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Let's look back on the tale of a daring rescue (4 photos)

The same day Britain declared war on Germany, a disastrous fire erupted at the corner of Mulcaster and Dunlop

Tuesday, Aug. 4, 1914, on the same day that Britain declared war on Germany, a disastrous but non-fatal fire erupted at the southwest corner of Mulcaster and Dunlop streets.

The corner shop housed the McLean & DeHart Garage, which adjoined a Massey-Harris dealership, with the original location of the Barrie Examiner next to that.

All three businesses, some insured and some not, were eventually gutted in the blaze, but the most urgent situation that arose during the early morning fire was the plight of the residents in the flats above the shops.

Only the Thomas family, over the garage business, was at home at the time and their frightened screams could be heard coming from behind the thickly billowing smoke.

As the fire bells rang, a small group of local citizens formed a rescue party. Mr. C.G. Strange, Mr. C. Carley, a passing policeman and Dr. Victor Hart all secured a ladder while Manuel Hebner climbed up and carried each family member down to safety.

The heroes of the day were long remembered in the town. One of these quick-to-act men is the subject of this story as his lovely former home is what I term a ‘building at risk’. The Dr. Hart house is an older structure sitting alone in the midst of current development and it has a large ‘for sale’ sign on the front lawn.

Possibly 99 Bayfield St. will be repurposed very soon, or perhaps it will instead be visited by a demolition crew and be replaced with a modern edifice of some sort. In either case, it has a story that should be told.

The house that was once home to Dr. Victor Hart sits on an island of the past, surrounded by modernity. Only Michael & Marion’s restaurant, on the south corner of Bayfield and Worsley streets, also remains from the Victorian era, but it is much renovated, very popular and well loved and so it doesn’t dwell beneath the same cloud of uncertainty that the Hart house does.

The doctor’s house dates back to the 1870s. It was built by local contractor, John O’Neill, and was lived in for a time by the Strong family. I first found a mention of it in the June 13, 1878 edition of the Northern Advance.

“For Sale or To Rent. That desirable brick residence on the corner of Worsley and Bayfield Sts., formerly occupied by Mr. J.G. Strong. Apply to Mrs. O’Neill.”

In 1901, two physician brothers came to town. Dr. Fred J. Hart and Dr. Victor A. Hart, sons of Charles and Harriet Hart of Dalston, set up a practice at the corner of Mulcaster and Dunlop streets. They had been educated in London, England and in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland before returning to Canada in 1896.

Victor Hart had the reputation as a brilliant and self-made man. He had entered university with no secondary schooling and proved himself by matriculation or, in other words, simply challenged the entrance exams and passed them.

Upon graduation, he practiced in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., for three years before joining his brother in Barrie.

Fred Hart later left this town and set up his practice in Winnipeg, Man.

In March 1911, Victor Hart took a bride. He married Mary Jane Nixon, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Nixon of Dunlop Street.

In July 1913, the Harts welcomed a baby daughter, Harriet Jane. In September 1916, a son named Paul joined the family.

In October 1917, Dr. Hart purchased 99 Bayfield St., the house that had most recently been in the hands of the Plaxton family. He had a number of renovations done before moving day including the creation of a medical office, complete with a separate entrance, on the lower floor of the south wing.

Members of the Hart family lived happily in the large elegant brick home for many years. Mary Jane ran the household and the doctor lived an incredibly full life as a very respected local physician, frequent Liberal Party campaign worker, member of the Royal Victoria Hospital board of trustees, member of the Board of Education, cricket player, curler, singer and musician, active church member and keen gardener. Exactly when did Dr. Hart sleep?

Victor Hart passed away in the house, after several weeks of illness, on July 29, 1929. He was 69 years old. He was remembered by many as an active, intelligent and giving man who, in fact, often treated patients who couldn’t afford to pay him.

Mary Jane continued to live in the house for over forty years more, worked as a clerk at the County Registrar’s Office and took in many boarders over the decades. Since her passing in 1974, the steadfast brick house has housed a series of businesses including a number of law offices.

Crimson bricks molded 140 years ago, a generous front porch, high windows, delightful gingerbread trim – 99 Bayfield St. is a grand house with a lot of life left in it, or is it?

My fingers are crossed.

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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