Exterior demolition began shortly after 9 a.m., Wednesday, at the former W.A. Fisher Auditorium on Dunlop Street West in downtown Barrie, the final footnote to the building's history.
By 5 p.m., much of the northeast corner had been removed, with most of the demolition to continue in the coming days.
Earlier in the day, a pile of red bricks sat in a pile of rubble on the ground. Bricks from the auditorium, which opened in 1962, are being saved and will be incorporated into a future performing arts centre as a fundraising opportunity to commemorate the auditorium's legacy.
The demolition was given the go-ahead by city council in December 2020.
The Barrie Central Collegiate chimney, which has been home to a species of birds known as chimney swifts, will not be affected by the demolition works, according to the city.
The auditorium was named for former teacher W.A. (Allen) Fisher, whose career at the downtown high school spanned from 1937 to 1972. He was originally hired to head the English and history departments, as well as to revive a cadet band. Fisher also brought the school's concert band to prominence, taking its members across the province, the country and farther abroad.
Fisher's son, Mark, spoke to BarrieToday last December after the decision was made to raze the building. He said his father, who died in 1989, would not have been sentimental about its demolition.
“Although he fought long and hard to have it built, there is nothing particularly redeeming about it. It is purely functional and there was no backstage area to it," Mark said. “If he were alive today he would be more concerned about the lack of an adequate concert venue — whatever its location — relative to the size and growth of the city."
Mayor Jeff Lehman, a Barrie Central graduate and proud alumnus, has said it was a "tough decision" to proceed with tearing down the former high school's theatre space, but he also called it "the right one." He says it allows the city to move ahead with planning for a new performing arts facility.
“The W.A. Fisher Auditorium will always hold a special place in Barrie’s history, but its legacy lives in the generations it inspired to perform, create and contribute to Barrie’s dynamic arts and culture scene," the mayor said in a city news release.
There had been plans to use the W.A. Fisher Auditorium as part of the city's new performing arts centre, but that idea was scrapped when it was decided it would need meet the community's needs. Cost projections also came in much higher than initially expected.
"The minimum financial investment for the combined theatre/conference centre is currently estimated at $50 million and not the $25.6 million previously suggested," a city staffer said in June 2020.
A task force was struck in March 2021 to further investigate a new performing arts centre in downtown Barrie. It will include site location, design needs, budget, and fundraising targets. The group is expected to report back by the end of the year.