A Clean Sweep

Four decades as a chim­ney sweep have re­sulted in many friend­ships—and a great col­lec­tion!

More of Our Canada - - Collectors - by David Allen,

My life as a chim­ney sweep be­gan in a hospi­tal wait­ing room in 1978, while wait­ing for my fi­ancée to un­dergo an emer­gency op­er­a­tion. I ner­vously looked through a magazine and no­ticed an ad to be­come a chim­ney sweep. At the time, I was be­tween semesters from univer­sity; lit­tle did I know that I would never re­turn. Six months later, after build­ing a busi­ness plan to present to the bank, I was in the busi­ness of clean­ing chim­neys. Over the years, I’ve been on thou­sands of roofs and in as many houses. The views have been amaz­ing, the peo­ple more so. My unique job has al­lowed me to share in many lives and places. Clients have be­come friends, very close friends in some cases. So much so that I have trav­elled with them to other parts of the world or have vis­ited them at their prop­er­ties else­where. I have at­tended wed­dings as a chim­ney sweep, mostly for English fam­i­lies. In one case, I was asked to ap­pear at a wed­ding for a cou­ple and then, 20 years later, asked to ap­pear at the wed­ding of the cou­ple’s daugh­ter. The his­tory of sweeps at­tend­ing wed­dings goes back a long way in Eng­land, and is be­lieved to bring good luck to the new­ly­weds.

Many of the fam­i­lies whose chim­neys I take care of have had chil­dren grow up to also be­come my cus­tomers. One of my first cus­tomers turned 101 this past Christ­mas, and I still take care of her chim­ney. Many are like fam­ily mem­bers whom I only get to see once or twice a year.

My spe­cial way of earn­ing a liv­ing and the pas­sion I have for it have re­sulted in a col­lec­tion of many items as­so­ci­ated with the trade, many given to me by clients. Friends have gifted me with a great num­ber, too. From a sweeps-ori­en­tated nut­cracker from Ger­many to a cof­fee mug from Eng­land, I have ac­quired a lot of things that need dust­ing, as my part­ner likes to point out.

Some don’t just sit on the shelf. One spe­cial item is a fig­ure of a chim­ney sweep that burns in­cense in­side of its body; the smoke comes out of his mouth be­cause he is smok­ing a pipe.

The nut­cracker was a gift from a client who be­came a close friend. It was made in Ger­many by KWO, a renowned man­u­fac­turer of such items. Upon en­ter­ing my home, the sil­hou­ette of a climb­ing sweep hangs on the wall, let­ting you know you are in a unique home. A num­ber of things I have col­lected are not sweep-based but have been ac­quired be­cause of my job. Art­work, tools, fur­ni­ture, a large an­tique stained glass win­dow, even my kitchen was in­spired by the many houses I’ve vis­ited.

The big­gest gift, of course, has been shar­ing life with the peo­ple I work for— know­ing my job keeps them warm and safe on those cold days and nights. I will miss this spe­cial job, some­day. ■

David, sport­ing his for­mal work at­tire, with his girl­friend, Karen.

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