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REMEMBER THIS: Looking through the windows at the decorators

In 1920s, Goldie Harper ran successful interior decorating business at 34 Toronto St.

Reinvention. In the past, most immigrants to Canada generally carried on in a style similar to what their previous life had been. 

They took their early experiences as an innkeeper or farmer and improved their lives with the opportunities available in this new country.

Others took the chance to become somebody else entirely. Goldstein R. Harper was born in Hackney in the East End of London, England. There, he was the head law clerk in a solicitor’s office.

In 1914, Harper sailed to Canada with the idea of becoming a farmer in this land. Goldie, as he was known, settled in Stroud and later sent for his wife and daughters.

In the 1920s, Goldie Harper was running his own successful interior decorating business which he operated out of 34 Toronto Street.

This was a rather remarkable move as the interior design industry was in its infancy one hundred years ago, something likely to be found in a big American city and not in our small town.

Ella Anderson DeWolfe, also known as Lady Mendl, was an actress and socialite, and considered the first to call herself an interior designer. Born in New York City to a Canadian doctor, Lady Mendl became the must-have decorator of royalty, exclusive hotels, manor homes and grand theatres by the 1930s.

Dorothy Draper, with her rather appropriate sounding surname, was a contemporary of Lady Mendl. She too was a high society New York City woman with no small amount of privilege. 

In 1923, Draper opened what some argue was the first interior design company.

Goldie Harper was way ahead of his time, it seems. From law clerk to would-be farmer, to paint and wallpaper man, his career path was varied but not as varied as that of his cousin.

In 1931, the Northern Advance wrote about F.A. Mitchell-Hedges, famed jungle explorer, who was touring Canada at the time. 

Mitchell-Hedges had married a Canadian woman and adopted a daughter here but he spent most of his time in the jungles of South and Central America where he discovered tribes, found the remnants of the lost civilization of Atlantis and acquired an ancient Mayan crystal skull.

No doubt, Goldie Harper would have tuned in to his cousin’s popular radio show where Mitchell-Hedges recounted tales of being chased by ‘natives’ and fighting jaguars, all recounted to a background sound of tribal drumming. 

Of course, most of his claims were later debunked but it is believed that Mitchell-Hedges was a large part of the inspiration behind the Indiana Jones saga.

Surprisingly, Barrie had at least two interior decorators operating in town at the same time. 47 Gowan Street was once the home of an interior decorator and painter named William Ardell.

Ardell’s inspirations could have been many as he had done quite a bit of travelling before settling in Barrie, and continued to take short trips afterwards.

William Ardell’s parents were Irish born, his father an officer in the British Army who was posted to India shortly after his 1866 marriage. 

The couple remained in India for 10 years and had three sons during that time there including William. After his father’s service there ended, the family headed to England but only remained there for a year. 

William was about eight years old when the family sailed to New York and then settled in Gorrie, Ont., a rural hamlet west of Orangeville.

One after the other, William’s siblings migrated to Barrie and he followed them in 1910. In 1923, his health began to fail. The diagnosis was pulmonary tuberculosis, then incurable.

Until the mid-1940s, no treatment was available for his ailment so isolation, to prevent community spread, was the only option. William was sent to the Gravenhurst Sanitorium where he passed away short time later.

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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