This week, I have been on the hunt for old photographs and postcards and I have been in and out of several thrift shops and antique stores. I haven’t found exactly what I’m looking for just yet, but the search itself has been great fun.
While in the Stuff Store on Dunlop Street East, I found myself rather distracted by my surroundings. This circa 1875 building is the ideal venue for the sale of what the business refers to as gently used treasures.
I can’t decide what feature I liked best. Oh, that (possibly) original tin ceiling and the deep crown moulding! Those dizzyingly steep stairs – how did Victorian ladies in their long skirts survive them? What about that wood slat ceiling on the second floor with the odd dormer-like structure in the centre, and why does it have a tiny door?
I left with no treasures, but plenty of questions. I decided that I must learn more. The key to a large part of the story is spelled out in tile just outside the front door: Craig’s.
Very few downtown stores, if any, have such a wisely conceived permanent reminder of the shopkeeper who spent so many years doing business within its walls.
The man behind the name was John Franklin Craig, a Goderich-born tailor who, after learning his trade, had taken employment in Sarnia, Georgetown and across the border in Michigan before settling in the town of Barrie.
Mr. Craig was a tailor at an unusual time in the history of his chosen trade. With the invention of the sewing machine, his work was made easier but this new device also allowed clothing to be mass produced in factories.
“Cheapness! Cheapness! Cheapness!” proclaimed the advert inserted in the Northern Advance of Nov. 10, 1901 by Dunlop Street clothiers Hunter Bros.
“The smart tailor ‘tries on’ until it fits. We do likewise. He makes you pay. We do likewise – with a discount of about fifty percent on his price.”
This was John Craig’s competition. Hunter Bros., among others, were the ready-tailored clothing purveyors, while Craig was known then as a merchant tailor. His old style made from scratch method is now called bespoke tailoring.
By 1894, Mr. Craig was offering his tailoring services in this community with his earliest location being at 47 Dunlop St. E. Some time afterwards, he relocated to 1 Dunlop St. E., at Five Points, where Tim Hortons sits today. He remained there until 1927.
John Craig, in 1896, married Lucretia Marjory Ness, a daughter of John Ness who owned the Simcoe Hotel for some 40 years.
Craig was an active and athletic man, his favourite pastime being perhaps the sport of politics. He was elected mayor of Barrie three separate times in three different decades.
Craig’s local success didn’t quite translate to wider political victory. In 1934, at a huge rally held at the Armouries and attended by the premier of the province, John Craig was chosen to represent the Conservative Party in the approaching election.
On June 18, 1934, Premier Henry lost the election and the Conservatives lost the decades old grip they had held on Ontario. John Craig was no match for Dr. L. J. Simpson, the popular Liberal candidate for Simcoe Centre.
Craig’s presence at this particular shop began in mid-1927. John Craig purchased the building from owners Sarjeant and King who, since 1924, had been leasing the shop to another tailor, Harry Twiss.
At that time, the shop was completely remodelled, updated and the front entrance altered which was reported in the Barrie Examiner in March of the year.
Until such time as someone decides to remove the mosaic tiles in front of 42 Dunlop St. E., which I hope is on a day far into the future, visitors and passersby will be reminded often of John Franklin Craig, tailor and public servant.
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.