The prominent turreted house on the corner of Bayfield and Sophia streets has been the centre of quite a bit of controversy this week. Surrounded now with a solid wooden fence, this gorgeous pre-Great War brick home is awaiting its fate, along with several neighbouring properties. Soon heavy machinery will come in, bricks will fall and windows will shatter.
Before the barrier, and before it was split into apartments, this beautiful building was the setting for many happy occasions during the decades that it was the family home of John Orton Scythes.
In 1847, William Scythes brought his wife, Jane, and their five children from Ireland. They settled in the southern part of Simcoe County near the farm of John Banting and his wife, Esther, who was a sister to Jane Scythe. Within months of their arrival, both William and Jane died, and the Bantings took in the orphaned Scythes children. They raised them along with their own brood of children which included William T. Banting who later became the father of Sir Frederick Banting.
One of the boys, Thomas Scythe, married Eliza Ann McLean in 1864. Their son, John Orton Scythes, was born in Thornton in 1878. In the early 1900s, John opened a carriage and farm implement business in Meaford, and it was there that he met his wife, Caroline Jemima Gifford.
John and Mima (as she was known) married in Meaford on Sept. 5, 1906. By about 1910, John Scythes had left selling farm equipment on his own accord and taken a traveling sales position with the J. Fleury Company, an Aurora-based plow manufacturer.
In 1912, John and Mima welcomed a daughter. She was called Mary Dorothy and she would be their only child.
After a few years living in Toronto, the Scythes were ready to return to Simcoe County. When they arrived in Barrie near the end of the Great War, the family lived first in the former home of Dr. Bosanko at Mulcaster and Worsley streets. Once they settled into the prominent home on Bayfield Street, they remained there for 33 years.
John Orton Scythes was on the road for 38 years selling what came to be known as the “Famous Joseph Fleury Jr. Plows’’ that are much sought after by antique collectors today. When at home in Barrie, he was very involved with the local curling and bowling scenes, as town newspapers often reported. He also loved his garden.
Meanwhile, Mima took a lot of interest in her daughter, Dorothy, who turned out to be a gifted student. In 1929, Dorothy, who was in her fourth year at Barrie Collegiate Institute, won the public speaking contest for her school – as her cousin Orma Scythes had two years earlier – and then went on to win the entire school district.
The lovely Scythes home was the ideal venue for the many community and social occasions that Mima Scythes enjoyed arranging. In 1925, Mima hosted the closing meeting of the Collier Street Methodist W.M.S. at her house. The Barrie Examiner reported that “the rooms were overflowing and a pleasing and profitable program given. Dr. Ritta Kilborne (Mrs. Scythes‘ sister), on furlough from China, gave an enlightening address on the conditions in China at the present time. Solos were sung by Mrs. Hewitt and Miss Cheeseman.’’
When John‘s mother became older and could no longer live alone, she naturally came to the roomy house in Barrie. The widowed Mrs. Eliza Scythes seems to have been well loved there. In 1936, she celebrated her 92nd birthday with a party at 113 Bayfield St. Eliza was a lively person who enjoyed reading and knitting. But her real love, she said, was to be out riding in a motor car. At her party, she was asked about her thoughts on modern life. She answered that the habits of modern day youth were really not her business but she was not in favour of beverage rooms, nor the current fad of young women wearing shorts.
Another happy occasion mentioned in the papers was the surprise bridal shower Mima threw for her daughter, Dorothy, in May of 1939. Members of Mina‘s bridge club were in attendance, along with a few other assorted friends. The highlight of the party was apparently the mock wedding that was played out and included some of the women acting out the role of groom, minister and flower girl.
Dorothy married her beau in June of 1939 and moved to Toronto, and her grandmother, Eliza Scythes, passed away in the house in 1942. John and Mima Scythes remained at 113 Bayfield St., until a heart attack forced John to retire in 1948, and to then move to more manageable housing up the street at 175 Bayfield St.
Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.