Barrie has huge boating history, Chrysler part of story

Joe Fossey is one of those hidden treasures. We’ve been chatting over the phone about ‘getting together’ for a few years now, and finally met in person this month. Joe, now retired, is best known to me as the owner of the dispro that sits out on Duckworth St all summer. This meticulously restored antique boat is so named because of its disappearing propeller.

Our cottage community has a few dispro boats, rare jewels used by their owners for sunny day outings.

So, Joe felt like a friend before we met. He’s also a rowboat enthusiast and that’s where our common interest lies. And, he’s a speedboat historian and we’re connected there, too, through the Miss Supertest racing boats, famous for capturing and holding speed trophies in the 60’s. In fact, Miss Supertest II broke the world’s speed record on Lake Ontario in 1957 at 185 miles per hour. My grandfather was involved in the building of both boats and that’s the common ground that Joe and I found ourselves on.

However, my interest piqued when I asked Joe what took him away from installing PBX systems for Bell to move to Barrie back in the mid sixties. It was boats.

He was actually lured here by [the late] Bruce Bigelow, [the late] Mansel Powell and Alf Hawton who wanted to bring Lake Simcoe power boat racing to a new level. To give up one’s full time job (especially with the corporate security offered by Bell) and move to Barrie in the mid-sixties because of power boat racing was possible only with the encouragement of Joe’s wife, Irene. And so Joe came to Barrie.

Coincidentally, Chrysler Marine decided to open two plants in Barrie that decade and Joe was asked to become a service rep for the boat plant. The little family that had always driven past Barrie on the way to Ossassane Beach, now came in to Barrie and made a difference. It was a classic case, as Joe says, of ‘my hobby interfering with my real life.’

Well, his hobby became his real life. And Chrysler took over West Bend motors and bought out the Loanstar Boat Co. and built two plants… one on Lorena St (between Anne and Hwy 400) and one at the end of Davidson St (facing Hwy 400). From the Davidson plant a team of workers built Chrisler engines, the fancy little 3.6 hp ‘Swinger’ up to the 150 hp, ‘Magnapower II.’

The Chrysler outboard was matched equally by the Chrysler fibreglass boat, from the 23 foot ‘Cruiser’ to the 14 foot fishing model, and everything in between.

Joe describes rows and rows of boats, all lined up like soldiers, resting on their transoms and tucked into each other for efficient use of warehouse space. Chrysler’s popular Deep V hull was made for rough water and water skiing and held its own beside the company’s sailboats, aluminum boats, lines that were manufactured in Texas and shipped into Canada.

When the 68,000 square foot Lorena St. plant opened in 1968, teams of workers were producing 10-12 boats a day, according to Plant Manager Don Wesson. Early photos show the first hull from the first mold, and early photos of gelcoat application, and company celebrations. Cost of the boats in those days ranged from $200 to $11,000.

Joe explains the boats from the Lorena St plant went into a dealer distribution network with dealers encouraged to take both boats and motors. Early Barrie dealers included Paul Ford, whose Kempenfelt Bay dealership was located right next to Delaney Boat Works at the foot of Bayfield St. Edwars Marina on Little Lake was another Chrysler boat dealer. And Joe Fossey drove all over Canada teaching courses on how to service engines. Former plant manager Don Wesson and Joe share with enthusiasm all the photos and newspaper clippings of the day, proclaiming the new plant with its 150-person workforce.

Tucked in among the treasures is the Sunday program, Barrie Chamber of Commerce’s Barrie Speed Boat Races. Date? Sunday, July 31, 1966. Location? St Vincent Park, with its natural amphitheatre hugging the shoreline of Kempenfelt Bay, offering a clear, long look at the race course from Carley¹s Marina to the Yacht Club. It was North America¹s first nationally televised boat races, filmed by CFTO. The first Sea-Doo race was held at this show, introduced by the Bombardier Snowmobile plant on Currie St. It took the Sea-Doo another 30 years to catch on, but it started right here in Barrie.

Race heats began at 1 pm with the final grand prix raced at 4:15, featuring inboard ski boats in three categories. A water ski show wrapped up the day and the entire thing was presented by Chrysler Canada Outboard Ltd. The entire Chrysler team was Œon board² for the event… Don Critton, Rudy Murth, Joe Fossey, Lionel Bourque, David Green, George Mosier, John Cooper, John MacDonald, Ron Giles, James Cowan, Jerry Rice and Larry Lauzon.

Program ads included good wishes from many early Barrie businesses… Bristow Plumbing & Heating, Woolworth’s, Universal Cooler, Walker’s, CKBB and CKVR, Barrie Plumbing, Stephen’s Store for Men, Moldex, the Lakeview Dairy (offering a bird’s eye view of the races), West Bend, Ball Planing Mill, the Barrie Plaza, DeVilbiss, 7up, Zeller’s, Allandale Lumber, Mansfield Denman, and the Continental Inn. For those of us who’ve been here for awhile, each of these business names recalls faces, energies, and business experiences long forgotten.

So, what happened to the Chrysler boat factory and Lorena St? With the incredible surge in recreation after the war, boat manufacturers were popping up everywhere. And then in the 70’s when the recession hit, the boating industry lost many key players, Chrysler among them. Some of the molds were shipped back to Texas, others went to Starcraft and others to Bayliner. Chrysler kept its Davidson plant for awhile, but rented out all the warehouse space. The rail siding on Lorena St was very attractive to A.J. Campbell moving and they took over the boat plant. They sold the marine division to Bayliner. By 1979, the Chrysler boat impact was over.

But for Joe Fossey, the boat story was just beginning.

And that’s another visit