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.
Palk House – 87 Mary St.
This large, comfortable home was built in 1899 and is exactly where you would expect a successful downtown merchant of that period to live.
Charles William Pawl was born in Oro Township in 1867. In the late 1880s, Pawl left home, taking a job as a parcel boy at Frawly and Devlin dry goods. He worked at the store for 13 years, learning all aspects of the house furnishing business as he moved up through the organization.
In 1895, Charles married an Oro girl named Elizabeth Sarah Arthur.
Armed with his valuable experience at Frawly and Devlin, Palk rented the ground floor of a large store at Five Points — a building that would later become the Bank of Nova Scotia — and opened his own furniture store about 1900.
Within six months, business was brisk, prompting Palk to rent the upper floor of the corner building.
Two years later, he had expanded into the building to west of him on Elizabeth Street — which is now Dunlop Street West — by acquiring both the first and second floors. With the additional space, Palk added carpets, rugs, linoleum, pictures, and picture framing to his merchandise lines.
The large show windows — perhaps the largest in all of downtown Barrie — held attractive displays. This enticing marketing was believed to be a driver for his strong, year-round sales. Three gold medals for the nicest carpet displays at the fall fair, confirmed Palk’s flair for merchandising … his furniture and carpet exhibits were thought to be the best ever seen at the fair.
Charles was an enthusiastic and energetic young merchant, professing to "furnish a home every day of the year." A furniture van for deliveries and a telephone for communication were part of his attention to customer service and accessibility.
In Palk’s carpet room, a machine would sew carpets versus manual work. Unbelievably, folks buying carpets could have them sewn and ready to lay within a couple hours of purchasing ... and at no extra charge! It was all part of the Palk experience.
The Five Points Furniture Store was packed with furniture on the first and second floors, with more in the basement just waiting to be rotated into display. His furniture was considered good quality and some of it quite expensive.
Palk’s stock of rugs and floor coverings was extensive in both supply and selection. His imported English linoleum were of high quality and very popular in some of the large homes in Barrie. The massive selection of pictures and frames completed his home furnishing offerings.
In five short years of business, Palk’s stock grew from about $500 in value to more than $10,000, with good turnover as well. It was an impressive accomplishment.
Charles was also a member of the Baptist Church, a member of the Ancient Order of Foresters and a shareholder in the Barrie Carriage Company. Yes, the nice home on Mary Street was just what you would expect of a successful young businessman.
Another notable occupant of the home at 87 Mary was Lt.-Col Alex Cowan of the 81st Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) 330 'A' and Air Sea Rescue (ASR).
Cowan, a lawyer, was also Barrie’s mayor from 1912 to 1914. When Alex Cowan passed away in his gracious Mary Street home, he rested there until he laid in state at St. Andrew’s Church, prior to his funeral and interment at Barrie Union Cemetery.