The day I moved to Barrie, I cried my eyes out the entire day. Actually, I was excited about the move to ‘the city’ and eager to spread my wings, go to college and make some new friends, but leaving my family on the rather isolated vegetable farm just north of Bradford was pretty overwhelming. Barrie was a community of about 45,000 people and Georgian College consisted of only 3 buildings then with several small, free parking lots.
I rented a room with a friend, a nursing student from my school days, in a house on Bernick Dr. owned by her grandmother. Room and board was $25 a week, which sounds like a sweet deal until you factor in that dinner was sometimes simply a huge plate of fried onions, baths were only allowed once a week, and she really frowned on curling irons and hair dryers — c’mon it’s the 80s!
Around the corner was, and still is, the Duckworth Plaza. In 1982, it was anchored by the Bank of Montreal on one end, the Drive Test office on the other — we all remember Mr. Tucker! In between, there was a convenience store, a laundromat, a European deli, a dentist, a sub shop, pizza place and KFC. After eating my fill of fried onions, I rented a room on Sylvia St. the next school year, and took a job cooking at Smitty’s Pancake House on the corner of Bayfield St. and Ferris Lane to pay the higher rent. I was a second-year culinary skills student and my three roommates were all enrolled in the Resort and Hotel program. None of us had a car, or any spare money really, so daily specials at the Duckworth Plaza fast food places were pretty much memorized by us. I made $250 a month working that part time job and my rent was $200. That was the year I learned to cut my own hair!
Broke or not, college students have to have some fun. Before the Last Class existed, the cafeteria was the place to be for pub nights where I saw bands of the day like Honeymoon Suite, Harlequin and Platinum Blond play. I recall one event that was sponsored by Craven A cigarettes and everybody was handed a pack upon entering. Try that today!
Most of the time we walked, bussed or crammed 5 or 6 into a taxi for a trip downtown. Live music could be had at the Wellington Hotel, or at the Yank (American Hotel) which was living out its last days while awaiting a date with the wrecking ball. Our crowd was more likely to be found in the Brookdale where Cindy Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun played on the big video screen, or on the lighted dance floor at the Queen’s Hotel surrounded by mirrors, and the smoke of hundreds of cigarettes illuminated by strobe lights. Our earrings were big, our hair was bigger.
When the lights came up at 2 a.m., large crowds of hungry bar patrons headed to Papa’s Fire Pit (Toronto Street at Dunlop West) or Reggie’s Sandwich Factory on Dunlop East. I can still taste my favourite sandwich at Reggie’s — seafood (crab, shrimp, lobster) on a soft Kaiser with cocktail sauce and some romaine lettuce. Can somebody re-open Reggie’s, please?
In 1982, the city buses did not go to the Georgian Mall, because the mall was outside of the city limits and I remember getting off the bus just north of Cundles Rd. and walking the rest of the way. Between Douglas Lincoln Mercury and the mall, there wasn’t much, just Wendy’s, the tiny box that was CK Chinese Food and little else.
Friday night in Barrie meant going to the bank before it closed in order to get enough money out to last the weekend. My twenty-something offspring find it hard to grasp that you could not access any more of your own money until the bank opened again on Monday morning. When Canada Trust first arrived, where Casa Cappuccino is now, with its unheard-of Saturday and late evening hours, I was an immediate customer! They may also have had the first ATM in Barrie, with their cleverly named Johnny Cash Machine.
My kids also find it mind boggling that, until about this time, movies were watched solely in theatres or on TV if the station chose to air them. The invention of the VCR changed all that, and in 1982, Beta was still battling VHS for technological supremacy. To get ready for the weekend, my friends and I hit one of the few but increasing video stores in town and rented a big clunky VCR in a metal case — nobody had their own — and an armload of popular movies to watch. The selection was minimal and I know we watched a lot of Scarface, The Evil Dead and Eddie Murphy stand up comedies.
Through the years, fashions have changed and businesses have come and gone, the skyline has been completely reinvented and the population has mushroomed, but the core of Barrie has remained the same and I have never found one good reason to move anywhere else. When people ask me how I ended up in Barrie, I always say that I came for Georgian College and forgot to leave.