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THEN AND NOW: Essa Rd. spot was grocery store for decades

Store changed hands several times after Samuel McMorran set up shop in late 1800s

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.

50 Essa Rd.

The first train arrived at the south shore of Kempenfelt Bay in 1853. A year later, a subdivision plan was registered for the village of Allandale.

The railroad was the driver for the growth and economy of this new community: railway buildings and infrastructure, along with housing, schools, industry, churches and businesses to support the workers and residents.

Samuel McMorran, a carpenter and builder, was one of many who made their way in the young village of Allandale.

Born in 1850 in Thornhill, McMorran came to the Allandale area as early as 1871, marrying Eliza Sarah Dryell, of Newmarket, in 1873. 

Purchasing land about 1887, the former carpenter opened a grocery store at the corner of Essa Road and Cumberland Street — a business he ran until the 1920s.

Frank Dobson, the new owner of McMorran’s store, couldn’t have been better suited to take over the established Allandale business. Dobson’s family had generations of experience in the grocery trade. 

Born in 1890 in Harrogate, Yorkshire, England, orphaned at the tender age of three and raised by his grandmother, Dobson apprenticed as a grocer in the United Kingdom, learning the shopkeeping business.

He came to Canada in 1913. He enlisted with the 123rd Battalion when the First World War broke out. He transferred to the 19th, where he saw active duty in France. 

Returning from the war in poor health, he married Irene Isabel Cooper in Toronto in 1918. They moved to Allandale and went into the grocery business at 50 Essa Rd.

Dobson and his wife were outgoing and neighbourly, making many friends throughout Allandale, their business providing a natural setting to engage with people. They both attended Burton Avenue United Church and were active in Sunday school and the choir.

Dobson’s fine baritone not only earned him a soloist position in the choir, but he also performed in many plays and productions outside of church. He held many positions at the church, including Sunday school superintendent, elder, church board and church representative to the Simcoe Presbytery and Toronto Conference. 

A gifted speaker, he often led the service at both Burton Avenue and Holly United churches when the ministers were on vacation.

Beyond church, Dobson served on the board of education for 12 years, was a director on the hospital board and the Barrie branch of the Victorian Order of Nurses, and was a member of the Veteran’s Club. 

He belonged to local lodges and service organizations, as a past president and one of the founding charter members of the Barrie Lions Club.

The Dobsons were busy and popular Allandale folks, frequently entertaining and holding church events in their home.

Their store at 50 Essa Rd. was eventually passed to another couple, whose family had history in the grocery business.

Albert Fleetham, Allandale resident and a brakeman with the railway, married Emily Jane Heard, of Caledon, in 1903. Fleetham owned property around the village, living on Burton Avenue, Cumberland Street and Short Street over the years.

By 1916, or perhaps even earlier, he was operating a grocery store in the southern half of 12 Essa Rd. (now 8 Essa Rd.), the other part of the building occupied by well-known watchmaker Wesley Webb

Fleetham encouraged his customers to call up 164 and order their groceries by phone, assuring them, “When you trade here, you are sure of getting the best of pure food supplies and close prices.”

Fleetham and his wife were enthusiastic members of Burton Avenue United Church and busy in neighbourhood happenings. Their grocery store did well, weathering unexpected incidents such as the time strong October wind whipped the main awning pole about, smashing the plate-glass window of the shop. 

But business continued, with Fleetham adding a motor truck to improve delivery service in 1922.

In the late summer of 1924, he thanked his valued clientele and sold his business to W.J. Harris. A month-long trip out West followed the sale, but did not signal an exit from the grocery world entirely as Fleetham attended the annual meeting of the Ontario Retail Grocers in Toronto in 1932.

And, he had some important real estate — 50 Essa Rd.

Orval Fleetham, Albert’s nephew, newly married to Mary Harlow Tate in 1940, soon continued the family grocery tradition in the lovely, old building.

Orval, previously with Powell’s Meats, took a position with Nu-Service Cleaners in 1941, but by about 1947, the couple were running the grocery store at 50 Essa Rd

The friendly, little market served the neighbourhood well — so well, Orval expanded his retail space twice, taking out walls and making additions to the building to keep up with the demand on his business.

Like Frank, the former resident grocer, Orval was musical. A seasoned musician, Orval was a member of the Barrie Band, a popular orchestra that played many local and out-of-town events. 

At the 1952 CNR Veteran’s Association of Toronto’s annual gathering and banquet, held in Barrie, Orval provided instrumental music as part of the entertainment.

The following year, the fifth Festival Concert of the four Barrie public schools (King Edward, Victoria, King George and Prince of Wales), held in the arena, was an over-the-top production. 

More than 600 students participated in the musical offerings. The annual event also celebrated the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the centennial of Barrie.

The extravagant program featured dazzling assistance by the Barrie Collegiate Concert Band, directed by W.A. Fisher. Also thrilling was Lloyd Tufford, director of the event, at the console of a thundering Hammond organ — a first for the Barrie arena. 

A large group of students from Prince of Wales school provided one of the favourite parts of the evening: square dancing. The caller was Tom Pattenden, with Mrs. Win Law on the piano and Orval Fleetham on the fiddle.

In 1955, Fleetham’s Red & White, a modern self-serve groceteria, was advertising a full line of fresh and frozen fruits, meats and vegetables. Allandale residents enjoyed shopping in the neighbourhood and Fleetham’s warm, welcoming service. 

As the local demand continued to increase, Orval and Mary knew it was time to make a change.

They built a new grocery store across the street — four times the size of their current market and at a cost of $70,000. 

With all-new facilities, plenty of parking, but with the same personal service, the new Red & White Foodmaster on Essa Road opened in the fall of 1965.

After more than 60 years, the grocery store days were over at 50 Essa Rd.