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REMEMBER THIS: Looking through the windows at Shanacy's mansion

Home at 87 Toronto St. 'would have been one of the finer homes in downtown Barrie' in its time

In 1887, the Northern Advance reported that “Mr. Shanacy’s new Mansion, Toronto Street, is approaching completion.”

On first glance, 87 Toronto St. may not look like a mansion house, but in its day, this would have been one of the finer homes in downtown Barrie.

His beginnings were humble. Michael Shanacy was born in 1843 in West Gwillimbury Township to Irish immigrant parents. The Shanacy family did not linger long in this rural place but migrated to Barrie by the time young Michael was eight years old.

Shanacy had many talents and aspirations and they would reveal themselves, one by one, over the years. Quite likely, his name first became locally prominent through his musical activities.

Shanacy was a gifted musician and played violin, coronet and piano exceptionally well. By the early 1870s, he was the conductor of Shanacy’s Quadrille Band. The band was popular in Barrie and played at numerous dances and gatherings.

Just as it is today, music is not the easiest thing to count on as a way of making a living. Shanacy was a young married man at this time and a father to three small children. In 1873, he turned his hand to an entirely new line of work and went into the business of innkeeping.

Late in 1873, he began advertising in the local newspapers that he had taken over the management of the Simcoe House, that iconic flat iron hotel at Five Points that would long be associated with the Shanacy name.

The Simcoe was an old-style building, one of those rough-cast and plaster structures common to the downtown area of Barrie in its earliest days, and like those, it was a fire waiting to happen.

In 1876, Shanacy was leasing the building from a Mrs. Dunlop and constantly at work trying to improve the hotel. On Feb. 12 of that year, Shanacy took a short trip to Toronto. In the early-morning hours of the 13th, he received a message from Barrie. The Simcoe was on fire.

As the story is told, Shanacy then raced his horses as fast as they could move and “was in Barrie before the smouldering ruins of his hotel had died out.”

The old inn was a total loss. Dunlop was fully insured and would have the structure rebuilt. Shanacy had no such policy but vowed to carry on as he had before and promised to present an even more commodious hotel to his patrons. He did just that.

In 1885, he took on a new role. He was appointed deputy collector of inland revenue, a position he kept for 35 years.

The new Shanacy house on Toronto Street was designed by either Thomas Kennedy or Eustace Bird, or both. Bird was the son of legendary local architect Shearman Bird. In 1887, the younger Bird may have been honing his craft under Kennedy’s expert tutelage.

Eustace Bird would design a number of notable homes in Barrie before departing for America, Britain and Europe, where he studied under the best in the industry.

Shanacy moved into this sturdy and stately house with his third wife, Jean. Two wives and most of his children had predeceased him. He later moved to 99 Mulcaster St. When he died in 1924, he was survived by Jean and by one son and one daughter.

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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