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REMEMBER THIS: Chimney sweepers wore many hats (4 photos)

Looking back at chimney sweeping in old Barrie, a job that was hazardous, dirty and difficult to perform, not to mention low-paying and underappreciated

It took a tough customer to be a chimney sweep in Barrie in those early years of the town, when every building was heated by some kind of combustible material.

In general, the sweeps wore several hats at once and were quite often acting simultaneously as police constable and keeper of the dog pound.

Charles Henry was one of the first. He was appointed in October 1870 by the town council and was required by law to clean every chimney or flue in the municipality at least once during each year at the owner’s expense.

Within a few years, the town was without a sweep once again. As the job was hazardous, dirty and difficult to perform, while being low-paying and underappreciated, it was little wonder that few stuck with it for very long.

In the latter part of the 1870s, the position was elevated by the new title of chimney inspector. Nonetheless, Robert Bradford, the appointed man, still carried out his duties with long brushes and sticks in the filthiest of conditions.

Perhaps the most ideal candidate for the job came along in the mid-1880s. Watson Marshall Jones, born in Markham in 1852, was the scrappy great grandson of United Empire Loyalists who had fled post-revolution America in the 1790s.

Watson Jones married Caroline Catherine McCarthy in Barrie in 1873. Mrs. Jones was no shrinking violet herself. In fact, in 1885, she landed herself before a judge, and in the Police Court section of the Northern Advance for taking offence to an accusation of theft by a neighbouring man.

“I went to the defendant for a ring that belonged to Mrs. Wood. She denied having the ring. She ordered me off the premises. She pushed me back and when I got on the street, she struck me in the eye. (The eye was nicely marked.) Charlotte Wood, sworn, said she was present when the row began. Mrs. Jones said if you don’t get off my premises, I will put you off. She then went and got a stick, and struck and pushed him out onto the street, and threw the stick at him striking him in the eye. He then gave her a kick.”

A fine of $2.95 was paid and “Mrs. Jones left the court with fire in her eye.”

Watson Jones raised a family in a little house, now long gone, which would have been located on Maple Avenue in what is now the back parking lot of the large Bell building on Bayfield Street.

In addition to cleaning chimneys, he took any job available to support his brood including tree trimming, cleaning up after Barrie’s frequent fires, ditch clearing and attending to the water closets at Barrie Collegiate.

The colourful chimney inspector was involved in a number of dust-ups over the years, most of them battles with members of his own extended family and in-laws, the Hebners and McCarthys. His name frequently appeared in the list of indigent people who required financial support from the town, but just as often it was included among those who gave what they could to the Ardagh Memorial Home for women and children. This did not go unnoticed.

At a town hall meeting in 1912, Alderman Bidwell complained that Watson Jones had recently been treated at Royal Victoria Hospital at the town’s expense and demanded to know who ordered the admission.

“It was His Worship the Mayor,” answered the chief magistrate. A number of citizens of Barrie had asked the mayor if he would do this for Jones who had served the town for many years.

Watson Jones died in 1921 at age 69 from some form of cancer, according to his death registration. It wouldn’t be surprising if his final illness was in some way connected to the many hazardous jobs he took over the years.

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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