Adam Gillian was a familiar face to antique store owner Alex Archbold, as the homeless man had previously sold items he’d discovered in the trash to Archbold’s shop in Edmonton, Canada. After Gillian had picked up a Disney print and passed it on to Archbold, however, the buyer realized that the item in question was actually something quite special. And with that, he began searching the streets for Gillian in order to reveal his surprise.
Those of us fortunate enough to have not experienced homelessness can only imagine what living on the streets is like. It can take away your identity, for example, as well as your dignity and even your social standing as a person. Then there are the basic struggles for food, hydration, warmth and survival.
What’s more, times may get even tougher for the homeless as the winter months draw in and the weather becomes harsh. In Edmonton, at least – where temperatures can drop as low as 3 °F – life on the streets in such conditions can be a downright fight for survival.
And Gillian knew what it was like to be without a home in the Canadian city. He had originally come from Stratford, Ontario, but had moved to Edmonton to be with family there. And although Gillian had initially worked as a drywall laborer, he had fallen on hard times after losing his job.
In November 2018 Gillian told HuffPost that his life had disintegrated after he had experienced a period of depression. And his bad fortune snowballed, as the authorities would place three of his four children into foster care. The laborer couldn’t pay for his home, either, so he had lost that as well, while his marriage, too, had crumbled.
So, Gillian ultimately became homeless; at the time that he spoke to HuffPost, he had spent three years on the streets. Occasionally, though, he slept on a friend’s couch or was able to seek shelter for a time in nearby 24-hour restaurants.
And, naturally, Gillian had to find a way to earn money, which he did through something he called “binning.” Essentially, the ex-laborer would look through dumpsters and other people’s trash to find valuable discarded items. He’d then sell anything worth a bit of cash to a trader.
Of course, Gillian wasn’t the only homeless person who took to binning as a means of financial support; some of his friends did so, too. And on the occasions when they went treasure hunting together, Gillian and his pals sometimes split the profits.
The amount of success treasure hunters have is largely based on luck, although a keen eye is also helpful. And even if the proceeds from such finds don’t generate enough income to live on, they can sometimes make the difference between having no food and a warm meal.
So, that’s how Gillian survived: relying on good fortune and an ability to pick out potentially valuable items from the trash. And the homeless man’s hunting skills also led him to an association with the Edmonton antiques store Curiosity Inc., which Gillian had first heard about through a buddy.
Gillian’s in-laws had hired his friend Daniel, and it was Daniel in turn who had told Gillian about the store. Since then, moreover, the former laborer had visited Curiosity Inc. in order to sell the occasional piece of recovered treasure. However, on one day, the homeless man made an unusual discovery.
During a treasure hunt in September 2018, Gillian discovered a print from an old Disney film. The artwork itself was from the classic animation Bambi, which follows the eponymous character’s journey from young fawn to forest guardian and father.
However, the tear-jerking death of Bambi’s mom at the hands of a hunter is arguably the movie’s most famous scene. This loss is also a part of the Felix Salten novel – entitled Bambi, a Life in the Woods – from which the animated film’s story was adapted.
So, Gillian took the print to several stores in a bid to raise money. Apparently, though, none of the sellers wanted anything to do with him – perhaps because he lived on the streets. Still, Gillian kept trying, and his efforts ultimately led him to Curiosity Inc.
And the owner of Curiosity Inc., husband and father of three Alex Archbold, was working in the store on the day that Gillian arrived with the print. Archbold’s Instagram biography describes him as “an entrepreneur… and adventurer on YouTube” who is “looking for cool antiques or interesting places to explore.”
What’s more, this didn’t mark the first time that Archbold had met Gillian; in fact, the store owner had previously dealt with the homeless man on other occasions. As a result, Archbold knew Gillian to be both a man with a good eye for treasure and pleasant to deal with.
With this in mind, Archbold purchased the Disney print for the requested sum of $20 with the view that he could ultimately turn a profit from the item. “I thought, ‘Well, it’s Bambi, I can probably clean it up,’” the entrepreneur later told HuffPost.
After Gillian left, though, Archbold removed the frame from the print. And, to his surprise, a certificate of authenticity hid behind the picture. It seemed, then, that Gillian had found an original hand-drawn piece of Disney art on a piece of celluloid – also known as a “cel.”
Furthermore, Archbold discovered, the picture had a copyright stamp of 1937 – five years before the movie’s cinematic debut. And the art was therefore vastly more valuable than he had first thought; after he had put the piece up on eBay, it sold for nearly $2,800.
Yet Archbold told HuffPost that he had had a change of heart upon realizing the item’s true worth. “When I knew [the print] was gonna sell for a lot of money, I knew it wasn’t right to take it all,” he explained. As a result, then, the entrepreneur set out on another adventure: finding Gillian.
Still, tracking down a man with no fixed address isn’t an easy task. That much is made obvious on Curiosity Inc.’s YouTube channel, where Archbold uploaded video footage of the ensuing search. Indeed, his efforts seem to have initially proved fruitless, as there was no sign of Gillian at first.
Without knowing where Gillian spent his time, Archbold could only search the dumpsters in the local area. And while the store owner may have thought that he was in luck after finding another man who knew the treasure hunter, Gillian continued to remain elusive.
In fact, Archbold sought Gillian out every morning for two weeks without success. Then, eventually, the homeless man returned to the Curiosity Inc. store. On that occasion, Archbold arranged to meet with him the following day, with the intention of conducting a YouTube interview for the shop’s channel. It would be then that he would reveal the true value of Gillian’s discovery.
Before the big moment arrives, though, Archbold has another revelation for his YouTube viewers. “My mom worked three jobs for a while, and we didn’t have a home,” he explains in the video while talking of his childhood. “We struggled with poverty and homelessness ourselves when I was a kid. And for much of junior high we lived in motels.”
In fact, Archbold had stoked his love of antiques through selling curios and collectibles to help support the family, and this passion in turn would become his career. He also explains in his YouTube video how he saw the similarities between his own work and Gillian’s treasure hunting.
And Archbold elaborated further in an interview with CNN in December 2018. “I go through people’s basements looking for stuff they don’t want anymore,” he said. “[Gillian’s] doing the same thing. He’s recycling and finding stuff.”
Meanwhile, Archbold’s YouTube video shows Gillian arriving at the Curiosity Inc. store for his interview. Then the owner begins to quiz the homeless man on his past before changing the subject to Gillian’s most memorable discoveries. And after thinking a little, Gillian offers several examples.
In the video, Gillian explains that he sometimes finds discarded money thrown out in the trash. “[Whether] it’s accidentally or purposely, I’m not sure,” he comments. “A lot of the time there’s coins… older coins, mostly foreign. Or bills, like the four one-dollar bills.”
The homeless man also confirmed that he’d found pieces of a pocket watch. Precious metals have turned up, too; in the past, he has discovered discarded gold and jewelry, while he once also came across $300 in pre-1968 silver quarters. But it’s Gillian’s friend who really struck gold on one occasion.
“My other friend and I were in a bin that was from an apartment,” Gillian describes in the video. “They must have been hoarders. It was a two-bedroom apartment, but they had four or five huge bins… He was really digging in there, and he found a tin that had $2,000 in it.”
Gillian’s friend gave him a share of the money that day – an example Gillian himself tries to follow. Indeed, whenever the one-time laborer has something he can share, he does his best to make sure that his friends benefit, too. “I’m pretty generous. I give a lot of things away,” he says in the video.
Now, though, it was Archbold’s turn to be philanthropic with his kind-hearted guest. In the YouTube clip, he informs Gillian about his search and recounts how the Bambi cel sold for a decent sum. Then Archbold hands Gillian an envelope and asks him to look inside.
“There is a little bit of money in there for you,” Archbold adds. “There’s $1,600 and 35 cents!” Seemingly in disbelief, Gillian replies, “Are you kidding me?” And in yet another act of generosity, the homeless man offers to pay for the dinner that Archbold said he’d buy after their interview.
“I’ve been trying to track you down,” Archbold continues. “Because I feel like the right thing to do is to give you half, man. You’re a good guy!” For his part, Gillian remains largely speechless, perhaps astonished by his good luck – although he appears incredibly grateful for the gift.
But the surprises don’t end there, as Archbold then asks Gillian if he’s okay with him creating a crowdfunding page in the former laborer’s honor. “Yeah,” Gillian answers, “It might be a little embarrassing, but I can get over that.”
So with Gillian’s permission, Archbold set up a GoFundMe page for the homeless man. The store owner had initially settled on an optimistic goal of $10,000; incredibly, though, the fundraiser reached its target within three days and went on to earn Gillian $18,000.
In addition, the exposure that Gillian’s story received in the media had an unforeseen outcome. The homeless man’s family, who had had no way to contact him, reached out to Archbold to get back in touch after seeing Gillian’s story in the news. And with the financial support behind him from the crowdfunding page, Gillian then headed home.
A Curiosity Inc. update video also captures the moment Archbold accompanies his friend to the train station. And when he asks Gillian how he feels, he answers, “Excited. Just excited, I can’t wait.” Then, after a long wait, Archbold waves goodbye to the man whose life he helped turn around.
But there was one question that some viewers may have been asking: what did Archbold do with his half of the profits from the Bambi cel? The antiques lover answers this, though, in the YouTube clip. “Well, the GoFundMe money didn’t kick in for about a week, [and Gillian] needed a place to stay,” Archbold says. “So I used… the money to cover the costs of a hotel [and] to get him some clothes and some meals for that week.”
“The way I figure it, we’re pretty well even on that whole deal,” Archbold concludes in his follow-up YouTube video. “Couldn’t be happier for the guy, couldn’t be happier for you, [Gillian]. And I hope you take advantage of this opportunity when you’re back home around your family and loved ones to put your best foot forward. Much love from our family and from our business to you and yours.”