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THEN AND NOW: How Barrie's CKVR made history

Barrie was the smallest community in North America to have its own TV station when CKVR went on the air in 1955

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.

CKVR — 33 Beacon Rd.

In the early 1950s, television sets were finally becoming the new ‘tech’ to have.

If your family was watching TV in 1954 Barrie, your programming was coming from Toronto or Buffalo, N.Y., but not for long.

That year, city council requested a feasibility study of Toronto-based Line-Vision about bringing cable TV to Barrie.

One week later, local radio station owner Ralph Snelgrove applied for and was given a licence for an aerial  television station in Barrie.

Line-Vision began construction on its 200-foot tower at Little Avenue and Bayview Drive in Allandale, near the Huronia Drive-In, as it prepared to connect subscribers to the new Barrie Community TV System.

Competition over the rights to Channel 3 was also underway between Snelgrove (CKBB Barrie), Foster Hewitt (Toronto’s CKFH) and Gordon Smith (Orillia’s CFOR). The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation awarded the Channel 3 rights to the Barrie Broadcasting Company.

In late 1954, Line-Vision launched its television service in Allandale — residents of the IOOF were enjoying cable TV.

Snelgrove received his licence in January 1955. The new TV station would be called CKVR — the V and R as in Val and Ralph Snelgrove. Construction of the CKVR building began in May. It was situated at Little’s Hill on Centre Road, just off Essa Road, and by August, CKVR’s 225-foot tower dominated the southern horizon.

The modern, 8,500-square-foot building, one of the largest in Canadian television at the time, was also the first building in North America designed to integrate both television and radio in one facility.

The building, with its abundance of glass panels, striking colour scheme and contemporary design, also included the newest state-of-the-art technology and was brilliantly constructed to house all aspects of the television and radio business: control room, transmitter room, studios, offices, cabling under the flooring, telephone system and microwave junction room, dark room, recording studio, records library and so many more functional areas.

When the station officially went on air at noon Sept. 28, 1955, it made Barrie the smallest community in North America to have its own TV station. On the same day, it allowed viewers across the area to actually watch the World Series live from Yankee Stadium. It must have been a breathtaking experience.

Barrie’s CKVR became the first Canadian TV station to offer all-night television when it introduced All Nite Theatre in 1958. The station went on to expand its facilities and its broadcasting power and range significantly over the years.

CKVR offered plenty of local talent, area news, a range of popular programming, created on-camera and behind-the-scenes career opportunities in the industry (including firsts such as Eleanor Beamish), all while winning numerous awards along the way. CKVR’s on-air personalities (Milt Conway, Bob McIntyre, Kevin Frankish, Wendy Hicks) and TV shows (Romper Room, to name just a few) acquired loyal fans over the years and were welcomed into homes on a regular basis.

Two tragic events separated viewers from CKVR, temporarily. In September 1977, a small plane crashed into the 1,000-foot tower, taking CKVR off the air for 12 days, and in May 1985, when a devastating tornado passing within a mile of the TV station disrupted service for a short period of time. CKVR has been part of the community’s history and experiences for decades.

In 1982, the City of Barrie annexed Centre Road from Innisfil Township. Although the origins have never been confirmed, when Centre Road was renamed Beacon Road in 1983, it’s quite possible it was named for CKVR’s TV transmitter.