One Saturday afternoon, perhaps two years ago, I had the good fortune to have lunch with my family in the quaint and cozy Arabesque Restaurant situated at 43 Maple Ave. in Barrie.
Lucky for us, the midday rush had passed and we had the place to ourselves. Lots of time to peruse the menu and have a look around at the dining room which is set in the front rooms of a Victorian home. Our server, who is also an owner, was all ours as well and so had time to chat a little bit.
We told her that we were hungry after just finishing a historical walking tour nearby. After explaining that the Barrie Historical Archive has turned these free tours into annual events, I mentioned that there were tentative plans for a haunted walk at some point in the future.
“We have a ghost here.”
I hadn’t expected that reply but was definitely intrigued. Before she had to head to the kitchen to attend to our food orders, our server added that the spirit was female and appeared to be of a friendly nature.
Further conversation revealed that, over some 30 years, the staff of Arabesque had become quite accustomed to their unseen co-worker. I use that term because some kitchen tasks, including the stirring of soup, has been known to be done by hands unknown.
Who is this seemingly pleasant lady of the past? We will never truly know the answer to that but, when the haunted walking tour finally came to fruition last October, I dug a little deeper to see who may have been a long-time female resident in the building when it was a private home.
The name Lewis likely has the longest attachment to the house, a connection that lasted some 50 years before the last ties were cut.
James Lewis was born in in 1857 in Toronto but came with his family to Vespra Township when still a youth. At 14, James began driving oxen for a neighbouring farmer and saved up much of his $30 a year wages to buy his own plot of land, a dream that became reality in 1878. Soon, he was cutting wood on his property and selling it to the railway.
The enterprising young man found himself a bride in 1883. He married Elizabeth Elliot at Trinity Anglican Church in Barrie.
Elizabeth too had arrived in Vespra Township as a teen. The adventurous girl traveled from County Fermanagh, Ireland to join an aunt living in the wild woods of Simcoe County. A few years afterwards, the rest of her immediate family followed.
Two children, William Albert Lewis and Ida Pearl Lewis, were born to James and Elizabeth in Vespra Township. About 1900, the small family moved into the Town of Barrie and took up residence on Maple Avenue which was then known as John Street.
James dove into the fuel business and began selling coal from a depot located at 24 Maple Ave. just north of the Fisher Flour Mill. His business stood between the present day bus terminal and the rear of the theatre block.
By the 1930s, James and Elizabeth’s two children had grown up and left home. They didn’t go too far away though. William Albert Lewis was by then a medical doctor and associate coroner for the county. His offices were located at 58 Collier St.
Ida Pearl Lewis married Bertred Robertson in 1925 and moved into 45 Maple Ave., the northern half of the semi-detached brick home, next door to her parents. This arrangement must have been ideal for Elizabeth, Ida Pearl’s mother, as the older lady had been suffering from a heart ailment for a number of years and had been confined mostly to her home.
Elizabeth Lewis passed away at 43 Maple Ave. on March 11, 1932. Her funeral was held there three days afterwards, conducted by Rev. J.J. Black of Collier Street United Church, and largely attended, as reported in the Northern Advance, which must have packed the small dwelling.
Soon afterwards, James Lewis moved across the street to 54 Maple Ave. where his daughter, Ida Pearl, and her husband were living.
Is it possible that Mrs. Lewis never left 43 Maple Ave.? That question will likely never be answered.
In any case, the otherworldly assistant cook now has a name. The staff at Arabesque call her Lizzie.
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.