Skip to content

REMEMBER THIS: Miracle and tragedy on the lake: Part one (4 photos)

This week's Remember This is the first instalment of a tragic accident and miraculous rescue from 1924

A miracle occurred on Lake Simcoe in 1924, yet it was a tragedy at the same time.

Hearts were broken but there was also joy when the townsfolk of Barrie learned about a most unlikely rescue after all hope had been lost.

These merchant families of downtown Barrie were linked in business circles, in their mutual neighbourhoods and eventually, by marriage.

Duncan J. Murchison, original owner of the spectacular house on Sunnidale Road known as Woodlawn, had a dry goods store on Mulcaster Street, which started in business in the late 1860s. His obvious success and wealth allowed his son, Duncan Charles Murchison, to attend law school.

When the younger Murchison, known as ‘D.C.’, qualified to practise law in 1883, he opened an office above his father’s shop.

In 1889, the up-and-coming barrister married Minnie Elvira Ball, daughter of George Ball, the prolific builder who had a part in the great majority of older buildings in Barrie. The fine old Ball home once stood where the Royal Thai Cuisine restaurant sits today. Of course, Ball’s planing mill across the street took up a good portion of the section of land bordered by Ross, John (now Maple Avenue), Dunlop and Bayfield streets.

The couple had three daughters, Monita, Phyllis and Margaret. In 1919, both elder daughters married.

Monita wed Edgar Smith, son of George Gibson ‘G.G.’ Smith, longtime cabinet maker and undertaker who had a shop next to the Ball planing mill before moving to the northeast corner of Bayfield and Collier streets.

Phyllis Murchison married Ernest Townsley, an insurance man. This couple moved to British Columbia not long after their marriage. Monita and her banker husband relocated to Coburg, Ont., by 1921.

That left only Margaret at home. Born Inez Margaret Murchison in 1908, she was the youngest child in the household, arriving more than a decade after than her next eldest sister. She must have been a welcome surprise to her 40-year-old mother.

In the summer of 1924, Margaret was 15. Until that point, her life included keeping her place on the list of first honours at Prince of Wales School, attending to social engagements and visiting her sisters out of town with her mother.

She was a delicate child and had to be careful. After all, she suffered through rheumatic fever in childhood and then barely won her battle with influenza during the terrible Spanish flu epidemic.

Delicate she was not as the events of July 1924 proved. Margaret Murchison’s fortitude had been drastically underestimated by all. Everyone would come to know that the young lady was far stronger than anyone, including herself, realized.

It started with a canoe trip across Kempenfelt Bay on a pleasant afternoon.

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.

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