February 2017 Edition
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Our history is incomplete without your story. And our archive would be impossible without your help!

You're invited to our monthly Vision Meeting!

The Barrie Historical Archive meets the first Wednesday of every month. Don't miss our next meeting, tonight, February 1 from 7 to 8 p.m. at The Creative Space, 12 Dunlop St. East!
This month, special guest Tony Grace of CTV will be introducing the first of a multi-part video series, 'Evolution of a City', which chronicles the history of Barrie from the 20th century to present day. Interviews with past and present community leaders, recorded on location at historical city sites, bring the stories of Barrie's evolution to life in a unique new way. Our first episode features former Mayor Jim Perri and looks at the Allandale Train Station and the development of the lakeshore.


Several exciting collections have brought the Barrie Historical Archive even closer to reaching an astounding 7,000 pieces online. Collections included a pair of the archive's oldest images courtesy of Ross Rogers and a set of snapshots featuring quiet Barrie life during the Roaring Twenties from our own Deb Exel. 

Pictured below:
See Rogers' still of the Ball Planing Mill just a few years before fire consumed the old wooden structure in the mid-1880s. Ball capitalized on Barrie as a burgeoning location for industry with the introduction of the railway branch in the mid-19th Century. He would go on to replace the mill in this picture with a larger brick building on Bayfield Street.

At bottom, Deb Exel provided us with a look toward the lake, also on Bayfield Street, just south of Wellington Street. This 1926 image is a far cry from modern-day Bayfield, in which the Crazy Fox Bistro, Bayfield Executive Centre and Bayfield Terrace Apartments would all stand tall on the left side of the street, and parallel parking in the curb lane might warrant some, ahem, strong gestures from passersby.  


Did you know that aside from those classic blasts from decades past that you've come to love, the Barrie Historical Archive is constantly being updated with contemporary photography?

Barrie residents have already contended with the loss of dozens of important, iconic landmarks in our city - and the photographs and videos we feature in our archive are often all we have left of them. So we're committed to capturing the contemporary images that will define history moving forward.

Luckily, we have a talented group of photographers willing to help out led by Ryan Rowell, Director of Contemporary Photography.

Pictured below:
This month, we featured a collection from Erika Hanchar of Rowell Photography, who captured the unveiling of Willard Kinzie's handprint at the end of the Waterfront Heritage Trail.

As the first mayor after the incorporation of the City of Barrie in 1959, Kinzie blazed a trail that led to developments across the city, including street lights at Five Points intersection and the construction of Centennial Park.

An avid hiker at the age of 97, it's only fitting that Kinzie would offer you a "high-five" after finishing the six-kilometre trail, which will be completed in 2017 featuring historic stations courtesy of the Barrie Historical Archive. 

ROCK SOLID: The Unbreakable Simcoe Hotel

Mary Harris,
Director of History and Research

I ran a hand over the blackened beams. My fingers were stained by the powdery charcoal as if I had just lifted a charred log out of a campfire. The scorched wood was cool to the touch, as well it should be considering that the fire that left its mark on these lengths of lumber burned late into a February night in 1876. 

When I arrived today, it was mid afternoon and the regulars were ensconced in their favourite seats at the bar, warm and comfortable, enjoying beers and friendly conversation. The barroom looked modern. It was extensively renovated in 2010, with new walls, booths, lighting and pool tables, but this contemporary scene keeps very well the long history of this spot. The floor that the patrons walk on is supported by the heavy beams hewn from the trees of local forests. These wooden supports were laid in place by craftsmen in 1853, and even though a devastating fire laid waste the entire hotel and stable above, the hardwood beams held fast even as the flames licked them and turned them black. 

Roberta has been working at the Simcoe Hotel, in the bar and dining room known as the Bourbon, for two years now. Graciously offering me half an hour of her time, she lead me down into the cavernous cellar of the grand old Simcoe, rebuilt in 1877. We zigzagged through the kitchen area, up this step and down another, finally coming to a steep and narrow staircase with uneven cement steps, bordered by fieldstone walls and no rails. I was excited already. If a person can physically get into the history of Barrie, being in the foundation of the iconic Simcoe Hotel must surely be it, and I was one very happy amateur local historian to have this privilege. 

The original walls were—astonishingly—straight and true. The passage of time and all its frost and fire, excavation of the streets, rumbling locomotives and seismic activity, had not shaken them any. They stand like new, just as they were when the masons placed the ordinary stones in mortar 164 years ago. A fine crust of a salt-like substance adhered to the rock in some places. 

The centuries and decades were layered upon each other, it was plain to see here, with every new improvement requiring updated electrical work, heating and ventilation conduits and water pipes that snake over and under the older utilities. Old brick walls abut even older stone walls. Wooden partitions meet contemporary drywall. Some of the floor is cement, other parts are pure Barrie earth. Still, this cellar was no time capsule. It was a working part of the building, containing the beer chute and storage, heating units, unused furnishings and what has the be the oldest functioning walk-in fridge in Barrie. 

I started to pick up an ancient metal bucket, but it nearly crumbled in my hand. How long has this simple object tumbled around in the belly of the Simcoe? Was water tossed from it in a vain effort to save the old Simcoe Hotel? A story from the Barrie Examiner of February 17, 1876 lauded the attempts of local bystanders who tried their best to quell the flames before the fire brigade arrived.

“At about 3 o’clock on Sunday morning last our townsfolk were startled from their slumbers by the loud clanging of the Fire Alarm Bell, when it was speedily ascertained that it was the stable of the Simcoe Hotel, situated on Bayfield and Clapperton Streets, that was in flames. In a few minutes after the alarm was given, the engine was ready for action, steam and all, but alas! no horses were forthcoming to draw it, which occasioned a loss of time that was irreparable.”

In the end, the hotel and stable structures were lost, but a number of citizens, including a clergyman, had tried their best to save them. 

“Prior to the arrival of the engine at the scene of action, the Rev. Mr. Fraser, Mr. Thos. Lennox, Mr. Hunt, Mr. Hughes and others did much to keep the fire in check by playing on the flames with a hand engine etc.” 

I asked Roberta if she ever got lost down in this maze-like cellar, but she had quickly developed a ‘peanut trail’, as she called it, method of finding her way back out. A bit later, I put Roberta on the spot again. Had she ever experienced anything ghostly in the basement? She replied that nothing of note had ever happened to her, but she did feel that someone else was usually in the basement with her. 

Before we returned to daylight, Roberta showed me where the moonshine had been made, in a low, well-drained anteroom. I believe most taverns in Barrie made their own liquor at one time or another, and prohibition must have made the production of illicit hooch all the more necessary—very hard to run a bar with no drink, after all!

Solid chunks of granite, sand and rugged, smoke-damaged timbers support the Simcoe just as well as they did 16 decades ago, and show no sign of ever doing anything else. This rustic-looking foundation speaks volumes to the skill of the original craftsmen, to the tenacity of those who tried to save the earlier hotel building, to George Ball and company who hoisted a phoenix from literal ashes and to Mr. Shanacy who persevered as a hotelier here even after that disaster.

The next time you find yourself in the Bourbon, be sure to raise a glass to all of them.
Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. Her tales from around town can be found on Barrie Today and her blog titled The Curious Nibbler, as well as in the Barrie Historical Archive blog.
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Our 35,000 square foot state-of-the-art Toyota facility on Mapleview Drive West is located in the heart of Barrie’s bustling south end. With family service and values at its core, the Jackson’s experience is second to none.  Our award-winning service department puts you first while you wait for your vehicle to be carefully serviced by our certified technicians. Treat yourself to a manicure, massage or meal while you wait in our comfortable sitting room. Drive away relaxed and assured that your vehicle, like you, has been pampered to perfection.

The Jackson's Toyota family is pleased to support the Barrie Historical Archive and help preserve and protect Barrie’s rich history. Through innovative technology and the power of social media, Jackson’s joins other families and local business in telling the great stories of our community and how, together, we built one of Canada's greatest cities.


As a not-for-profit organization, the Barrie Historical Archive is funded entirely on the generosity of businesses and community members. With your help, we can continue to provide a free, educational and researchable online archive.

As a patron, your monthly donation of $20 or annual gift of $240 would ensure that we can keep the memories and history of our community alive and accessible for years to come. Click here to learn more about becoming a patron of the Barrie Historical Archive. For more ways to support the Barrie Historical Archive, please read on.
Barrie Historical Archive
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Mailing Address:
12 Dunlop Street East
Barrie, ON  
L4M 1A3

Did you know?

In 1898, patients at the Royal Victoria Hospital paid $1.14 for daily care. Today, the average daily cost to treat one patient is roughly $500!

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