Of all the colourful characters about town, this fellow is one of my favourites. Arthur John Tuck was a born salesman, a wheeler dealer, a trouble magnet and a frequent flyer up at the Barrie Court House.
Arthur came from a family of eight boys and two girls from Colwell, just west of Barrie. In 1902, when he married Ella Jane Greaves of Stroud, he was working as a clerk. Apparently though, he had bigger plans for himself.
By 1908, Arthur was renting a small store front and selling assorted wares, many of the bargain variety, and others more innovative. He advertised everything from stockings and supports to baking supplies at cut rate prices. In a 1913 Barrie Examiner ad, he proudly promoted a new wonder appliance with “House-cleaning is only a joke if you rent A.J. Tuck’s Vacuum Cleaner.”
Arthur would come to be very familiar with the Barrie Fire Department over the years. In what may have been his first stroke of fire-related bad luck, Arthur lost a building on Gowan Street in Allandale to flames in July of 1914.
Later that same year, with that set-back behind him, Arthur was looking forward to moving his growing mercantile into a new and better location. He purchased his own shop in what was known as the Graver Building near the corner of Mulcaster Street and Dunlop Street East.
Daniel Waisberg had been running a similar bargain shop in the Graver Building for just under two years, and was awaiting the completion of his own custom-built store at Mary St. at that time. He was compelled to rent a temporary venue to allow Tuck to move in. The large Queen’s Hotel block, where Boon Burger sits today, had just offered a store for lease and Daniel Waisberg rented it and moved his stock in.
Barely two months passed when, on a clear cold February night, the entire Queen’s Hotel Block burned to the ground in a spectacular fire. The original wood and roughcast inn from the mid 1800s had still remained and had been bricked and expanded over the years, creating some excellent fuel for a hungry fire.
Arthur Tuck got very lucky that night. His shop was just outside of the fire zone. Daniel Waisberg was less fortunate. Although soldiers from the armouries cleared his shop of all its stock and furnishings in 15 minutes, most of it was destroyed by water, smoke and mud. He later found himself in court after being accused by his creditors of creating fraudulent lists of his lost stock. He was acquitted.
Arthur Tuck later found himself in court too, but at his own request. The Lake Simcoe Hotel Company who owned the ruined Queen’s Hotel, disagreed with the value put on the property by the assessors and took it to court in 1916, at which point, Mr. Tuck decided to dispute his valuation as well. Neither suit was successful.
By the early 1920s, our man was selling anything and everything that could make a buck. “Good touring car for sale. See A.J. Tuck.” “Fine horse for sale, 16 hands high. See A.J. Tuck.” He may also have dodged his first legal entanglement when he was quick to offer his concern over a shady tire dealer who had attempted to sell him stolen car tires. Better to be a witness than a co-accused.
A twin Indian motorcycle, one cream separator, 90 bags of stock food, 85 chairs, large safe and multiple bicycles. All of these things and more could be found at A.J. Tuck’s. In 1921 he applied to have a gasoline pump installed in front of his shop. Approved. In 1922, he applied to install an oil tank beside the railway tracks. Denied.
Business must have been a little thin in 1932, perhaps owing to the depressed economy, because Arthur Tuck found himself unable to make the payments on his car that year. The auto was seized by the bailiff and held in Harold Hill’s garage. Tuck told Hill that he had paid up on the vehicle and took it back again, which resulted in charges of car theft. Arthur Tuck was given a suspended sentence.
At the close of 1932, the same bailiff ordered the shop closed and all of Arthur Tuck’s store contents sold at auction. This was not the end, however, for the resourceful Tuck. He began again in a temporary location. In 1934, he moved into the vacant Dreamland Theatre which was located where the Salvation Army stands today, just south of Five Points.
Arthur J. Tuck started to become a thorn in the side of the town by 1936 when he was fined, and convicted, twice for obstructing the sidewalk with goods he was attempting to sell. His delaying tactics included asking for more time to get a lawyer or running in at the close of proceedings shouting, “Sorry, I thought court was next Thursday!”
In October of that year, Tuck was charged with receiving stolen goods. A stolen gun and suit of clothes were found in his shop, items he said he had received legally but could provide no receipt.
The following spring, our wiley shop keeper found himself accused of violating the Indian Act by selling intoxicants to an Indian, a crime that I was shocked to learn once existed. The purchaser said that it was barely liquor at all and “tasted like vinegar”, while the accused claimed that the customer was not a registered Indian anyway. In the end, the customer turned out to be a member of the Saugeen band and Mr. Tuck was convicted.
1938 began with a delegation of local residents appearing before council to ask if something be done about ‘’the junk and wrecking yard at the foot of Bayfield and Maple Streets.’’ They claimed that Arthur Tuck brought in cars and other junk at all hours of the day and night, and dismantled them using sledge hammers and colourful language.
As the complaints about his place of business increased, his fines became frequent. He was convicted in 1939 of receiving goods from minors. Two boys, of 12 and 14 years, took household appliances from their home and traded them for a rifle at Tuck’s store.
In October, Arthur Tuck was up at the Court House twice. A sock thief claimed to have disposed of his loot at Tuck’s establishment. Tuck said he never saw any such goods. Next, Tuck attempted to mislead the police by denying any knowledge of a car allegedly stolen by a Murray McKenzie. For that, he received a perjury charge and spent Thanksgiving in the Barrie Jail.
A milk bottle deposit scam, a charge of receiving stolen tires, selling firearms without a licence, another charge concerning a ring stolen in Orillia and numerous visits from bylaw officers regarding the filthy state of his premises and the apparent keeping of an illegal junk shop, rounded out the year.
The town eventually took away Tuck’s second-hand shop licence after finding that any past criminal convictions nullified any such permit. A.J. Tuck had more than one of those!
A paragraph about the end of Tuck’s business exploits in the Aug. 3, 1939 Examiner just about sums it all up perfectly.
“Tuck, through his tactics, has caused many a laugh. He has, through his nimble wit (coupled with an apparent appetite for legal conflict), squeezed through a lot of tight spots where there didn’t appear enough room to get by. No one enjoyed the victories more than Mr. Tuck, who enjoyed many a hearty laugh, at the expense of the town council and the local police department.”
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.