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THEN AND NOW: Holgate House paints beautiful picture of Allandale's heritage

Allandale-born artist Edwin Holgate was invited to join Group of Seven in 1929 and showed with the famous group in 1930-31

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. 

Holgate House

Edwin Holgate, the eighth member of the prestigious Group of Seven artists, was born in Allandale in 1892.

Holgate studied art in Europe before enlisting in 1916 to serve with the Canadian Army in France during the First World War.

After the war, Holgate continued in Montreal as a painter, muralist and wood-cut artist, studying and teaching.

In 1929, he was invited to join the Group of Seven and showed with the group in 1930-31.

During the Second World War, Holgate worked as an official Canadian war artist with the Royal Canadian Air Force in England.

Holgate was also one of 18 Canadian artists who, in 1954, were commissioned for a project by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).

The Canadian transcontinental train was putting new park cars into service and wanted a mural depicting a national or provincial park on the interiors of ear car. Holgate's assignment was Mont-Tremblant National Park in Quebec.

But are you thinking Holgate Street was named for our famous local artist?

Nope. It was named for Edwin’s father – Henry Holgate.

The elder Holgate was a civil engineer, apprenticing at the Northern Railway for Frederic Cumberland in 1878, assigned to railway construction and maintenance until 1891, then bridge and structural design until 1894. It was in 1891 that Sir Henry Tyler, president of the Grand Trunk Railway, came to Barrie and Allandale to inspect the Northern Division.

Holgate, along with other suits and staff, accompanied Sir Henry on his inspection – the train consisted of a ‘nicely fixed up locomotive’ and four cars. The VIPs were reportedly delighted with the situation in Barrie, with the general manager remarking that when he cast his eyes across the bay “that they had got into the Garden of Eden.”

The entire group was in agreement that Allandale and Barrie were the neatest and cleanest stations seen so far on the Grand Trunk system. The party had no need for hotel accommodations for their one-night stay – their train had all the facilities they required.

Before departing for Collingwood, Meaford, Penetanguishene and then North Bay, Sir Henry used Carley’s bath house platform (and the waters of Kempenfelt Bay) for bathing. All in all, the executives were extremely pleased with the conditions and good work being done in ‘Barrie the Beautiful’ and ‘Allandale the Busy’. 

It was also in 1891, at a Nov. 12 meeting in Bothwell’s Hall, that Henry Holgate made the motion which was voted on and carried by a large majority: 'Resolved, that it is desirable on the part of the ratepayers of the village of Allandale to appoint a committee to confer with the Town of Barrie with a view to ascertaining the terms upon which the Town of Barrie proposes to unite with the Village of Allandale: and to report to a meeting of ratepayers of Allandale, to be held on Saturday evening, 21st inst, at 8 o’clock.'

The rest, as they say, is history. 

Henry Holgate joined the Royal Electric Company in 1894, moving the family first to Montreal (and building the Montréal Park and Island Railway), then to Jamaica in 1898 with the West India Electric Company, building the electric tramway in Kingston.

Back in Montreal in 1901, Holgate was integral in several key projects and initiatives, most notable, the appointment as chairman of the Royal Commission to conduct an inquiry into the terrible Quebec Bridge collapse of 1907. 

The Holgates  Henry, Bessie and kids  never actually lived on Holgate Street, which previously was called Fleming Street after another civil engineer, Sir Sanford Fleming. In 1888, Holgate had bought property in Allandale from lumberman and soon-to-be-neighbour James Burton, building the fascinating family home at 90 William St., where their talented son Edwin would be born.

The garden side or formal front of the house faces the lake, but the William Street side is also considered a ‘second’ front’ of the house. Both are equally charming views of this beautiful and historically important home.