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Willard Kinzie, the city's first mayor, passes away at 99

Willard Kinzie, who was also well known for his active lifestyle, served as Barrie's mayor from 1957 to 1961

Willard Kinzie, the first mayor of Barrie as a city, who was known affectionately as ‘The Milk Man’ to generations of local residents not to mention for his passion of outdoor activity, has died.

Mr. Kinzie was 99.

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman confirmed Kinzie’s passing on his Facebook page.

Kinzie, who died on Sunday, had been admitted to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) before being moved into palliative care at Hospice Simcoe last week, according to family.

“Barrie has lost one of its greatest leaders and one of its greatest champions,” Lehman wrote in his post, noting Kinzie’s involvement with developing the city’s lakeshore. “It is not an exaggeration to call Willard Kinzie the father of our waterfront. He saw the possibility to create a park and beach, a place for all the people of Barrie.

“This legacy not only delights us, it defines us. That the first thing about Barrie that most of us mention is our waterfront, is due to Willard's vision,” added Lehman, who called Kinzie “mentor.”

“In more recent years, he brought the concept of a waterfront heritage trail to the city, now enjoyed by residents and visitors as they walk around Kempenfelt Bay,” Lehman added.

Friends will be received at Adams Funeral Home, 455 St. Vincent St., in Barrie on Sunday, Dec. 2 from 3-8 p.m. A funeral service will be held at First Baptist Church, 550 Grove St. E., in Barrie, beginning at 1 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 3, with visitation from noon.

A staunch proponent of remaining active, something Kinzie did well into his 90s, his family says his last workout happened just two days before being admitted to hospital.

“He displayed a positive attitude and an amazing sense of humour,” his family wrote in a draft obituary obtained by BarrieToday. “He liked people and people liked him.

“In his later years, he always was thankful for each additional day, and enjoyed the steady flow of friends and family that would visit. His family and friends will forever miss his long (sometimes VERY long) stories, his sense of humour and the joy he brought to everyone around him,” the obituary added.

Kinzie was widely known around town and would show up at occasional civic events where he would flash his infectious smile, never at a loss to tell an old story or two. Those kind of things happen when you’re the city’s first mayor.

“Willard continued to inspire long after leaving office,” Lehman said. “Some five decades later, at the inauguration of the 2010 city council, and already more than 90 years of age, he urged us to ‘be bold’, words that would be repeated time and again as council considered our path.”

Barrie was incorporated as a city in 1959 and Kinzie served as mayor from 1957 until 1961, following a run as alderman. Being its first mayor was a distinction he was proud to hold throughout his long life, his family said.

Kinzie married Ruth Snider in 1942 and they remained together for 67 years. The couple had three children: Bob, George and Susan. Ruth Kinzie passed away on Jan. 26, 2011 following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2016, Kinzie married longtime family friend Karen Hunter.

Kinzie’s legacy includes six grandchildren (Joel, Jason, Carolyn, Neil, Rachael and Kyle) and four great-grandchildren (Serena, Henry, Neko and Kaelynn).

Willard Lewis Kinzie was born Sept. 26, 1919 in Blair, Ont., which is now part of Cambridge, and raised on a local farm during the Great Depression. Brought up in a Mennonite family, his family says he maintained high values and a strong sense of integrity throughout his life.

During the Second World War, Kinzie served with the Canadian firefighters and was stationed at Portsmouth, England, during the Battle of Britain. It was also during this time that Kinzie was victorious in a one-mile race at an all-forces track meet.

After returning from overseas, Kinzie purchased a small, one-route dairy business near Guelph, which he sold two years later.

Kinzie then moved to Barrie where he acquired Lakeview Dairy on July 1, 1947, a business he ran until 1975. At that time, it served about 800 customers and saw an average output of 1,200 quarts of milk daily.

During his time at the helm of the business, Kinzie bought 52 additional operations over the course of more than two decades, turning the company into one of Canada’s largest independently owned dairies.

BarrieToday spoke to Mr. Kinzie this past summer to get his take on a proposed development at the old Lakeview Dairy site, located on Dunlop Street East.

“My father and three of his brothers had a little dairy farm in Blair, Ont.,” Kinzie told BarrieToday. “They operated out of the basement of their house and they had horses to transport the milk. When I was a young boy, the Kinzie brothers would get together... They used to tell fun stories about the dairy business, so it got ingrained in me that this was more fun than farming.”

Kinzie also branched out into the restaurant business and was one of Canada’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchisees. The family says he even became friends with Colonel Saunders, which was a huge delight for Kinzie’s grandchildren.

Upon his retirement from politics and business, Kinzie began filling his time with outdoor activities; he had a particular love for hiking and backpacking, a passion that took him around the world to places such as the Rocky Mountains, Nepal and the Yukon. Just a month after a hip replacement, he led a hike in New Zealand.

Kinzie also reached the summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro on his 79th birthday and completed the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States in his 88th year.

His trail name, fittingly, was ‘Titanium Man’.

Kinzie also climbed Mount Washington more than 50 times and launched Willard’s Adventure Club, a non-profit organization.

In addition to his regular workouts at the YMCA, Kinzie’s other sporting loves included cross-country skiing, hiking and baseball.

Curling was a large part of Kinzie’s later life. In 2004, he led the team he skipped to an “eight-ender” (which is a perfect score in a single end) at the Barrie Curling Club, one of only three in the club’s long history.

Kinzie also had a laser-like focus on developing Barrie’s Waterfront Trail. Well into his late 80s, he helped design the trail, secure funding and gain necessary approvals. His family says it was one of his proudest achievements.

Kinzie is also a member of the Order of the Spirit Catcher, an honour bestowed on local citizens who’ve volunteered selflessly, made significant contributions to the lifestyle of the community, benefited others and brought honour to the city through exceptional achievement.

Outside of business and politics, Kinzie was well known in the community for his advocacy of a healthy lifestyle.

In December 2016, a plaque was unveiled at the end of the North Shore Trail where people could high-five a bronzed cast iron imprint of his hand.

At the time of its unveiling in 2016, Kinzie told BarrieToday he got the idea for the plaque in Siesta Key, Fla., where there's a similar spot people touch for inspiration.

"Years ago, someone painted a picture of a monkey on the wall, which now is all faded out, but it's become the tradition over the years that you touch the wall when you get there.”