Eaton Hall

Hello again Explorers,

For today's post to the UrbEx Barrie blog, we cast our gaze to the south to King Township and more specifically, to former Eaton Estate.  If you have been living in Ontario (or Canada for that matter) for any great length, you will recognise the name Eaton - founded in 1869 by Timothy Eaton, the department store had grown to become one of Canada's largest retailers.  John Craig Eaton, son of the founder continued on in this family business and continued to grow the Eaton's brand.  He also had several 'named' residences built reflecting his wealth.  There was his Toronto home 'Ardwold', and his Lake Rosseau summer home 'Kawandag'.  

In 1901 he married Flora McCrea, latter to be known as Lady Eaton after John Craig was made Knight Bachelor during the Great War (WW I) in 1915.  After the war, Sir Henry Pellat, a family friend, coaxed the Eatons to purchase property in King Township for an Estate.  After a few short years of purchasing adjacent parcels of farm land, Villa Fiora was constructed in 1920 (or 1922?).  Unfortunately John Craig passed away without having enjoyed the 'finished' property.  Lady Eaton went on to build a more grand estate building 'Eaton Hall' overlooking Lake Jonda (aka Heart Lake / Lake Seneca) and shortly after 1939 had moved in.

This lovely rural residence containing some 70 or so rooms is sited on 700 acres and did also have a proper production farm which itself had employed around a dozen staff. The structure has four towers and is described as a Norman style chateauLady Eaton had invited a number of notable guests over the years and the estate also provided a venue for the Eaton's department store staff parties (after the second war WW II).  During the second war, Lady Eaton provided the use of Eaton Hall as a convalescent hospital and rehabilitation centre for the Royal Canadian Navy.  During this time, she had moved back to the Villa Fiori.

After Lady Eaton's death in 1970, the family sold the property to Seneca College to establish its King Campus.  The college used Eaton Hall as its administrative facility until 1977 when a new facility was constructed just across the Lake.  After this, the Hall was used for a Management Development Centre and then in 1991 the College leased Eaton Hall to Aramark to be converted to a public hotel and conference centre which was wildly popular for wedding venues.  In 2013, Aramark moved out and the building has had a wide range (but no dedicated) purpose.  Seneca College hospitality and tourism students occasionally use the well-equipped kitchen.  Eaton hall has been set as a background in a number of movies and television shows including Murdoch Mysteries (very CBC).

Currently it is seeing a bit of deterioration such as cracked rock-wall, peeling paint and wallpaper but it is all rather surficial.  The college continues to provide a healthy budget for the upkeep which includes the recent window replacements.

Through all of this, one thing has remained unchanged - as a condition of sale to Seneca College, the family wished that the portraits of Lady Eaton and that of her husband Sir John Craig Eaton forever remain in a prominent place. 


Gray Coach Barrie

Happy Monday Urban Explorers,

We have yet another post on the history of Barrie, Ontario and if you have a thingy for public infrastructure or more specifically, transportation, then this article may be of interest to you as we will be looking at the history of of the Gray Coach Lines in Barrie.

First up, a backgrounder.  Gray Coach was founded in 1927 by the Toronto Transportation Commission with a number of suburban routes and rapidly expanded outwards from the Greater Toronto Area with several acquisitions.  By 1930, Gray Coach was a leader in Southern Ontario's city-to-city transportation.   In the early days the buses were more of a tall station wagon than what we would recognise as a bus.  The Gray Coach fleet line-up consisted of an evolution of early wagon, to a cab-over-engine design to the iconic Aerocoach design as you may see in these advertisements for Gray Coach from September, 1936 (top) to March, 1948 (bottom) as the bus company moved fleet assets from White Motor Company, Packard, Yellow Coach and Aerocoach.   One can also see the progression here of the popularity in coach travel from the older 12-seaters to a newer more modern design to accommodate 24 or more passengers.

Your keen eyes will likely note that the first older advert places the Gray Coach office at Dunlop and Mulcaster streets (yep - right at the old Clarkson Hotel), while the later advert provides the terminal at #73 Collier Street.

We should probably talk about location, location, location.

As you have guessed, in the 1930's the bus 'terminal' was just a arrival / departure point at the Clarkson with a small desk just inside where the ticket agent was stationed.  Before the Clarkson, Gray Coach operated from the Wellington Hotel in 1929 until July 1930.  There were no formal agents in the employ of Gray Coach during the early years, but that all changed in August 1942 with a new Agent and a proper modern bus terminal on Collier Street.  The new agent was James Vincent Byrne, or JV as most had called him, and the new location was borne out of necessity, mostly because of the war effort.  Here's an image from the TTC's 1942 'Coupler', one of the oldest (and continuous) internal newsletters in Canada.

Since 1938, Gray Coach had been providing service to nearby Canadian Forces Base Borden and with the declaration of war in 1939, this service was even more needed.  In May, 1942, Canadian Federal Department of Munitions and Supply and the Town of Barrie granted permit for the construction of the new bus terminal on the site of the former W.F. Stone building on the south side of Collier Street, adjacent to the (old) Fire Hall.  The facilities included a waiting room, ticket / agent office and a lunch bar.

'Before & After'


'Before and After' note the old firehall to left of terminal - rather a sad shame that was torn down.  :(

The Gray Coach bus terminal remained at the Collier Street location until September 1956 when it moved to #15 Maple Avenue.  One of the foremost reasons for this was simply the lack of space for all the buses that needed to park at the terminal.  If you had to pick someone up or drop someone off, there was simply no getting close to the front door and you had to try your luck across the street at the garage (where the present City Hall is now).

Bottom right of photo is the old Market Hall converted for use as municipal offices.

The new-new bus terminal on Maple featured a waiting room, black marble entrance, 3 awesome retro 'U'-shaped restaurant counters, offices, full garage, and six roomy boarding platforms.  The only thing 'old' at the new Maple Avenue location was JV Byrne, who remained the Coach Agent.
The 15 Maple Avenue terminal was closed, demolished and moved to across the street to 24 Maple Avenue in 1991, where it remains today.  The new terminal houses GO Transit, Greyhound Canada, Ontario Northland and Barrie Transit.
Many thanks to the Gray Coach Lines Facebook page for collecting and maintaining a wonderful collection of transit and local history on this page -


Barrie Gas Works

Happy Sunday Urban Explorers

Here is another post for Barrie history buffs.  Specifically, we present two images, taken in approximately 1923-1924 on some street work in downtown Barrie - 

Elizabeth Street (now Dunlop Street West) looking East towards Five-Points. There are still a good number of structures in the older photograph which still stands.  Here is a quick round-up of some businesses visible in the old pic -
Of note - the Capitol Theatre, which at the time of the photograph is only about a year or two old.  Continuing along the south side of Elizabeth is the optometrist O. R. Rusk (newspaper advertisement clipped from a latter date after the street re-naming), P. C. Lloyd, Funeral Director and then the G. G. Moore Garage (tires, car parts and petroleum fuel).

On the north side of Elizabeth we can see Bryson's Ice Cream shop and then the Wellington Hotel (burnt down - see our post here).  In the far background at the five-points intersection is the Sterling Bank of Canada where Sam the Record Man was last before it too, burnt down.
Here is another image of the pipe laying gang on Bayfield Street looking north to the Simcoe Hotel, also taken during 1923 / 1924 during the pipe laying construction downtown.

Today's street-scape is nearly unrecognizable with the Maddy Centre occupying the south-west corner but the Simcoe still in its place.

These two old images were purported to be of watermain installation from the waterworks pumping station foremerly located at the base of Mary Street, but we fairly certain these are gas lines instead.  Water mains would have been a single line of 6 to 8 inch ductile or cast iron pipe laid along the street but these smaller diameter pipes are racked up to two racks of four.  One theory is that these pipes may have carried steam, but our best guess is that these were gas lines being installed from the Coal Gasification Plant formerly located on Dunlop Street near Louisa, currently undeveloped due to significant soil contamination, which is still being remediated.  There were two steel holding tanks at this site capable of holding 96,000 cubic feet of coal gas and a railroad spur to deliver the coal.

The Barrie Gas Company provided gas for lighting, cooking, heating and power in Barrie, Ontario, between 1878 and 1938.  At the plant, coal was converted to make coal gas, which was piped to customers to burn for illumination, heating, and cooking.  The Barrie gas works operated from about 1878 to about 1939.  The City took over the gas works to make it a public utility approximately 1928.  The main reason for its decline (other than the process being 'messy' and producing hazardous waste) was most consumers favouring electric for lighting and cooking.




Hello again Explorers,

Yes, we know it has been since July of 2012 since I last posted, but we got busy with other things, but want to tell you that we never hung up our flashlight and camera.  One reason for our absence from the interwebs was there was a time when we did explore and post about a location, scrappers, vandals, and arsonists would use this blog like a hot sheet, which sucks lemons, as we want either a full preservation of a building, or a more natural (non-human) deterioration of it so we can photograph it.  Recently we've been keeping our proper explorations under our hats and not sharing (even on the forums).  We have been a bit more active in the local Facebook Groups 'If you grew up in Barrie' and 'Old Barrie', where 'Phil Coleman' is ubiquitous, (and irritating).  So, Allison C. poked us about supporting the soon-to-com Barrie Archive and scolded us for not posting to the UrbEx Barrie blog . . . here's yer damn post Allison.  :)

Anywhoos, lets get on with today's post - the former First Co-Operative Packers of Ontario (or COPACO) located right here in Barrie.  More specifically, located at the corner of Innisfil Street and Jacobs Terrace, which we believe was at one point in time called Baldwin Street. 

The Plant in 1953

 The Plant in 1931

Formal opening ceremony on Thursday 21 May 1931 attended by 5,000 people and included a number of dignitaries such as Ontario Premier George Henry, and Mr. Kennedy, Ontario Ministry for Agriculture, and presidents of other well-known companies and banks of the day (think the stuffy old white dudes from Simpsons, Eatons, Loblaws, Dominion, London Life, etc.).

The original 1931 structure was two-stories (130' x 82') with a high basement (where they cured meats) and adjacent was the single-storey structure (52' x 85') where the livestock pens where.  Hogs (mostly), cattle, sheep and poultry arrived by truck or by train (train tracks are still here) to be processed.  Imagine if you will, the smell (and the piggy screams) from this place.

COPACO was incorporated in 1929 and by 1965 the co-op represented just over 1,600 livestock producers in Simcoe and surrounding counties and boasted an annual sales volume of approx. $10 Million (which was no small amount in '65).

We have not yet been able to pin down a date of when the last hog took a trip through this abattoir, nor of any subsequent property owners - but - we do know that the Barrie Antiques Centre now occupies a large footprint within the old structure.  

As for doing an UrbEx thingy and sticking our camera in forgotten places, we are definitely not dicks and respect the business owner.  We would love to be invited to explore the basement and other dusty corners but for now, we recommend you take a stroll through this massive and very kewl antique shop.

 Advert in the local paper from 1937.