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THEN AND NOW: 74 High Street – Part Two

Stately house at 74 High St. is one of Barrie's last remaining ‘grand homes’

This ongoing series from Barrie Historical Archive curator Deb Exel shows old photos from the collection and one from the present day, as well as the story behind them. If you missed Part One of the story, you can catch up here.

The stately house at 74 High St. is one of the remaining ‘grand homes’ of Barrie.

Once a town with numerous lavish estates and mansions, many of Barrie’s magnificent homes been demolished. But some have survived, as private residences (Beverly Hall, Bellevoir, The Hill) while others have found new purpose as apartments (Ardtrea,  Carnoevar), fashionable guest houses (Foxley) or professional spaces like 178 Bayfield St.

Today we’ll get a glimpse inside a house while it was still living its grand life – a view rich with details and the personal recollections of the descendants of a Barrie pioneer family and dynasty.

Joanne Raycraft, granddaughter of Agnes “Aggie” Lockerbie Campbell Dyment Laing, the mistress of 74 High St., co-ordinated with her siblings and cousins to share some childhood memories of the grand home of a grand lady.

Built in 1907, very little, if anything, had changed inside this grand home in over 50 years … it was a time capsule.

Coming up the walkway to 74 High, it would be hard not to be impressed by the baronial wraparound porch populated with graceful wicker furniture. Once through the solid, heavy front door was a small foyer where coats were taken, then another door to the entrance hall.

At the back of the entrance hall hung an ancient and fragile Union Jack flag, now at the Simcoe County Museum. In terms of technology, the entrance way also housed a niche for the phone: an oak boxed, wall-mounted magneto-powered telephone. The light switches around the home were the push-button style.

The home had attractive woodwork throughout. Off the entrance, pocket doors led to the dining room on the right, and the drawing room on the left. The doors to the drawing room were kept closed, but careful peeking revealed an elegant space filled with Hepplewhite furniture, a lovely fainting couch, fireplace, a large blue Mary Gregory vase, a grand piano as well as an organ with foot pedals and bellows. Perhaps John Laing’s silver tea service, engraved with his family crest, a muzzled bear head, resided in this elegant room as well.

Across the hall, the dining room was the setting of many parties and celebrations over the years. At dinner, Aggie would sit at one end of the large dining table and her husband at the other. In a time when children were seen and not heard, it was a thrill to be seated at the ‘grown up’ table for Sunday dinners.

Young Joanne found it completely amazing that as one course finished, the maid would ‘intuitively’ appear to clear the dishes and present the next course. The ‘magic’ of course, was in a foot-activated bell, controlled by step-grandad John, that would cue the maid!

A storage pantry with glass doors on the upper cupboards was located between the dining room and kitchen. The kitchen had an exit to the backyard and down to the basement, plus access to the pantry and a narrow staircase, used by the maids to reach the second floor.

The ‘off-limits-to-kids’ basement also had its share of tantalizing treasures. Grandson Bob recalls a couple of covert visits to the cellar to play with some amazing metal toys and a windup record player … before being busted by step-granddad John!

The occupants of 74 High used a wide, splendid, two-landing front staircase to get to the upstairs of the house. Once on the large, second floor landing, there was the spacious bathroom with a separate room for the toilet and another room with black and white floor tiles, for the enormous cast iron tub and double claw-foot pedestal sinks with their quaint, old-fashioned taps. The orange hand soap with its distinctive (sandalwood?) scent still conjures memories for one grandchild.

Next to the bathroom, the Blue Room, overlooking the Armouries and Queen’s Park, was a pleasant room with a fireplace, large bed and dressers. This is where the grandchildren would be served tea, crustless sandwiches and molasses cookies. After the refreshments, Joanne would play the piano (loudly), prompting compliments from her grandmother.

Also on the second floor was the library with its walkout to the second floor balcony. Filled with large pieces of leather furniture, books, beautiful thick rugs, a large table used as John’s desk and a fireplace, it was also a room for special artifacts and keepsakes. Harold Dyment, a dog enthusiast, had prints of dogs, sporting gentlemen and other period pieces on the walls.

Also on display, were trophies, such as champion cocker spaniel Brookdale Violet’s, since donated to the Canadian Kennel Club archives, by grandson Andy.

Heirlooms from Harold’s grandfather Nathaniel Dyment’s Rowanhurst, such as a King’s Plate trophy, or articles from Simon Dyment’s Maplehurst, may have also made their way to the library at 74 High St. Bob remembers a magnificent brass mantle clock with a warrior holding an ax over his head, possibly circa 1860, made in New York, and that his brother Gary was intrigued with the sounds the ornate clock made.

Aggie’s bedroom faced High Street, and off the landing two adjoining bedrooms completed the second-floor plan. The staircase climbed to another landing, then ascended to the third floor. On the top level, was a storage room filled with more captivating items, a bedroom for the children, a bathroom and the maid’s quarters.

As grand and formal as life at 74 High St. must sound, Aggie’s grandchildren found her home to be cozy and their grandmother thoughtful and doting. That brass mantle clock? Knowing her grandson’s fascination with the timepiece, Aggie quickly gave the clock to his father, her son Herb, to hold onto for him.

Bob’s sister liked to play on one the pianos … Aggie had the big Heintzman shipped north to the Falconbridge Radar Base where the family was stationed. Both the clock and the piano are still in the family. John’s library desk would have new and interesting lives in Joanne’s family, along with the Laing family tea service.

Aggie was generous to her grandkids in other ways as well, opening her gracious home for her granddaughter’s wedding. When Aggie had to take to her bed with illness, her bedroom became ‘the parlour’ where her grandchildren would now spend time with her, the youngest one often getting under the covers with her. These mementos, moments and memories were Aggie’s gifts to her grandchildren.

Sadly, when Aggie went to rest in 1964 and John not too many years later, it ended an era of grand days and ways, and Dyment family gatherings at 74 High St.