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It's cold, so how about we talk Barrie summers of long ago?

In this special New Year's Day edition of Remember This, Mary Harris takes us on a journey to Big Bay Point

As the snow falls thickly around us and the temperatures dive, take comfort in the knowledge that the Winter Solstice has passed and the days are actually lengthening now – summer is coming!

Well, it is true that my favourite season, the one of beaches and barbecues, is still a long way off but I can dream.

Let’s warm ourselves up just a bit by remembering the glory days of summering at cottages and resort hotels. Years ago, the escape from the mundane of Barrie town life often began with a steamer trip across Kempenfelt Bay to a final destination on Big Bay Point.

In the early days of holiday making, only reasonably wealthy folks or retired business people had the means to take a warm weather break. Most Barrie citizens worked hard, often ten hours a day with only Sundays off.

Gradually, those with a few extra dollars might purchase a small canvas tent and set it up in a wooded area or on some parkland on Big Bay Point. However, getting there alone could be prohibitive. Roads were next to non-existent but, if boat fare could be scratched together, the getaway was welcome.

Often, the women and children would remain on the Point for weeks while the working head of the household would join them when he could.

In the mid 1880s, enterprising farmers of the Robinson family began taking in summer boarders and found that venture to be highly profitable. With the extra cash, they converted their house into a hotel and expanded it to accommodate more guests.

Robinson’s Grove, variously known as Robinson House or Robinson’s Park, arranged with the steamer ‘Enterprise’ to bring vacationers from all over to Big Bay Point. The boat met the trains in Barrie and carried the passengers across the bay on what was then a one-hour voyage.

The success of this early somewhat rustic resort inspired the creation of another holiday spot in 1887. Mr. George Ball was contracted to build what promised to be a rather opulent summer destination. They called it Peninsular Park.

In March of 1887, the work began. Mr. Ball constructed portions of the hotel in Barrie and then had them transported by horse drawn conveyances across the lake ice. It was said that the procedure was carried on “longer than the rules of safety ordinarily permit” but no accidents were reported. The remaining supplies came with great difficulty along muddy roads later in the spring.

The Peninsular Park Hotel was built in four months by Barrie workers and opened in July 1887. The resort was large for its time and location, and a real wonder for the locals. Sixty guest rooms, a large dining hall, rotunda, a wrap-around porch, mansard roof and electric lights made it a very attractive place to stay.

The Peninsular Park Hotel had something for everyone – dances, a separate bar building, a maple syrup shack, organized games and picnics. It was said to be particularly popular with American visitors who were keen to take a holiday in the “Canadian wilderness”.

Long years after spending summer holidays on Big Bay Point, many Barrie folks including local historian Fred Grant, remembered those fun filled days fondly. They recalled the Saturday excursion into Barrie to visit the market, the tantalizing aromas of coffee and sizzling bacon being prepared for the guests and the sing songs inevitably held on the final boat trip home at the end of the season.

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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