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(Courtesy of William Jamieson Tribal Art)
(Courtesy of William Jamieson Tribal Art)

Globe editorial

A eulogy for Billy Jamieson Add to ...

The late Billy Jamieson, the dealer in shrunken heads and other ethnographic antiquities whose collection of curiosities included everything from Houdini's straitjacket to a two-headed pig, was sui generis. He combined the scholarship of an ethnographer, the business acumen of a currency trader, the social conscience of a soup-kitchen volunteer and the appearance of a heavy metal rocker - a hybrid of Lt.-Gen. Augustus Pitt Rivers, George Soros and Ozzy Osbourne. But even that characterization would not really do Mr. Jamieson justice.

He became known publicly at the time of his first big deal, the purchase of the contents of the historic Niagara Falls museum and subsequent discovery that one of the exhibits was not a Victorian whimsy but an actual royal mummy, believed to be Ramses I. The lucrative sale of that one item was the basis for the extraordinary career and life that followed.

Mr. Jamieson was famous in international ethnographic antiquities circles and was honoured by the Explorers Club (Canada) for his exploits, which included repeated collecting expeditions to the South Pacific where he travelled among head-hunter and cannibal cultures, collecting rare artifacts and extreme experiences all the while. He made similar forays among the peoples of the Amazon delta, participating in tribal rituals, including the use of ayahuasca, a drug known for its divinatory and alleged telepathic properties.

Mr. Jamieson's vast, curiosity-filled condominium in Toronto was both a shrine and a showroom. He generously lent the space to numerous worthy causes, and conducted personal tours for scholars and rock bands. For some children, it was more popular than the Royal Ontario Museum. When Toronto police responded to the initial call on July 3 about Mr. Jamieson's sudden death, shocked officers actually investigated some of its contents. It was not, however, a crime scene worthy of CSI, just evidence of the well-spent life of a great shamanic explorer.

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