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.
The Barrie Hotel (94 Dunlop St. E.)
The very first ‘hotel’ in Barrie was Carney and Crow’s Tavern, a log structure built on the southwest corner of Five Points, about 1833.
When Joseph Crow left the business in 1834 to set up his own tavern on the new Sunnidale Road, his stepson and partner, Richard Carney, renamed the tavern the Plough Inn.
In 1840, Carney served as a warden of Vespra Township and, during the building of the county courthouse, he was the clerk of the building committee until construction was completed in 1843. Richard Carney later moved to Owen Sound as a custom house officer and the tavern was sold to Edward Marks in 1847.
Marks changed the name of the inn to the Farmer’s Arms, but by 1850, Edward Marks had bid farewell to the old tavern, building a new brick establishment on Dunlop Street East, known as Marks’ Hotel.
The first county clerk, Barrie postmaster, former merchant and widower, John McWatt, had married Elizabeth Marks, 18 years his junior and daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Marks, in 1848, just a scant month after the death of his McWatt’s first wife, Elizabeth (yes, that’s three Elizabeths).
In 1856, John, Elizabeth and his three children moved to Collingwood so John could assume the position of customs collector. One year later, his in-laws, Edward and Elizabeth Marks, joined them. Edward would pass away in Collingwood that same year.
The Marks had leased the hotel around 1853. In 1854, John Elgie of the Lake Elgie Hotel in Toronto, advised his friends and customers that he had leased the establishment known as the Marks’ Hotel in Barrie.
Elgie announced that he had completely overhauled the inn, painting, papering and refurnishing throughout. He offered private sitting rooms with attached bedrooms, perfect for families, and had large stables. Elgie renamed the inn the Barrie Hotel.
Daniel Farrager replaced Elgie in 1858. The McWatts and the widow Marks returned from Collingwood in 1866, resuming operation of the hotel. In 1868, Mrs. Marks the proprietress and John McWatt the superintendent announced a brick expansion of their hotel, adding almost 30 warm and comfortable rooms to the inn.
Upon McWatt’s retirement in 1872, Alfred Arnall became proprietor of the Barrie Hotel. The previous year, Arnall, part of a small private group, the Barrie Park Association, formed a one-mile track on a 47-acre parcel of land between Brock and Victoria streets, west of Anne street – a race course meant to host the 1873 Queen’s Plate.
The hotelkeeper was also in the brewing business with Robert Simpson’s son, Thomas, but by the mid-1880s, Simpson, Arnall & Co. was in trouble and the business sold at public auction. The Andertons would take it over about 1900.
By spring of 1892, the Barrie Hotel was up for sale or rent. Boasting a fine reputation from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Barrie Hotel with its desirable central downtown location, just a one minute walk from the train station, could be available to the right party.
Was T.R. Skelsey the right party? Thomas Round Skelsey, born 1854 at Bethnal Green in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, Greater London, came to Canada about 1871, settling in Toronto. Skelsey, worked as a hotel clerk in the late 1880s and in the early 1890s at the Rossin House in Toronto.
Thomas, his wife Martha and their five children relocated to Barrie, Skelsey leasing the Barrie Hotel in 1896. It was reported that Skelsey had renovated the entire hotel, including new sample rooms on the main floor and new plate glass windows. The bedrooms were said to be large and airy, and the stables were the best in town.
The Barrie Hotel offered excellent dining and a bar that featured top-shelf wines and liquors along with the finest cigars.
In 1897, the handsome second-storey balcony was added to the front of the Barrie Hotel.
Strangely, for such a seemingly well-appointed and successful establishment, the Barrie Hotel closed in the fall of 1897. The Skelsey family were gone and the household furniture, including the beds and bedding, as well as the fine liquors and cigars, were sold at public auction.
Presumably, Skelsey returned to Toronto.
Martha passed away in 1902, and T.R. remarried Mary Ann Wood. They all rest in Prospect Cemetery, Toronto.
In 1905, local Barrie hoteliers implemented new pricing: if you wanted to enjoy the luxury of a whiskey, it was now 10 cents. As for stable rates, guests were charged for hay whether they brought their own or not.
Down the street to the east of the Barrie Hotel, a fire destroyed the Queen’s Hotel on Feb 10, 1915. Three years later, the charred timbers, debris and ruins of the hotel, remained untouched since the devastating fire.
The unsightly property, a source of contention, prompted town council to call upon residents to clean it up … especially before the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire visited Barrie that summer.
In 1924, the Lowe boys would give the Barrie Hotel a new look and a new identity.
Thomas Lowe, born to Irish parents about 1879, was a superb athlete growing up in Thornbury: a star on the lacrosse field, a baseball player and champion speed skater. Although he could have pursued sports, he preferred to stay in the community, marrying Olive Mitchell from nearby Clarksburg.
Thomas had an early start in the hotel business, operating the Revere Hotel in Thornbury, which his father had run. In the early 1920s, Thomas managed the Globe Hotel in Collingwood for a year before buying the Barrie Hotel, with his brother Richard.
The Lowes set to renovating the hotel, increasing the number of beds to 40, with plans for even more. Every room in the hotel had new furniture, the dining room with its new lighting would seat 60 and the rotunda equipped with comfortable chairs and all the trappings to make their guests feel right at home.
The brothers even requested permission from the town to install an electric sign over the hotel. In May 1924, the Barrie Hotel reopened … as the Queen’s Hotel.
Thomas Lowe operated the Queen’s hotel until about 1935, before retiring and selling the business to a Mrs. Bell. The Lowes were the last family to live in the gracious dwelling at 168 Dunlop St. E., the former home of mayor Donald Ross, just a couple blocks from the old Barrie Hotel.
A recipient of the Heritage Barrie Heritage Award, the historic Queens Hotel continues to be a popular spot to this day.