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The Theatre Block: Part One (3 photos)

In this edition of 'Remember This?', Mary Harris begins her series looking back at the buildings and businesses of the Theatre Block in downtown Barrie

As an 18-year-old Georgian College student, new in town with some recently acquired independence and a little money in my pocket, I often enjoyed popping into the Roy Lem Restaurant on the corner of Maple Avenue and Dunlop Street for a bit of lunch.

I don’t recall the combo number anymore, but I’m fairly sure it was a plate of chicken balls, fried rice, chow mein and an egg roll.

The restaurant seemed to me to be from another era. It had that '50s diner feel, something like Happy Days, I thought, but with an Asian motif.

All of this was exotic stuff to a farm girl from south of Barrie.

The Roy Lem Restaurant at 39 Dunlop St. W. opened in May of 1954. The plain exterior, plate-glass windows and bright neon signs shouted mid-20th-century style.

Once upon a time, a very ornate Victorian building stood on this spot. Its dormer windows, finely turned wood trim, fire-proof roof, upgraded chimneys and brick work constituted a design far removed from the Roy Lem Restaurant site I knew.

She really was a beauty, the work of skilled Barrie craftsmen from a long-ago era. Built in 1866, before the use of brick came into regular use locally, this structure must certainly have been an eye-catcher in her day. What a fine addition to Elizabeth Street, now Dunlop Street West, she must have been.

It really is too bad that the old Toronto Tea Store isn’t around for us to enjoy anymore.

Wait just a minute: the pride of merchant Michael Spencer is actually still standing on its original spot, only the early architecture is hard to spot under heavy layers of alteration and more than one addition. It took me a while to realize it, but the 153-year-old Toronto Tea Store still exists within the walls of the former Roy Lem Restaurant.

In the early 1920s, the building had changed very little from Michael Spencer’s day. In June 1923, Charles Robinson opened his hardware shop at this location. He specialized in paints, oils, roofing materials and McClary washing machines.

Mr. Robinson found this spot to be utterly inconvenient for his business purposes. He was constantly in disagreement with his neighbours or paying fines to the town for parking his truck in the wrong place or displaying his goods too far onto the sidewalk.

In 1931, he bought 31 Dunlop St. W. from Louis Vair.

It seems fitting that the present-day occupant of 39 Dunlop St. W. is the History Barbershop, Parlour and Gentlemen’s Quarter. As one of the very oldest buildings in the downtown retail district, the business name is more than appropriate. 

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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