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Despite demolition, W.A. Fisher's legacy will live on, son says

'He always regarded himself as an educator and was dedicated to the profession,' says son, stressing his father would not lament demise of building that bears his name

The building that bears his name will soon be torn down.

But memories of the contributions made by W.A. Fisher - for whom the auditorium of the former Barrie Central Collegiate was named - will endure.

He had an extraordinary career at the downtown high school from 1937 to 1972 and was originally hired to head the English and history departments, as well as to revive a cadet band.

That effort would pay off in spades over the years as the BDI concert band would evolve and thrive with members travelling the province, the country and the world.

Fisher endeared himself to generations of students, his son Mark says.

“The first students who were children of the 1937-38 original band themselves came into the band around 1962,” Mark explains. “He always regarded himself as an educator and was dedicated to the profession.

“He was a self-taught musician and had no formal training,” Fisher says of his father who died in 1989. “As a boy he learned to play clarinet (badly) with the Cobourg Kiltie Band (his hometown) but took up the sax and put himself through Queen's University from 1926 to 1930 with his own dance band.”

His successors, Morley Calvert and Lisa Perry, “certainly maintained the high standards” his father had set, Fisher says.

“However, surviving band students of his that I know repeatedly emphasize to me the importance of WA and the band in their later lives and careers, not just from the music but also from his history classes and his tireless personality,” he says, adding the senior Fisher was well liked and respected by students and staff.

“He always went by Allen,” Mark says. “Students and adults also referred to him as W.A. or WAF (as in one word).”

But now the building that bears his name, which showcased decades of entertainment and scholastic achievement, will soon be no more.

Barrie city council decided recently, with no discussion, to demolish the performing arts facility on the former Barrie Central Collegiate site.

Council also put plans for a new theatre and conference centre on hold for 12 months, or when post-COVID-19 recovery allows market conditions to improve to the point that its business case can be updated and assessed. As well, city staff have been directed to look at separate sites for a new theatre and conference centre.

“I don't think my father would be overly concerned about its demolition,” Fisher says. “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.

“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.

“He viewed it as primarily a school facility for school functions - purely a part of the school that existed for the purposes of music education,” and an improvement to the original school’s previous auditorium - with its low ceiling and cramped stage - that could only hold about 600 students.

That was compared to 1,000-plus students of the later six or seven decades who filled W.A. Fisher Auditorium.

Fisher is wrapping up a book about his father - Notes in Time: A History of W.A. Fisher and the Barrie Collegiate Band, 1937-1972 - which he hopes to post online in the near future. For more details, contact him at 705 728-3825.

Ian McInroy

About the Author: Ian McInroy

Ian McInroy is an award-winning photographer and journalist with more than 30 years in the industry
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