This ongoing series from Barrie Historical Archive curator Deb Exel shows old photos from the collection and one from the present day.
John Pearson House – 16 Mary Street
You might not be aware, as you go by this building, that you are passing the first brick home ever built in Barrie.
The owner, and builder, was English-trained craftsman John Pearson, who came to Barrie about 1838.
Pearson, a Barrie builder in the 1840’s, built the Frederic Gore (Grammar School headmaster) house at 47 Rodney Street and was a subcontractor on the building of the courthouse in the early 1840’s. The courthouse, as an aside, had its brickwork altered around 1843-6 to remove it’s parapet walls and change the roofline to better handle the impact of Canadian winters. This original courthouse was actually incorporated into 1877 renovation so well that you could only tell from the rear that it was part of the newly enlarged courthouse. The courthouse was later demolished in 1977.
At the time Pearson built his Georgian/Regency-style home on Mary Street in the mid-1840’s, it was nearly at the water’s edge and the construction was likely challenged by quicksand in the area nearby, perhaps explaining the 8’ foundation walls. Once finished, the first headmaster of the Simcoe District Grammar School, boarded some of the out-of-town students at the new Pearson home.
By the 1850’s, Pearson was coming and going from Barrie, including travelling to the Crystal Palace in London, England to attend the World’s Exposition. He put his house up for sale in June of 1850 and it was advertised as “Built of the best description of brick…3 stories high…finished in a most elegant style.”
Records from 1854 described the home as “A Three-Story Brick House, 44x34, with a verandah 9 feet wide, extending the front and southern end. Basement Story contains Cellar, Kitchen, three good Sleeping Rooms, Pantry &c. Second Story contains Dining Room, Parlour, Library and back Dining Room. Third Story contains five large bedrooms. A Spacious Yard, Coach-House, Stables, Well O-Water, and other conveniences.”
Pearson sold the house in 1857 to James Patton who was one of the founders in 1852 of the politically conservative newspaper The Herald. A later occupant of note was Sheriff Benjamin Walker Smith, who rescued the Honorable John A. Macdonald and other future Fathers of Confederation on July 1, 1859 when the Lake Huron steamer they were on was headed for disaster. Main street merchant and 1909 Barrie Mayor James Vair also lived in the impressive Pearson House.
The beautiful style, features and function of the Pearson home: the elegant, symmetrical design, high ceilings, original molding, woodwork and hardware, basement casement windows, distinctive double stack chimneys, panelled doors, curved staircase, 9 fireplaces and a rare basement bake oven believed to be the only remaining one in Barrie, are still there. Over the years, there have been many changes to Pearson House: multiple additions were added to the back of the house in the 19th century, as well as a later addition to the north side of the house.
John Pearson built a home that was meant to showcase the very best of an 1840’s provincial house and it is now the only one of its kind in Barrie.
Pearson House is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act for its architectural and historical significance.