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THEN AND NOW: Barrie Shopping Plaza brought 'big-city' amenities

Now referred to as the Wellington Plaza, shopping centre opened in 1961 and had parking for more than 1,000 vehicles

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. 

Pop quiz: What do gas pumps, go-karts and Georgian College all have in common?

They all had real estate, at one time, in the Barrie Shopping Plaza located at Wellington and Anne streets.

Shopping in Barrie was pretty much exclusively a downtown experience for the longest time. The first supermarket, Loblaw’s, opened in 1947 on Bayfield Street and a second supermarket, Dominion, which opened in the east end of town in 1958, had a small plaza with a few units, connected to it. A new west-end plaza, with an estimated 30 stores, was in the planning stage.

The location of the new plaza was to be where the Buchanan subdivision had been planned, named for the owner of the property, Harry J. Buchanan, longtime Barrie grocer and alderman, whose parents had lived at 87 Wellington St. W. until the 1930s.

The section of Wellington Street running alongside the highway across from the subdivision site was called the Craig Street service road, but was renamed to Wellington Street in 1957.

To the west of the subdivision, Wellington Street actually extended over Highway 400 and continued west, but was renamed Edgehill Drive, also in 1957.

To the east of the plaza, was Lowe’s Lo-Land Ranch, now 125 Wellington St. W. The Lowe property actually reached all the way to Anne Street prior to the planned subdivision. The Lo-Land Ranch had an eclectic collection of out buildings: the stables for their beautiful Shetland ponies reportedly were relocated from the Lount estate, the Oaks.

The Lowe family also owned a furniture business in what was once the historic Royal Hotel. The former Robert Buchanan family home, which still stands today (son H.J. lived on Mary Street), was east of the Lo-Land Ranch.

In 1958, the city approved the plans for the plaza to be built on the Buchanan subdivision site.

Work stopped on the site of the plaza in the summer of 1959. The city had made an agreement with the plaza developer to extend Wellington Street between Toronto and Ross streets to create a route from the east end of the city to the new shopping centre.

But the Royal Victoria Hospital board had expropriated the lands behind the hospital for potential expansion and for recreation areas. Happily that issue was resolved and traffic now flows along Wellington Street all the way from Duckworth Street to Anne Street.

By summer 1960, many stores had signed on for space in the new plaza: Woolworth’s, Power Supermarket, Plaza Drugs, Bata Shoe Store, Lady Ellis Lingerie and Ladies’ Wear, Royal Bank of Canada, Cole’s Book Store and Paramount Cleaners.

The Barrie Shopping Plaza, with parking for 1,050 cars, enjoyed an exciting opening in the spring of 1961. Carnival rides and shuttles from the corner of Dunlop and Owen streets (how that must have impressed downtown merchants!) brought shoppers to the ‘big-city style’ shopping centre.

Growth and convenience emerged from the new marketplace: within a few months of opening, you could now pay your telephone bill at Spratt Hardware and by July, the LCBO had moved in. A go-kart track was located behind the grocery store.

The plaza also became a bit of a cultural and entertainment centre – often there were art and other exhibits in some of the stores or other attractions such as the Wilkie Ranger and his performing white horse Lashmar (stars of stage and TV), all designed to draw families (and shoppers) to the plaza.

The Barrie Shopping Plaza would expand over time to add more businesses and, in fact, it was the first location for the newly founded Georgian College of Applied Arts and Technology. It also became a common car park location before commuter lots were created, a central departure spot for sports teams or bus excursions and as a marshalling area for parades.

If you haven’t taken a trip across the Anne Street bridge to get an overview of the plaza (like this pony cart and classic car!), be sure to do it before its scheduled closure.