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Volunteers gathering Barrie's history into an online archive for all

The Barrie Historic Archive will be officially launched at a special event including all of the city's living past mayors dating back to 1959 in September at city hall

They each have their individual reasons for getting involved, but a love of history is universal with this group of volunteers.

As members of the Barrie Historical Archive (BHA) collect, organize, catalogue and label photos, slides, video clips, newspaper clippings and other treasures, they are creating Barrie's digital history to be available free to anyone around the world on the Internet.

"It's really quite amazing," said Nancy Dickey, archive manager. "The photos that we have, at least most of them, are coming from families. These are photos that have never before been seen by anyone but family members or friends.

"Imagine when people are able to see these photos for the very first time. The memories that are triggered will be very special. It's going to give people a look at Barrie's history, as they have never seen it before."

About a dozen volunteers gathered in a hot and humid room at the Barrie Chamber of Commerce office on Sunday afternoon, to spend a few hours sorting through the latest treasures and adding them to the system.

Historians research each photo, looking for confirmation of any facts that come along with the images and trying to find the historic relevance and build stories to accompany each image. It's a daunting task, considering the history of Barrie dates back to the early 19th Century. That's more than 170 years of people, places, accomplishments and events.

Also, it can take time to bring the digital images to optimum quality - essential for the project.

In all, there are now about 1,500 photos in the archive - an amazing feat to accomplish in just a few months. 

The group has also raised over $6,000 toward its goal of a $7,500 for the annual budget.

"The public is very receptive," said Travis Doucette, co-founder of the BHA.

"They are sharing their collections and we are able to quickly scan the photos and return them."

He stresses the fact that the new archive is 100 per cent digital and there are no physical storage facilities.

The Barrie Historic Archives grew out of the popular Facebook page, "If You Grew Up in Barrie". More than 6,500 people subscribe to the site, making it the largest FB group in the area and proving that "history is cool."

It's a project that is catching on with volunteer ranks growing from five in January to over 40 today. Fundraising also shows a growing support, with over 5,000 being collected in the past three months.

Excitement is building for the official launch at city hall on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.

The theme is Mayors' Seat, and while admission is free, $10 tickets are now on sale for reserved seats.

"It's going to be really exciting," Doucette said. "We now have all of the living mayors of Barrie right back to 1959, who have agreed to attend."

Each of the 10 mayors will have a chance to share details about the most memorable event for the city during his or her term in office.

Organizers hope to have at least 2,500 photos online in time for the launch.

"The strength of our archive is built upon unpublished family pictures that tell your story," Doucette explained. "We are looking to borrow any photos, slides, fim and video taken in Barrie. We work with professionals to ensure the property is cared for and digitised professionally."

All contributors will be recognized by name with their archival entry.

To share items, volunteer with the group or make a donation, visit



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Robin MacLennan

About the Author: Robin MacLennan

Robin MacLennan has been a reporter, photographer and editor for the daily media in Barrie, across Simcoe County and Toronto for many years. She is a proud member of the Barrie community.
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