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Lifelong Barrie resident marks 100th birthday, recalls simpler time in town

'I like the waterfront. It reminds me of when I used to look across the bay from the Allandale Station toward Barrie when my dad, an engineer with CNR, was returning from the north,' says Leona Minnikin

You’d think someone who’s been around for as long as Leona Minnikin has would have a good perspective on life.

And you’d be right.

Minnikin turned 100 on Tuesday in the safe confines of the Amica Little Lake retirement home in Barrie.

“Some of the staff who are closer to me and that I talk to a lot had a little party for me,” she says happily over the phone during an interview with BarrieToday. “Then we went downstairs and they showed a video that a young chap  who used to come in and play the saxophone  made for me. We watched that and then had cake.

“Later on, (my daughters) came over and I saw all my family on the computer because they couldn’t come in,” Minnikin says, regarding COVID health restrictions and the trying times we are all in.

Minnikin is a Barrie girl through and through.

Born March 2, 1921 at Royal Victoria Hospital on Ross Street in Barrie, her parents were Minnie and David Poole. Minnie was born in Holland Landing and Leona’s dad was from Liverpool, England and came to Canada as a British Home Child.

The only girl in the family, with four older brothers (one died as an infant before she was born), Minnikin has many memories of her and her husband Elmer’s time in Barrie and the community.

What kind of place was the town when she was growing up in the 1920s, '30s and '40s?

“It was a good place, very neighbourly and neighbours were quick to help out, mind your kids, help build a fence or if you needed to borrow a cup of sugar,” Minnikin says. “When we gathered together for special occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, the whole family was there.”

There were the usual activities kids liked to do: skating, tobogganing in winter, games of baseball and lots of swimming in Kempenfelt Bay in the summer.

“I like the waterfront. It reminds me of when I used to look across the bay from the Allandale Station toward Barrie when my dad, an engineer with CNR, was returning from the north,” she says. “I would see the steam engine stop at the Barrie station, then come around the curve of the bay to Allandale where I would be waiting for my dad, with his lunch in a pail.”

Minnikin has been very active in the community  and the retirement home she has lived in for about five years  for decades.

She attended and volunteered at Collier Street United Church for many years, then Bethel Community Church for about the past 30 years. She participated in a mission to the Dominican Republic with Bethel Church when she was 80.

In 1975, along with other Barrie fans, she accompanied the Barrie Co-Op Midgets on a hockey trip to the Soviet Union.

And she remains physically fit. Her last 5Km Walk for Kids Help Phone in Barrie was when she was 90 years old.

Back in 1941, Minnikin started on a telephone switchboard at 21 Dunlop St. (now 17 and 19 Dunlop) and says she enjoyed her time in the toll department as the only woman in a crew of 12 men and two male managers.

“As a service advisor, my last position, I loved being on the road and visiting my clients at companies all over central Ontario,” says Minnikin, who was also featured in a BarrieToday story from 2018 about her interest in 18-wheelers.

And there have been challenges over the years, too.

“They were very uncertain times,” Minnikin says of the Second World War years  from 1939 to 1945  when Canadians of all ages did their part in the war effort. “The war was an unsettling time for us as we really didn’t know what was going to happen.

“It was a sad time,” she adds. “Men we knew or went to school with were going overseas and never coming home.

“When the war started, I was told to report to Prince of Wales School to identify myself as available to work in a factory if needed. Later during the war when I was working at Bell, I was part of a group that was trained on ham radios in the event Toronto was bombed and I would then be confined to the communications centre in Barrie (Bell) to send messages.”

A similar kind of resolve that kept Minnikin at the ready during those war years helps her keep her world in perspective now.

“These are trying times, when you can’t be with your family or go out to their place and that sort of thing. But you have to do what you have to do,” Minnikin says.

“It makes you appreciate the importance of people,” she adds. “People should take care of each other and be more caring of friends and family. We can lose a loved one so easily to this virus, so never take anyone for granted.”

Sage advice from someone who has had a year or two to learn a few things about life.

“I try to live every day for itself. And it’s a good thing, as you get older, to keep your sense of humour.”


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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