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Auto garage with gas pumps once occupied Theatre Block (4 photos)

Late in the 1930s, the bloom was off the rose and the corner businessmen were as likely to be found in a courtroom as they were to be in their shops

Under the large gold letters emblazoned Grand Theatre, all is very quiet. Signs on the entrance direct patrons to use the main box-office doors at the Uptown Theater, several steps to the west, on the same block.

But it wasn’t always so sedate at 43 Dunlop St. W.

Back in 1923, Fred VanPatter opened an automobile garage with gasoline pumps on this spot.

At that time, this section of Dunlop Street, west of Five Points, was known as Elizabeth Street.

This small portion of the downtown Barrie business district really began to come alive that year.

At about the same time as the VanPatter garaged opened, Charles Robinson purchased the old M.H. Spencer shop two doors east at the corner of Maple Avenue and Elizabeth Street and went into the hardware business.

The space between the two storefronts became occupied by the Capitol Theatre in September.

In 1927, VanPatter welcomed Harold Hill into his venue. Mr. Hill was involved in the sales of Durant and Peerless autos, while Mr. Van Patter engaged in DeSotos.

This partnership continued until 1930 when Hill found that he required a much bigger space and relocated to 55 Elizabeth St., where he remained for many years.

Late in the decade, the bloom was off the rose and these corner businessmen were as likely to be found in a courtroom as they were to be in their shops.

In each case, Mr. Robinson was at the receiving end of a complaint by either Mr. VanPatter, Mr. Garrett of the Capitol Theatre, or both!

Robinson’s neighbours objected to where his truck was parked, how his deliveries were received, where he placed his outdoor
displays and a litany of other perceived annoyances.

In the end, Robinson relocated to 31 Dunlop St. E.

Fred VanPatter was struck down by a stroke at age 54 years in August 1934 and so ended the auto garage era at 43 Elizabeth St.

R.F. Garrett saw an opportunity in the empty space and, in October 1936, announced that Barrie would have yet another theatre. He proposed to build a “theatre new and modern in every way with about 600 seats” and to have it open in five weeks.

Garrett may have been a little overambitious as his theatre project took six months to complete, but the wait and extra care seems to have been worth it.

The Imperial Theatre opened on March 18, 1937 in grand fashion and the Northern Advance remarked: “Barrie went on record as being the only town of its size in the district to have three theatres which are placed within a hundred square yards of each other.”

The newspaper went into great detail about all of the fine features that new patrons could expect to encounter, including a façade of red, black and primrose vitro-lite material, a modern advertising marquee, a nicely lit lobby in blue and orange tones, well upholstered seats, plush rugs and curtains, and the very latest in sound, projection and screen equipment, of course.

From 1930 until 1937, the Mary Payne Shop, which sold ladies’ clothing and accessories, operated out of the same address.

By 1939, a small business called The Nut Shop, run by Mrs. Stewart, also shared the theatre building.

This was followed by a branch of the Meyer’s Photography Studio company which remained on the site until leaving Barrie in 1949.

In November 1950, Jean Christie opened her ladies’ wear shop in the former Meyer’s store. This business became extremely popular locally and remained at that address for two decades.

This theatre venue, like the others on the block, will soon slip completely into the history books. The days of soda and popcorn, 10-cent matinees, cartoons and Paramount news reels will be rather fond memories for the many who enjoyed the excitement of a movie outing along Dunlop Street West.

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.


Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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