From tractors to earth movers.
Heavy machinery is making light work of transforming hundreds of acres of former farm land in the city’s south end.
Some day in the not-too-distant future, thousands of new Barrie residents will live in what are now fields around the intersection of McKay Road West and Veteran's Drive.
The parcel of land at the southwest corner of that intersection will include more than of 1,000 single-detached homes, about 400 townhouses, a commercial block, an elementary school, a neighbourhood park, and a village square.
But 54 years ago, that parcel wasn’t just sprouting crops. Like so many other thousands of acres of annexed land over the past 130-odd years, it was in InnisfiI and it was Canada’s centennial.
Expo ’67 in Montreal wasn’t the only big show in town. The 1967 International Plowing Match was held on the farm of Joseph Cochrane, whose land stretched from Innisfil Line 10 (now McKay Road) south along Innisfil Sideroad 5 (now Veteran's Drive) to Line 9.
Now, giant earth movers have taken the place of tractors, a change not lost on Margaret Cochrane.
She and her late husband, Don, along with his father Joe (who was also Innisfil reeve), lived in a beautiful Victoria-era home built in 1869 on what is now Veteran's Drive.
“We had a beautiful home down there,” she tells BarrieToday while standing in the shadow of mountains of topsoil along a busy Veteran's Drive. “There was also the big barn there that Willard Kinzie from Lakeview Dairy had at one point.”
(The City of Barrie's first mayor was apparently looking to produce his own moo juice.)
“It’s too bad,” Cochrane says of the transformation of the fields into another Barrie neighbourhood.
“This was good farm land. It was all in crop,” she says. “It’s so sad. We’re losing all of our agricultural land and that’s where we get our food.”
Back in 1967, there was more of an appreciation of farmers and farming and where peoples's food came from, she says.
“I don’t think people even think about it any more.”
But just as crops grow, so do cities.
After negotiations between the two municipalities and the provincial government, the Barrie Innisfil Boundary Adjustment Act came into effect in January 2010, increasing Barrie’s size by more than 5,600 acres.
The development taking place on the former Cochrane farm and the area around McKay and Veteran’s will utilize massive infrastructure work taking place along the city’s south side.
Sewage capacity is at the heart of bringing the Salem lands (former Innisfil land) in the west of south Barrie up to speed.
“Development in the Salem lands has been delayed due to the lack of a waste-water solution and a funding agreement between the involved developers and the city,” Ward 7 Coun. Gary Harvey tells BarrieToday. “This has all been resolved and council has approved the funding to move this project forward.”
The big pipe will allow all of the Salem lands to be built out over the next 10 to 15 years, he adds.
“Seven years for construction is required as this is an extremely large and deep pipe that will go north along Huronia Road to McKay and then west beneath Highway 400 into the Salem lands," Harvey says.
The three developers in the area are working on a pumping station to be built to service Phase 1 of the land and that station will allow them to start building much sooner than the seven years, Harvie adds.
Building on what was once prime farm land has become commonplace and something Keith Robinson is not keen on.
The local International Plowing Match mainstay — he’s plowed in every IPM across Ontario (except 2020 and ’21) for the last 67 years — laid down his first competitive furrow when he was just 13 years old back in 1950.
“I got into the habit and have been going every year,” he tells BarrieToday while leaning on his trusty Massey-Harris tractor. “It’s the same as curling or baseball or anything. You get hooked on it and look forward to it every year.”
Robinson says he’s watched productive farming operations disappear over the years while working the family farm — which has been around since 1839 — south of Cookstown.
“They’re gobbling up a lot of good land,” he says. “They seem to put the importance of agriculture to the bottom of the list. Everything else (the growth of the city) take precedence.
“It’s not only the Barrie area. It’s all over the province. It increases the traffic and increases the pollution. Everything.”