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THEN AND NOW: 162 Dunlop St. E.

Property has a long and storied history in Barrie, including as the Union Inn and thuggery surrounding the general election in 1841

This ongoing series from Barrie Historical Archive curator Deb Exel shows old photos from the collection and one from the present day, as well as the story behind them. 

162 Dunlop Street East 

Thrift Meldrum was the first to own the property at the corner of Poyntz and Dunlop Street East.

Thrift arrived in Canada from Fifeshire, Scotland about 1833 and was one of earliest settlers to the village of Kempenfeldt. In 1836, he had a farm on Lot 4 East Penetanguishene Road, as well as a wharf down at the shore of Kempenfelt Bay.

Thrift had a distillery and a licensed tavern in Tollendal near the grist mill until they were both destroyed in a fire. He moved to Barrie to open a store (about where the Hinds store was) and an inn, hoping to capitalize on the need for accommodation arising from the growing steamboat traffic

Meldrum bought the property at Dunlop and Poyntz streets in 1835. It seems that David Edgar, presumed to be the second settler in Barrie, had dug a cellar and started to erect a frame for a house in the area that is now Memorial Square, but never finished it. The pioneer legend is that that Thrift Meldrum had this frame removed to his new lot where it was used for his tavern for many years. 

The area at Poyntz and Dunlop streets was densely forested at the time Meldrum arrived, and all the lumber and timber used to build the hotel and stable was taken right from his lot by Oro carpenters Alexander and Archibald Campbell. Everything used in the construction of the buildings was handmade, including the nails which were forged right there on the property by blacksmith Duncan McNabb of Jarratt’s Corners.

Meldrum acquired his tavern licence in 1836, and his Union Inn opened for business. It was considered to be the best of the three places to eat in Barrie and the ‘go-to place' in the 1830s and early 1840s for officials, the elite, and professional men.

Thrift’s politics were squarely in the camp of the Reformers. He involved himself in the drama surrounding Upper Canada’s 1836 General Election results and the election outcome meddling of Lt. Gov. Sir Francis Bond Head. To help reveal the election fraud, Meldrum went to Toronto with Samuel Lount, the former member for Simcoe, to meet with William Lyon Mackenzie. Apparently Robinson and Wickens, the Tory candidates that defeated Lount in the 1836 election, had paid Thrift to open his tavern for them so they could influence the vote in their favour by paying for all the food and drink consumed at the inn. However, Thrift had proof that the government had paid for everything, not the candidates.

There was additional enticement to help the Tories win when an agent of the lieutenant governor advised that he was authorized to give property deeds to settlers to gain further support.

The next election, held in 1841, was reported to be quite terrifying. Tory candidate Robinson was running against Elmes Steele of Medonte. The voting was done in Barrie over a period of a week, with Robinson supporters commandeering the polling station under the guise of ‘monitoring’ the voting on behalf of the authorities. In fact, they were threatening, intimidating and even beating Steele supporters to the point that they were afraid to come and vote.

The story goes that a farmer from Oro, in town to vote, saw a friend working in the yard of the Union Inn. Next to the fence line were dozens of wooden clubs. He was told they were intended for dealing with the Tory thugs at the polling station so that the Reformers could safely vote. A violent fight ensued when Reformers, led by Scottish Highlanders from Oro, Mara and Thorah townships, stormed the polls being held by the Tories. Local authorities were so alarmed that the British military was contacted for help, resulting in a regiment stationed in Toronto marching up Yonge Street to Barrie to establish order.

In this election, however, Thrift took a more passive position. The Reformer candidate, Elmes Steele, paid for all the ‘refreshments’ at the Union Inn that Thrift could serve up. In fact, three of the four hotels in Barrie  Meldrum’s, John Bingham’s Queen’s Arms and the hotel which later became the Wellington Arms  hosted only Steele supporters, which nearly bankrupted the candidate! The Barrie hotel, which was a log structure on the southwest corner of Dunlop Street at the Five Points, was the only tavern open to Tories.

In 1843, Thrift worked at the new county courthouse as the crier of the District of Simcoe, and his son, Thomas, took over the running of the hotel. In 1847, the annual Barrie Regatta held their dinner at the Union Inn (Thomas would become vie-president of the newly renamed Lake Simcoe Boat Club, in 1855), and the Barrie and Penetanguishene Stage Company, which launched in 1850, used the Union Inn as its Barrie headquarters.

Thomas continued to be proprietor until he leased the Union Inn in December 1850 to Henry Fraser of Orillia, who expanded the inn, changed the name to the Commercial Hotel and re-opened it in January 1851. About 1856, Fraser sold the hotel to Joseph Johnson and the establishment was still changing hands into the late 1870s.

In January 1880, Laughlin McDonald was advertising that his French Cleaner, Dyer and Scourer business had opened in the old Commercial Hotel building. 

A  few of the many names that were attached to the paperwork related to the property at 162 Dunlop St. E. over the years were recognizable, such as J.C. McKeggie, whose bank overlooked Fred Grant Square, Hon. James  R. Gowan, Henry Strathy, Henry Grasett the manager of the Bank of Commerce and occupant of lavish Carnoevar in 1898, Robert King (King’s daughter Emma’s home was at 13 Poyntz to the rear of 162 Dunlop) and Mayor Donald Ross  whose home was built next door at 168 Dunlop St., in 1902.

One of families that occupied the new home on the old hotel property were the Breretons. Ewart Lount Brereton was born in Schomberg in 1876, attended the University of Toronto then graduated from the Royal College of Dental Surgeons in 1897. Although he trained for a mission in China, an illness prevented him from going and so he began his dental practice in Barrie in 1900. In 1902, his office was over Hambly’s Hardware on Dunlop Street, the entrance was off Owen Street. He married Adele Davis in Schomberg in 1903 and after a honeymoon in Muskoka, they returned to Barrie, first residing on Bayfield Street, then about 1907 to home that now stands at 162 Dunlop St E. 

Brereton was very active in his church, St. Andrews, and in the community. He was appointed to the Board of Education when Alex Milne died and he became deeply involved in all aspects of school issues, particularly the overcrowding at Barrie Collegiate Institute, advocating for auxiliary classes to help students for whom the existing curriculum was of no benefit so they could get a proper start in life, and improvements and retrofits to the school buildings and classrooms. He was president of the St. Andrew’s Athletic Club and sponsored the Brereton Cup in the Sunday School Hockey League.

Besides dentistry (focusing on orthodontia in the last six years of his practice before retiring from his office at 7 Post Office Sq.), Brereton was best known as a bird enthusiastic. He became an associate member of the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1935, and was elected a director of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists in 1948. He had recorded more than 300 different species in Simcoe County and contributed to books such as Birds of Algonquin Provincial Park (1938) and Birds of Simcoe County (1944).

His work as an observer was widely recognized, he regularly gave hikes, lectures and made numerous valuable contributions to the Royal Ontario Museum’s zoology department. After his death in 1950, the local naturalist group was renamed the Brereton Field Naturalists Club in his honour. They were still holding meetings, hikes and other events well into the late 1960s.

Former Mayor Willard Kinzie’s name was another name associated with the property at 162 Dunlop St. E. – not surprising as his Lakeview Dairy would be right across the street.

In the early 1970s as seen in this photo, the Norman E. Shellswell Real Estate Company was located in this striking, heritage home.