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HMCS Barrie painting gives nod to city's military past, namesake

Corvette named for this city was involved in two rescues during the Second World War in the North Atlantic, pulling 52 sailors from the ocean after their ships had been sunk by German U-boats

Bridging Barrie's past and present with its namesake took the helm at council earlier this week with the unveiling of a new painting featuring HMCS Barrie, whose crew served with distinction during the Second World War.

Members of the Sir Robert Barrie Project committee made the presentation during Monday night's city council meeting.

The painting, completed by Canadian marine artist Peter Rindlisbacher, shows HMCS Barrie leaning heavily in churning waters, backdropped by a dark, ominous sky.

Committee member Lt.-Col. (ret.) Bill Sergeant urged people to imagine what those sailors went through. 

"It's only 205 feet long, has a complement of 85 people and it's cold, it's dark, it's wet and it's the North Atlantic," Sergeant said. "My hat's off to every one of those brave sailors who were members of that crew, and especially to the skippers."

The Royal Canadian Navy Flower-class corvette, officially named His Majesty's Canadian Ship Barrie, served primarily as a convoy escort during the Battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War. 

HMCS Barrie was involved in two rescues during the war. The first included saving 38 British sailors after their ship had been torpedoed by a German U-boat on Feb. 16, 1942, southeast of St. John's, N.L. The other involved plucking 14 survivors from the sea after their British merchant ship was sunk by a German U-boat, southeast of Louisbourg, N.S., on Sept. 3, 1944.

The ship's bell was used during this week's painting presentation. 

The new artwork will hang in the reception area outside the offices of the mayor and CAO at city hall. 

"We were tempted to put it in a very public place, but these are obviously very valuable paintings that have to be protected a little bit from a climate point of view, as well, so they're going to be in the front part of the office where there's a little bit of security," Mayor Jeff Lehman told BarrieToday

Reproductions of the painting will be presented to local museums and the Sea Cadets.

HMCS Barrie was built at the Collingwood Shipyards in 1940, commissioned in 1941 and decommissioned in June 1945; the ship was sold for merchant service in 1947 and was later used by the Argentinean Navy before being broken up in 1972.

The work of the Sir Robert Barrie Project all adds up to informing people more about the city's namesake. 

"People might have heard of Sir Robert Barrie, but most people don't have much idea who he was," Lehman said. "He was a British war hero, the head of the British military in Canada and the War of 1812."

This week's presentation wasn't the first time the committee, which began four years ago, has come bearing gifts. 

There's also a model of HMCS Barrie on display in the City Hall Rotunda, "and now we have this incredible painting of it in action," Lehman said. 

Another painting, which is on display in the vestibule outside the mayor's office, was commissioned depicting a scene from the War of 1812 with Sir Robert Barrie's ship, HMCS Dragon.

There's also a display case with his uniform, sword and some other artifacts from Barrie's day.

"They're adding to the historical knowledge and awareness through art and through these displays, and what better place than city hall," Lehman said. "I think it's incredible and another reason for people to come down and visit their city hall."

Sir Robert Barrie Project committee members include former mayor Janice Laking and former city councillor Rob Warman, both of whom are honorary colonel emeritus at Canadian Forces Base Borden, as well as Maj. (ret.) Jean Maurice Pigeon, Master Warrant Officer (ret.) Randolph Rice, and Don Komarechka. 

"This is the brainchild of these citizens who have formed this project, just deciding to do this for the city," Lehman said. "Both as veterans and as Barrie citizens, they really felt there was not great knowledge yet about who Robert Barrie was, who the city is named for, and why he's important." 

Sergeant also thanked the several donors who helped finance the project, as well as those who provided their technical expertise, knowledge and assistance.

Sergeant also pushed from public support in naming the new secondary school, which is being built on Mapleview Drive East, after Sir Robert Barrie. He added the sports teams could be called the 'Dragons' after his ship.

Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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