An easy commute is the envy of any Barrie resident who makes their way to the GTA every day.
How about a nice, 10-minute walk instead?
More than 60 years ago, when the Barrie OPP detachment opened near Bayfield Street and the brand-spanking-new Highway 400, some members of the Rose Street satellite offices found accommodation in newly built, two-storey houses on nearby Newton Street.
The OPP offices were closed to the public on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020, and were moved to 1 University Ave., in Orillia, but the Newton Street houses have been meticulously maintained over the years by various owners.
Andy Thompson and his wife, Jenni, bought one of the houses in 2015.
“We were looking for something that was sort of like a classic white-picket fence type of house and it had the aesthetics we were looking for,” he tells BarrieToday. “I imagine from here it would probably take less than 10 minutes to walk to the detachment. Not a bad commute.”
Deb Exel, curator and vice-president of the Barrie Historical Archive, confirms that the two-storey “square houses” on Newton Street, between Rose and Grove streets, were OPP houses.
“They used to be all white. They were sold off, I guess when the OPP decided to no longer provide housing to staff or officers,” she says. “As a kid — I lived a block or so away — one of my friends lived in an OPP house and her dad was an officer.”
Thompson concurs with Exel’s description of the house.
“Everything here is square,” he says, chuckling. “I describe the house as a cube with a pyramid on the top. It’s kind of like a little kid’s drawing of a house.”
Thompson says he and his wife purchased the house from a former OPP officer, who bought it when the government sold the homes off in the '70s.
“From my understanding, they were ordered from a catalogue — The Bay or Eaton’s, something like that — and then they were either ordered backwards or the builder put them on the lots backwards. All of them on Newton Street are that way,” he says.
“I also heard that when they built these two-storey houses, there was an uproar (from the nearby single-storey homeowners) that these humungous houses were being built on the block.”
It’s a “great neighbourhood” for a growing family, he adds.
The couple’s young one is not in school yet, but won’t have a long commute, either, when classes do come calling.
“Both Barrie North Collegiate and Oakley Park Public School are less than a 10-minute walk so that was another reason for us to move here,” says Thompson.
Local historian Brad Rudachyk, who holds a PhD, says the area around the ‘new’ OPP facility was underdeveloped in the 1950s.
“That’s how there was a five-acre block of land available (for it). Highway 400 extended past Duckworth Street and into Oro Township (as it was known then) at this time and the 400 extension was opened after November 1959,” he says. “The OPP’s new $400,000 District 7 HQ was announced in late May 1954. Barrie’s Chamber of Commerce Industrial Committee worked hard to retain an OPP presence in the town.
“The town was working hard in those days to attract industry,” Rudachyk adds. “Low-income housing in Barrie had been a chronic problem throughout World War Two and into the 1950s. The question of housing was part of the negotiations between the OPP and the chamber.”
While there would be a provincial police presence in Barrie until 2020, OPP officers did not patrol the municipality’s streets after 1955.
The OPP announced it was withdrawing policing from municipalities larger than 2,000 people on March 11, 1955, meaning Barrie had to muster its own local police force. The provincial police stopped patrolling Barrie on Jan. 1, 1956.
Treva Thompson (no relation) lived at 71 Newton from 1971 — when she was about two years old — until 1981.
“My dad was an OPP constable and when the OPP sold the homes, we bought that one from them,” she says. “I remember it being such a fun street. Everyone knew everyone. There was a sense of it being a real community. There were a number of OPP officers on the street and we all felt like we were safe and looked out for.
“We lived right on the corner of Newton and Rose streets, right beside the entrance to the back field of North Collegiate. I remember being a bit afraid of the big ‘high schoolers’, which I eventually became when I attended North from 1984 to 1989,” Thompson says, adding her dad was a motorcycle cop for many of the early years that her family lived there.
“He would walk to the station and pick up his bike for his shift and would usually come home for lunch. He often put me on the seat in front of him for a little ‘tour’ around the yard. What a thrill!”