Whether you are a church-goer, a homebody or a regular patron of local taverns, George Ball was very likely the builder of some of the structures that you frequent the most.
He was an Irish-born lad, a son of Limerick County, born in 1833 to James Ball and Elizabeth Smith. His father came to Canada first and began to farm in Medonte Township, then sent for Elizabeth, George and his siblings in the late 1840s. By then, George was in his teens.
I picture young George as one of those inquisitive boys, the ones not likely to sit still for long. He was barely in this country when he began to work serving summons and writs for the first, and newly created, Sheriff of Simcoe County, Benjamin Walker Smith. He saw no future in that kind of work and bored with the position after two years.
He took up the trade of carpentry at the side of joiner, John Laird, who himself was a builder of a lot of early Barrie, having lived here since 1839. A rapid learner, George Ball was only a few years into his twenties when he decided to branch out on his own.
He had saved his money and learned his trade, so he opened a mill at the corner of Ross and Bayfield Sts. He built it himself, of course, using his own lumber supply and naturally made it almost entirely from wood.
Hardly surprisingly, his first mill met the same fate as nearly ever other early wooden structure in the new community of Barrie. It burned down.
Two years of work had gone up in smoke and the eager entrepreneur had no insurance. What he did have was more lumber, so George Ball rebuilt.
When a second fire razed his latest place of business, the purveyor of wood turned to brick and erected a fine three-storey building on the site. This one, built in 1885, actually outlived its usefulness and stood for over 70 years. After it was torn down, a Woolworth’s department store was opened there in 1962. People newer to Barrie will know the spot as the Ranch, a country music bar.
George built a beautiful home for himself nearly across the street from his workplace. He wisely constructed a good-looking brick home at 60 John St., (now Maple Ave.), on a lot that is today the parking lot between the three shops at 54 Maple Ave. and Royal Thai Cuisine.
At the height of his industry, George Ball was offering all manner of lumber milling, planing and turning. He advertised daily in the local papers that his modern steam-driven machinery was turning out doors, window sashes, tongue and grooved boards, moldings and wood products “of every description, always on hand, and made to order.”
Another man might have been content to run a successful lumber mill, and only that, but not our George Ball. He was no one trick pony. On top of carpentry, he had become a decent stone mason, roofer, brick-layer and could estimate his own jobs. He was also a sought-after building contractor and tackled any job from the rebuilding of the Simcoe Hotel after the fire of 1876, to the most grandiose of Victorian architectural plans like my favourite Barrie home, the Lount Castle on Valley Dr., built in 1878.
At the age of 62, he retired and handed the company over to J. Rodgers and William Gallie, who had worked with him for many years. If you think he sat on his back porch and drank lemonade after that, you’re wrong.
George Ball was on two local school boards, the hospital board, town council and a member of the trustee board at Collier Street United Church for 50 years.
After a long retirement of nearly 30 years, George passed away in his home on Maple Ave., a few months past his 91st birthday. The notice of his passing, in the August 28th, 1924 edition of the ‘Barrie Examiner’, painted a picture in words of the impression George Ball had left upon this place.
“Mr. Ball rendered valuable service, combining with keen business judgment and practical knowledge, a sterling integrity and a sympathy for those things which make for the betterment of the community.”