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REMEMBER THIS: Looking through the windows at 49 Park St.

Fifty years would pass before the address was no longer home to the Marshall family

You might call it a baptism by fire.

Twenty-six years old, far from his home on the St. Lawrence River west of Quebec City, starting a new job and lodging in Daniel Faragher's Hotel near the foot of Owen Street, Robert Marshall was suddenly rendered homeless when the hotel and an entire block burned down in June 1871.

Welcome to Barrie, Mr. Marshall.

Not put off by this early disaster, Robert Marshall spent the rest of his life in Barrie and no doubt witnessed plenty of subsequent fires over the years.

It all began with Allan Gunn’s great idea. Gunn was one of the legendary lumber barons of Simcoe County. Others include names that you know well, like Cundles, Thomson and Burton. The timing of their arrival was impeccable as the thickly forested county was drawing settlers daily and the intended farmland was in need of clearing.

The lumbermen of the region became very rich. Very, very rich, in fact, but their industry was subject to volatile periods of boom and bust.

A good year was 1862. Allan Gunn purchased Rose Cottage on Davidson Street in Barrie, former home of early hotelier John Bingham.

In 1867, Gunn saw that Barrie was in need of a grist mill. Local grain producers had no convenient place to have their goods processed so Gunn had a mill built on the spot where the current bus station stands.

Unfortunately, 1867 was not such a good year for Allan Gunn and his lumber interests. The industry took a sharp nose dive and the grist mill was sold off within the year.

Enter miller James Wilkinson. This native of Dublin, Ireland arrived in Canada around 1854 and settled first in Quebec. By 1860, Wilkinson and his family were living in Ottawa.

Somehow, James Wilkinson got wind of a wonderful opportunity the growing village of Barrie and soon moved his family here. He enlisted his brother, Richard, to help run the mill. Richard stayed for a time, then went off to Michigan where he went into store keeping.

From his Quebec days, James Wilkinson knew of one particularly skilled and dependable stationary engineer and thus brought Robert Marshall to town.

Robert Marshall was not without a home for long. It was also in 1871 when he married Sarah Reid, one of the nine daughters of Scottish born farmer Archibald Reid of Medonte Township, east of Barrie.

The Marshalls became parents to a houseful of children. So busy was the household that Robert and Sarah forgot to do something – register the birth of their son, Archibald, in 1881. You may be surprised to know that this was not unusual.

When Archibald Marshall was born, the law requiring mandatory registration of all births in Ontario was only a decade old. The practice took a while to become widespread, and children born in more isolated rural places were more likely to have been left off the books than were town children.

Unlike today, where a stack of identification is required for any major life event, Archibald Marshall married, became a locomotive engineer and bought a house on William Street without any such thing.

It may have been the settling of a will after his mother’s 1933 death that prompted Archibald to seek a delayed birth registration. His sister, Margaret, 10 years his senior, swore a solemn declaration stating that she recalled his birth.

In 1919 Robert and Sarah Marshall purchased 49 Park St. By that time, Robert had spent many years in his engineering trade, had worked for a time as a brewer and was semi-retired and keeping himself busy as a night watchman.

Sadly, Robert Marshall did not enjoy the big brick house for long. Two years after moving in, Robert died at the home, reportedly the result of a fall. He was 74 years old.

Fifty years would pass before 49 Park St. ceased to shelter members of the Marshall family. The house remained in family hands until the last Robert and Sarah’s daughters passed away in 1968.

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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