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The doctor is out: Part 1 (4 photos)

In this week's Remember This, Mary Harris looks at the life and career of Dr. Leonard J. Simpson

I walked right under the scaffolding the other day, not really paying much attention to it. I wrongly assumed that a renovation was taking place and only realized later that this was a demolition site. Not two days later, I returned with a camera to the corner of Owen and Collier Streets and found workmen actively prying windows from their frames. How fast these things move.

To be truthful, I never gave this old building much thought before. I would have passed it many times while living downtown, and while working in the neighbourhood in more recent years, but I never really took a good look. Now I want to memorize every brick and finial, photograph each angle and learn about its life before it’s gone.

So, 47 Collier St., what is your story? What interesting people lived within these about-to-tumble walls?

A quick walk to the library just up the street bought me to a collection of Vernon Directories, which are something like phone books, but better. The volumes held at Barrie Public Library start with the year 1927, so that is where I found my first clue.

“Dr. Leonard J. Simpson, physician and surgeon, and wife, Eleanor, home and office, 47 Collier St.”

He was a country boy, one of eight children born to Irish settlers who had cleared the land and built up their farm near Thornton themselves. Leonard, the youngest child, was schooled first at old S.S. No. 9 in Innisfil and then completed secondary school at Barrie Collegiate Institute in 1900.

Leonard Simpson then took a teacher’s course and, by age 19 years, was instructing students in Mount Pleasant. Within two years, Leonard was finished with teaching school and had enrolled in the University of Toronto to study with the Faculty of Medicine. He graduated as a medical doctor in 1907.

His first practice was as the company doctor for Mond Nickel Company near Sudbury, where he remained for one year and then returned to Simcoe County to practice medicine in Stroud. There, he married a life long friend, Eleanor Dutcher, and the young couple moved to Elmvale.

In 1918, Dr. and Mrs. Simpson came to Barrie. For nearly 10 years, they lived at the corner of Clapperton and Collier Streets where Leonard also saw patients.

By the early 1920s, Dr. Simpson was becoming quite interested in local politics, and was a keen supporter of the Liberal party. While practicing medicine, and raising a growing family, the doctor was also acting as vice president of the Barrie Hockey Club, serving as a school trustee and becoming quite involved with his church, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian. Soon the Liberal party was becoming rather interested in the doctor!

Dr. Simpson’s name was put forward in 1921, among others, by members of the local riding association to represent the Liberals in the next provincial election. They could see that Simpson was bright, ambitious, energetic, popular and community minded, just the sort of man that they could see carrying their banner locally, and he was given the nomination. While honoured, and likely sorely tempted, the doctor declined the invitation.

The timing just wasn’t right, at least not yet.

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.

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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