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REMEMBER THIS: The bold, bad, and beautiful of Barrie’s history (5 photos)

To celebrate Remember This hitting a milestone of 200 articles, we look back at some of Mary Harris' favourite stories

To mark 200 local history stories in BarrieToday’s 'Remember This?' column, I have taken a look back and created a list of my all-time favourites, which wasn’t easy. So many cool people, places and events in Barrie’s past!

True crimes:

  1. The 1896 murder of John Strathy at Ovenden and the trial of Michael Brennan.
  2. Silent pictures and arson came to town with the Guthrie family.
  3. That time when the KKK came to Barrie and tried to blow up a church.
  4. Sidney James Sanford, respected citizen and financier of the Grand Opera House, vanished.
  5. James Carruthers was the first man hanged at the Barrie Jail.
  6. A loud crack of gunfire signaled the beginning of the gunfight on the government dock

Unsung heroes:

  1. The chimney sweeps of old Barrie took on a job that was hazardous, low-paying and underappreciated.
  2. In 1947, the town of Barrie still had 205 households using an outhouse. Those who cleaned them were known as night soil men.

Extraordinary buildings:

  1. Glen Ormond  sure is a beauty and, fortunately for us, she still stands.
  2. Roxboro was once the site of fantastic soirées held by the Literary Society of Barrie.
  3. A 2017 fire tried to destroy Lilac Villa but failed.
  4. Springbank was the grand home of the Burton family, later Simcoe Hall and then the IOOF Seniors Home of today.
  5. Evidence of the fire that destroyed the original Simcoe Hotel in 1876 is still visible.
  6. The peaceful Gables Park is named for a house which had some odd people in its history.

Interesting people:

  1. Fortune teller Madame Larkin was convicted of arson but somehow never saw it coming.
  2. When he died alone in the Clarkson Hotel in 1927, Thomas Baggs was called the ‘Mystery Man’.
  3. They say he once ran his route of 60 miles in a single day. So goes the legend of Deer Foot the mail carrier of nineteenth century Simcoe County.
  4. Percy Pelch was a colourful thief, jail breaker, fugitive and regular guest of the Barrie Jail.
  5. D'Alton McCarthy, lawyer, politician and avid horseman was struck down in a carriage accident in Toronto.
  6. The extraordinary story of a British military officer and his Chinese born wife Amoi Chun Bird.

Unsolved mysteries:

  1. Brewer James Anderton died suddenly while camping in his apple orchard. Was it an act of God or something else?
  2. The site of the Grand Opera House on Collier Street is said to be haunted by more than one spirit.
  3. The stuff of tall tales or an actual prehistoric creature? The truth behind Kempenfelt Kelly continues to fascinate.
  4.  Allandale widow  Christine McKenzie met a dangerous man through a lonely-hearts newspaper ad and has never been found.
  5. Theatre magnate Ambrose Small disappeared in 1919 and his eccentric sisters got into some bizarre situations themselves.


  1. In 1900, members of the T. Eaton family breezed through town in a new-fangled automobile contraption.
  2. In 1949, a flying object known as a helicopter, landed downtown.
  3. The people of Barrie were thrilled to see their first airplane in 1913.
  4. In 1922, Oscar Reid opened the first funeral home in Barrie.
  5. Bobbed hair and permanent waves gave rise to the dawn of hair salons in Barrie.
  6. In 1885, the people of Barrie were very excited to be part of the new telephone technology.
  7. Pizza was popularized by Second World War soldiers returning from Italy. It took a little longer for it to catch on in Barrie.
  8. After the First World War, camping for leisure became popular in Barrie.
  9. Early dentistry wasn’t pretty but it was necessary.
  10. Until 1900, Barrie folks listened all their music live. That changed when the phonograph came to town.

Equity seekers:

  1. When a freed slave wished to write his will, he found that he needed a name other than simply George. George Darkman’s will was the first probated in Simcoe County.
  2. After shoemaker Nicolas Cotter’s wife and only child died, he offered his home as a children’s shelter.
  3. Bloomer Girls were daring young ladies having fun on their bicycles while protesting the restrictions of Victorian clothing.
  4. The welcome mat wasn’t immediately out for Chinese immigrants in Barrie.
  5. Some people are still forced to make their homes outdoors in places much like the Jungle of the 1930s.
  6. The last man hanged at the Barrie Jail. Only 17 years old when arrested, Lloyd Wellington Simcoe was Indigenous and possibly intellectually disabled. What if he was innocent too?


  1. E.B. Crompton was the Corset Man . He ran the Golden Beaver, a dry goods and clothing shop, at Owen and Dunlop Streets until joining his brother in manufacturing corsets.
  2. 42 Dunlop Street East still bears the name Craig's in mosaic tiles. John Craig was a tailor and 3-time mayor of Barrie.
  3. Years ago, the apple processing plant of J.W. Gossling operated at the corner of Maple Avenue and Sophia Street.
  4. When the Olympia Candy Works closed in 1951, owner George Bakogeorge threw one last big event – a celebration for the players of the Barrie Flyers after their OHA Junior A hockey championship.
  5. Speculating on lake ice was like gambling in the stock market. Before modern fridges, this was big business.


  1. Only hours into the Second World War, the liner Athenia was torpedoed off Ireland with the  principal of Ovenden Ladies’ College on board.
  2. A typical June thunderstorm in 1890 just wouldn’t quit and caused a destructive flood.
  3. Flames have tried to erase the Glebe Block no less than three times over the years.
  4. Anyone who lived in Barrie during the spring of 1985 will have a tornado story to tell.

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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