Ladies of a certain era never tell their age, nor do some brick beauties of the Victorian era. I have spent hours in the library, County Archives and Land Registry Office, yet one lovely old house on Bayfield Street still refuses to give up her true birthdate.
How vain she is!
I would guess that she has seen a dozen decades of change, at least, from her perch on the corner of Bayfield and Worsley Streets. Today, 89 Bayfield St. is the prestigious Michael & Marion’s Restaurant, run for many years now by chef/owner, Kent Smith, who was gracious enough to allow me to visit his lovely venue one wintry day.
Once upon a time, this popular eatery was a private home, or rather two homes; a duplex. The south half is the restaurant and the north half is the Side Door Bar, although the dividing wall has been removed. There are still two separate basements with two separate stair cases descending into them.
I first started researching this spot, then known simply as Lot #4, on the east side of Bayfield St., in the records of 1876. It was then owned by Mr. Thomas Cundle, local farmer, lumberman and politician who owned this chunk of land and quite a bit more. He eventually had a road, a village and a school named for him. The Cundle farmhouse stood on the land where the Kozlov Centre stands today.
A succession of tenants was listed on the lot during the 1870s and 1880s including names such as Brawley, Silk and Wesley. For reasons unknown, banker Edmund Lally also briefly leased the spot.
The earliest City Directory held in the Barrie Public Library, is for the year 1927, and it shows that the residents then were members of the well-known Vair family. William Vair, a professional gardener from the Lowlands of Scotland, and his, wife Jessie Bell, started a greenhouse business called Vairville on the western edge of town. Sons, James and John Vair, ran a grocer shop on Dunlop St. in the early 1900s. James was elected Mayor of Barrie in 1909.
It was John Vair, and his wife Mary, who resided at 89 Bayfield St. during that time. John was recorded as the caretaker for the bowling green. Also mentioned at the same address, but perhaps in a separate half of the house, was Jessie Vair. This was likely John’s younger sister.
By 1939, this house was owned by Vernon Hambly. Married to Edith Ness since 1910, he and his wife moved into the Simcoe Hotel in 1922 after Vern purchased the business. They sold the hotel in 1937 and moved up the hill to 89 Bayfield St. Only one year later, Edith suddenly died. By 1939, Vern had a new wife, Helen Chalmers.
The Hamblys had lived in the house for a quarter of a century when Vernon died in 1963. His widow, Helen, was still listed at the address in 1969 and may well have lived there for another decade as she did not pass away until 1980.
The house at 89 Bayfield St. first transformed into a dining establishment when Lipsmacker’s Restaurant opened up in the 1980s. I well recall their racy red lips logo!
As the 1980s closed, a new casual fine dining spot, Michael & Marion’s opened. I am ashamed to say that I only had the pleasure once, and that was in 1989, as I was expecting my first child. It was delightful but several more children, and many years of take-out and kid-friendly not-so-fine dining followed, and I regret that I have not made my way back in.
What I did enjoy recently was my all-access self-guided tour of Michael & Marion’s. The dining room and bar are beautifully renovated, each in different motifs, both quite modern but still retaining much of the original features such as the old fireplaces.
Hints to the grand lady’s true age are to be found in the basement where rough-hewn straight tree trunks still support the main floor, and the handiwork of long ago stone masons is evident in the walls.
The private party room on the second floor, once an apartment rental unit I’m told, has a trap door in the ceiling. If braver folks, like my photographer son, are willing, you can stand on the bar and poke your head through to the third floor. You will see partially-constructed rooms made from old style lath and plaster, as if someone once had plans to use the attic space but never finished.
And now the old house turned restaurant sits stubbornly on her lot, firmly rooted to the ground and refusing to go anywhere, even as her brick sisters slowly vanish and tall square towers rise to cast their shadows on her. She is an anachronism in her neighbourhood now, but I’m happy she is still there – even if she won’t tell me what year she was built!
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.