Due to the complications of hosting an effective annual general meeting in light of COVID-19, this year, the Barrie Historical Archive opted for a resolution instead of extending an invitation to join us at an AGM. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on another outstanding year for the volunteers in our group, as we attempt to make a mark with Barrie’s only free, online archive of historical content. Here are some of my thoughts about 2019:

In 2019, with a lean and focused board of directors, the Barrie Historical pushed on and further solidified itself as an outstanding resource to the local community and a popular catalyst for historical and nostalgic conversation among Barrie residents past and present.

The archive is rife with new collections thanks to the diligent efforts of Vice-President Deb Exel. In 2019, Deb alone added more than 300 new pieces to the archive. These outstanding digital images cover a span of more than a century, depicting monumental construction projects, important employers, leisure in the city and much more. Of note are images capturing the Winter Carnival and Santa Claus Parade from the 1960s, lost landmarks like the Lakeview Dairy and Barrie bus terminal on Maple Avenue, and a glimpse of work inside the former General Electric factory. 

Members of the community continue to delight at weekly columns authored by Deb and fellow director, Mary Harris. Remember This?, Mary’s weekly column shedding light on the city’s both better and lesser known historic tales, remained one of the most popular columns on BarrieToday.com, after Mary treated readers to an astounding 40 editions in 2019. Topics ranged from tragic fires – a common theme in Mary’s work – to a five-part series on Barrie’s once bustling theatre block, along with other tales of magnificent feats, curious historic headlines and colourful local characters. In 2019, Deb also became a household author on BarrieToday.com with a new feature titled Then and Now. This weekly column, which was published 22 times in 2019, points the lens at various corners of the city – some which have seen radical transformation and others that have remained largely untouched for decades. Deb. Aside from a brief historical background, Deb selects a photo of a building or landmark and matches it up with a present day image. 

These columns are shared dozens of times each week and contribute greatly to raising the archive’s public profile, drawing thousands to the site and the amazing images contained within.

In September 2019, the Barrie Historical Archive marked its third anniversary with a walking tour hosted by our own Mary Harris. This tour, part of Doors Open Simcoe County and hosted in conjunction with the Barrie Fire and Emergency Service, began at the department’s headquarters on Dunlop Street West and moved eastward to Five Points, highlighting historic fires along the way. Dozens of patrons flocked down the street following Mary, who’s exhaustive research churned up tales of fires from nearly 150 years ago, like the one that charred the Simcoe Hotel, to blazes still fresh in our memories, like the fire that felled the Wellington Hotel in 2008. The walk, named They Rushed In, highlighted the bravery of Barrie’s first responders since the city’s inception and was well received by the audience, including several who had travelled from out-of-town to participate.

In July 2019, history blended with the arts when the archive served as muse for the city’s talented Poet Laureate, Victoria Butler. With financial support from the BHA, Butler produced a book of poetry titled Old Prayers, with each poem serving as the author’s own artistic interpretation and extension of an archival image. The book was made available for purchase and sold out in its first run, after Butler’s spellbinding reading at Bohemia café.

Throughout the year, members of the board threw themselves wholeheartedly into a variety of endeavours, including research requests, presentations for local service groups, partnerships with the city and fellow historical organizations, etc. For her most outstanding efforts, Director of History and Research Mary Harris was honoured this past winter with a Heritage Award, commemorating her many hours of volunteerism and storytelling prowess. Mary’s well-deserved honour made the entire board proud – she is an integral part of the motor that pushes the BHA forward each year and we’re incredibly fortunate to call her a member of the team.

No more looking back – we’re looking ahead, and the future is bright as can be for the BHA, thanks to the work of select volunteers who have made telling your story, and our history, their passion.


Billy Courtice
Chair, Barrie Historical Archive