Skip to content

REMEMBER THIS: Looking through the windows at 12 Thomson St.

Two years ago, the Barrie Historical Archive began to collect short stories about some of the lesser-known buildings in Barrie

Cyber attacks and local history, never the twain shall meet. Wouldn’t you agree? Unfortunately, this did happen on Feb. 25 and a vital resource was removed from the digital world. My hope is that this a temporary situation.

When it comes back online, in four to six months as some have estimated, be sure to have a look. Many of the old Barrie newspapers are available to read, just as they looked in the 19th and 20th centuries, at

So, as the City of Hamilton, Ontario, which hosts this wonderful collection, deals with the fallout of this event, I find myself just a little bit lost. Where will I find new and fascinating stories for the people of the City of Barrie?

Two years ago, the Barrie Historical Archive began to collect short stories about some of the lesser-known buildings in Barrie. Grand homes, government buildings, churches, schools and business blocks have already been well covered.

What about the more ordinary structures of this community, would they not have interesting stories too? As it turns out, they do and I will be sharing some of these in the coming weeks.

Let’s begin with 12 Thomson St. This house is a moderately sized brick Victorian home, nothing fancy about it. It is solid looking, features a large front porch and is almost identical in construction to number 11 across the street.

This old house sits on what was once known as the Eccles property. Lumber baron Archibald Thomson bought the land before 1867 as it was that year that he offered 6 acres of his property to Barrie. That land was later to become what is now Queen’s Park.

As you have noticed, the names of these early landowners are reflected in the neighbourhood street names. Florence Street is another as Florence was the name of one of Archibald Thomson’s daughters.

And how about Sophia Street? The inspiration for this name has long been a mystery and many guesses have been put forward. These include female members of the British Royal Family and close relatives of prominent military men in our region.

As I took a closer look at the history of the land surrounding 12 Thomson St., I noticed something interesting which may possibly answer the Sophia question or perhaps it’s equally puzzling query about the street name’s unique local pronunciation.

The wife of Archibald Thomson was born in 1831 and was given one of those grand and flowery pre-Victorian names; Sophronia Maria Strohn. Her unusual given name varies from record to record and appears as Saphronia, Sophia, Maria or Mary at different times.

My half-baked theory is this; what if Mrs. Thomson’s given name was pronounced much like singer Mariah Carey’s first name? In that case, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to imagine that the short form Sophia might take on a similar pronunciation, the unique sof-eye-ah inflection we hear when talking about this Barrie street.

Of course, parts of Sophia Street appear to pre-date the arrival of the Thomsons in Barrie but it wouldn’t surprise me if Mrs. Thomson’s particular name pronunciation became attached to the street at some point during her residency in our community.

Archibald Thomson died in 1887. After his passing, much of Thomson’s land interests were managed by a small group of prominent local businessmen, George Ball, James and Martin Burton. The two Burton brothers were both sons in law of the late Archibald Thomson.

The men continued their caretaker roles into the early 20th century. James Burton died in 1910, after many years of infirmity, and his brother, Martin, followed in 1914.

Number 12 Thomson St. was often rented out during this era and it was one particular tenant family who set the town abuzz, and afire, in 1909. Soon after contents insurance was secured on both 12 Thomson St. and on their leased place of business just west of the Post Office, flames erupted at both places.

As we can see, the Thomson Street house carried on, reasonably unscathed. However, the leased hall was nearly destroyed. It remained in a lesser form until recently and is now referred to as the hole in the ground.

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.

Reader Feedback

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.
Read more