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REMEMBER THIS: Barrie had an appetite for 'old time tales'

Fred Grant never retired from storytelling or memorabilia collecting

The Storyteller: Part Two

By 1921, Fred Grant had been living away from his hometown for 30 years. He had left Barrie to see the world but the place of his earliest memories and youthful adventures was ever on his mind.

Grant decided that these snippets of the past should be put on paper and he began to pen stories and poems about the Barrie of his boyhood. These were offered to his former employer, the Barrie Examiner, which published the pieces and found them to be an instant hit with the readers.

In December of 1921, Fred Grant realized that there was a bigger appetite for his old-time tales than he had first imagined.

“Many who have enjoyed the reminiscences of Fred W. Grant will be interested to know that Mr. Grant is at work on a collection of old photos of Barrie. This he hopes to make as comprehensive as possible, combining with it historical matter regarding the old town. In almost every home, perhaps lying in the attic, covered by dust and cobwebs, there must be some old photos as desired – pictures of old chums, old boys and old girls, old groups or places of interest – anything that would connect the modern with the old town.”

The above ad, printed in the Barrie Examiner, included Grant’s home address in Victoria, BC and asked that any photos should be labelled, described and dated before sending, if at all possible.

The Storyteller Part One

After this, Fred Grant’s memory machine went full throttle. The stories which the Examiner shared were many, lengthy and often broken into several parts, and filled with fascinating tidbits of long ago.

Who knew that there were neighbourhood youth gangs in Barrie during the late 1800s? Fred Grant shared this nugget in 1949.

“Carran’s Row on Penetang Street was the rendezvous for a lively bunch of young fellows. While they did not in any way resemble the chicken-hearted zoot-suiters of these days, they were a whole lot tougher than our Mary Street, Boys’ Block, Halfway, Market Square or East End gangs, and that’s saying plenty judged by the old-time standards.”

Not all boys were up to no good, Grant assures us in the same article. Most of his pals took an oath of life long sobriety with the Blue Ribbon Gospel Temperance Society but he admitted that quite a few “more or less changed their mind” in later years.

Fred Grant reminded readers of simpler days when most children’s amusements were of their own design as opposed to organized activities. Summer months were spent playing tag, hares and hounds, pitching horseshoes, fishing and swimming in the bay.

One lost art was the summer practice of shinnery. As you may have guessed, there is a hockey angle to this activity.

“A crowd of cronies, all armed with a small hatchet, would all go out to Hubbert’s, Todd’s or Pullen’s bush and cut the crooked trunks of small trees, which they carried back and stored like cordwood in the home shed to be dried out, and then were trimmed to individual taste for the coming enthusiastic and strenuous shinney games on bay ice, or even on dusty uneven roads in the summer.”

Wouldn’t you just love a dance cruise across the bay on a summer night? I know I would. Can we bring this back, please?

“One of the most popular summer amusements of our elders were the moonlight excursions on the steamer Enterprise to Big Bay Point where a local orchestra of a couple of fiddlers and George Burns as caller provided dancing both ways on the trip, as well as at the Pavilion at the Point where light refreshments were served.”

Grant added that a dollar bill would have paid for the entire evening, with change to spare.

Fred Grant retired from printing in 1930, and returned to his hometown in 1945, but never retired from storytelling or memorabilia collecting.

Grant passed away in Barrie in 1962 and his obituary noted that he had amassed a collection of 65 books which contained some 15,000 photographs and copies of thousands of articles. He willed the entire collection to the Barrie Public Library.

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.

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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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