which would escalate exploring into a criminal act). I reluctantly left the art behind to be consumed by Mother Nature. Just beyond the main area where the
paintings were displayed was a small kitchen (shown above, 4th from left).
Norm's art and sketches
The story of the Norm Elder Cottage could end like this... it was slowly reclaimed by nature and Norm lived out the rest of his days in his Toronto museum. The End.
This wasn't the case. Norm used the cottage for other purposes besides painting and sketching. In 1998 he pleaded guilty to
indecently assaulting ten young men. The incidents occurred between 1972 and 1989. On March 12, 1998 he was sentenced to two years
less a day in jail. The young men were all between the ages of 18 and 20 which at the time of the incident was considered to be younger than the
age of consent. There's no evidence to suggest that any of the incidents took place at the cottage although photos found at the cottage show young men
drinking beer and a laughing young man bound with ropes.
The story of the Norm Elder Cottage ends like this: Norm passed away by suicide on October 15, 2003. His cottage remained unused and forgotten about for several years.
A few explorers heard rumors of the cottage's existence and in the summer of 2015 succeeded in finding it. The cottage had no vandalism, the only damages inflicted were from
exposure to the elements. By the fall of that same year, all of the buildings on the property were bulldozed. The cottage along with all of the paintings, sketches and photos of
Norm's world travels are gone - forever.