The atmosphere in Barrie during the summer of 1921 may not have been unlike the present one.
Memories of those lost to the Spanish Flu of 1918 lingered and the last of the Great War soldiers had only recently returned home.
Folks in town just wanted some kind or normalcy in their lives, and a little bit of joy.
Strawberry suppers in the local church halls, homemade ice cream from full cream and eggs, boat excursions across the bay, and the first of the many family reunions to be held at St. Vincent Park all spelled summer in Barrie.
For those who had the time and the money, a nice cottage on Big Bay Point, complete with five bedrooms, a large verandah, an ice house and a good sandy beach could be had for about $2,000.
If someone was in the market for a bathing suit, the shops of S.W. Moore, E.B. Sutcliffe and Mr. Devlin offered a fine selection of swimming attire in their choice of worsted wool or ribbed cotton. In those days, it was hard to tell a man’s bathing suit from a lady’s. Both were one-piece and skirted for modesty and came in all sorts of wild colours from mauve and bright yellow to the most popular shade, orange.
It was recommended that bathers should keep their beach attire strictly on the beach because to be seen about town in this partially clothed condition offended the eyes of some and the newspapers filled up with complaints about the situation. Innisfil went as far as to create a bylaw prohibiting these semi-dressed scandals from leaving the beach uncovered.
That summer, Barrie constructed a brand-new bathing house on the shore below St. Vincent Park for the enjoyment of those who would like a cooling dip in the bay. Swimming at the head of the bay was being discouraged due to the lack of a sewage treatment plant, something that wouldn’t be completed until nearly two decades later.
Unfortunately, not every trip to the water ended with parties of refreshed citizens walking home again. Many times, Cliff Carley was compelled to bring his grappling hooks to the spot where a swimmer had last been seen.
Just as it is today, the heat and humidity in Barrie could be incredible. The well-dressed town council, customarily attired in suit and tie, sometimes had to cut their weekly meetings short as the conditions inside the old town hall at Market Square became unbearable.
Not everyone had the luxury of quitting due to the heat. Still working at age 73 years, William Sibbald dropped dead at his station at the Barrie Tanning Co., on the afternoon of July 4, 1921. Dr. Wallwin attributed his death to heat stroke.
Then there was the traffic. Only 20 years after the first sighting of an automobile in Barrie, the town streets were choked with tourist traffic during the summer. Before the construction Highway 400, the route from Toronto to Muskoka was right through the centre of Barrie.
The police chief and his officers were kept busy ticketing speeders coming through town. As hard as it is to imagine, the worst spot was Bayfield Street where motorists would pick up speed on the hill and could be clocked at 62 miles per hour (99 kilometres an hour) coming through Five Points. Most were from Toronto or American-based offenders. The local police were more than happy to give them a short tour of the police station and present them with a ticket as souvenir before they went on their way.
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.