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This building rose and fell, but a mystery remains (5 photos)

In the week's 'Remember This', Mary Harris hopes for information regarding one small downtown structure

Virtually every lot in Downtown Barrie has a story to tell. Every one of them. From the hand shovels that excavated the foundation, and shored it up with good solid stone, to the first timber frame that inevitably met with a cruel fire, and the brick structure that followed, which was often replaced again only because the thinking then was ‘modern is better’ – the story keeps on being written.

This is the story of one such lot. It is located on the north side of Dunlop Street East, just east of Owen Street, and is today part of Hooligan’s restaurant and bar.

The unique thing about this particular piece of real estate is that it once formed part of stretch of shops known to locals as ‘the rookery’. By the late 1870s, they were the very last remnants of the original roughcast wooden business buildings left in Barrie. All the others had fallen to flames in the previous decade, one block after another.

So, the rookery stood, like a ticking time bomb, as an unpopular reminder of Barrie’s rather wild west days. The local folks wished a fire upon it. They looked at it as unsightly hazard that just needed a good clear-out. They looked forward to seeing some fine brick buildings rise in its place.

The Hinds family had a hotel on that corner, known as London House. It burned down in 1879 but, miraculously, it was the only building that burned down at that time. So, Bernard Hinds began to rebuild with brick, and thus sandwiched the rookery shops between his new structure and the very solid brick McConkey building several doors east.

On March 15, 1880, just as the Hinds buildings was nearing completion, along came that element again – fire! His property was only slightly damaged, but a few cheers were perhaps suppressed when the old rookery was finally reduced to a pile of ashes. Sympathy went out to the merchants, but no one lamented the loss of the rookery.

Gone were the European Hotel, the Singer Sewing Machine shop, L.B. Warnica Jewelry, W.C. Penton’s fruit and shave shop, J.M. Bothwell’s grocery, grain and seed store, John Woods Drug Store, and C.H. Clark’s Dominion Telegraph Express.

The second structure from the corner was originally built as a dry goods store. Just previous to the fire, it had been home to the European Hotel, formerly the Ocean Hotel. This recently expanded inn was owned by the C.P. Reid Co., liquor and spirits dealers, of Front St. in Toronto. At the time of its destruction, it was being operated by a Mr. Bigelow.

Mr. Hinds had his corner building repaired and the construction completed. He had one great connection in that his son-in-law was the bright young architect, Thomas Kennedy. Kennedy had designed a beautiful place of business for Hinds with mixed red and white brick, cut stone window sills, a tin roof, and ornate cornices and balustrades.

Thomas Kennedy was also called upon to create some equally showy edifices for Leander Sanders and J.M. Bothwell, who had no doubt admired the Hinds building and were quick to hire him for their new post-rookery places of business.

Around the same time as Mr. Hinds suffered the fire that had threatened his nearly completed shop, another fire occurred in the newish brick block east of Owen Street. One of the damaged shops belonged to Mrs. Mann and Son who kept a book store there. They moved what was left of their stock, at least temporarily, into Sheriff McConkey’s brick building, which is next to the present-day Queen’s Hotel. This was possibly the safest place to be in Barrie as Thomas McConkey was a forward thinking man, and had built a fire wall into his 1866 establishment.

This is where the mystery begins! For hours upon hours, I have flipped through history books, scrolled down the collection of photos on more than one old Barrie Facebook page and half blinded myself by peering at archived newspaper pages from the decades just before and after 1900. I have reached out to several local experts.

Yet this funny little lot still refuses to give up the whole story.

Photographs in local history books and elsewhere, dated in the early to mid 1880s, depict a short brick building in the spot where the European Hotel once stood. The clearest photos show it well signed as Mann’s Book Store. It is much shorter than its neighbours, and does not share any architectural similarities with either the Hinds or Sanders places.

Somehow, at some time, this changed.

At first, I thought that the stubby building was a rather strange looking thing beside its tall neighbours. I wondered why it was not built in keeping with the symmetry of the others, which led to an early theory that it was very obviously part of the original Sanders Block but had lost its upper floor to a fire. Of course!

Not so fast. I began to question my own theory when I found photographs of the same spot showing three tall floors, all equal in height to the Sanders building, but these pictures were taken much later. The building that had been Mann’s Book Store in the 1880s had not lost a floor but had somehow gained height in its two upper floors! Granted, it certainly looked to be part of the original Sanders Block, and someone has seemingly done a great job of matching the Sanders style to create a third triplet rather than a step sister.

But why? In studying the early photos of Mann’s from the early to mid 1880s, when it had three compact floors, it does not match Sanders at all. The brick designs are not similar, and the windows are not on the same level, nor are they even the same shape of windows. Now I am back to some kind of fire theory again.

Did the brick replacement building for the European Hotel, that became Mann’s circa 1880, also burn down completely? It must have had a very brief existence. This would explain both the complete difference in architecture and also how a low rise building oddly became taller at some point. Notice too how the words ‘Sanders Block’, spelled out indelibly in brick, are spread only over the two easterly sections and not centred across the three.

Scott’s Book Store followed the Mann shop. Walter Scott, the son of a printer from Richmond Hill, opened up shop here in 1902 and continued until 1929 when he retired and sold the premises to the Riviera owners for a restaurant, soda bar and candy shop. The Reward shoe store then followed that venture.

Big changes came again in the early 1970s when both the old Hinds building, by then a drug store, and our mystery building were torn down to make way for a very contemporary Toronto Dominion Bank building. The old Sanders Block, originally a set of two shops that evolved to be three, became two again.

Today, there is sort of a gap between Hooligan’s and its nearest neighbour, Canvas and Cabernet. It was here that the enigmatic building in question rose and fell.

This mystery remains as I write this, but I am hoping for some great insight from the real experts, the folks who have lived in Barrie longer than I, or from someone who knows just where to look to find the key to this puzzle.

“Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot.” – Sherlock Homes

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.