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REMEMBER THIS: Almost forgotten Rogers Park

Like many areas, Rogers Park certainly looks very different than it once did

As the 20th century dawned, the small town of Barrie was becoming eager to be a centre of industry.

The Underhill Shoe Factory, the Barrie Tanning Company and Wilkinson’s Flour Mill were highly successful and employed a lot of men. Barrie’s proximity to a good water supply and excellent rail access was the icing on the cake.

In 1904, several leading businessmen with prominent names, such as Dyment and Strathy, reached into their deep pockets and formed a brand-new venture: the Barrie Carriage Company. They did this with a fair bit of backing from the town, which included a free building lot, drastically reduced taxes, and a $20,000 loan, which must have been a huge gamble at the time.

The carriage works made several false starts followed by rebounds. An economic downtown in 1907 stalled its progress and then the Great War that followed set them back once again. Ultimately, the company failed but, surprisingly, it was not the lack of business that caused its demise, but the abundance of it. The Barrie Carriage Company consistently underestimated the demand for its products and lost customers as it could not fulfil their orders in time.

After briefly attempting to move into the age of automobile manufacturing, the company collapsed under the weight of its debts. As the town had so much invested in the company, it was left to maintain the site and attempt to sell or lease it.

Finally, in late 1926, Clarke and Clarke, leather goods manufacturers of Toronto, bought the empty factory. The property stood on the corner of John and Ellen streets, just west of the railway tracks and the head of Kempenfelt Bay.

South of this new tannery, between Bradford Street and the railway, was a bit of a wasteland. The area was marshy with a creek running through it and prone to flooding. A few scattered homes dotted the area and there were several pockets of scrubby woods.

A section of this land, adjacent to the tannery property but not needed for its operation, was left in town hands and soon caught the eye of Deputy Reeve J.R. Rogers. He was keen to see something done with this set of unused lots and began to promote the idea of a recreational park.

In March 1930, the town council officially created a bylaw that set aside the property for use as a public park. Each spring, a considerable amount of dirt was swept from the streets of Barrie, enough in fact to be used as fill for the new park.

The name of the park was never in question. Although no name had been debated or officially agreed upon, council members had referred to the project as Rogers Park from the beginning and so the name stuck.

The remainder of the land south of Rogers Park, some 10 acres between Bradford Street and the bay, became the focus of a make work project for out of work men at the height of the Depression years. In 1935, work crews were set to work cutting brush and spreading trucked in fill and gravel. It was hoped that the area, when cleared and dried out, might be suitable for a camping ground for local folks as well as tourists.

By 1937, the town began to make plans to turn Rogers Park into a trailer park for travellers. They planned to connect water mains and electric light to the area. These plans were derailed by water – the water that constantly kept the natural swamp wet and the poor quality of the lake water at the intended bathing beach.

Sadly, part of the park was turned into a garbage dump in mid 1939 as the existing dump had reached capacity. In the 1940s, various plans were hatched to build a large stadium and make Rogers Park a centre for baseball.

Rogers Park never achieved its grandest dreams, but it still remains in the memories of softball enthusiasts and the children who grew up in the area.

Parts of the park were sold to Allandale Motors in the late 1940s, and other sections later became the grounds of the Barrie Sewage Treatment Plant.

A condominium building stands now in the general vicinity of the old Clarke and Clarke Tannery while the little creek that ran through the former Rogers Park is beautifully landscaped and includes a nice footpath along its banks.

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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