Barrie’s lost a quiet giant

Some people do things to a brass band. Others ply their trades quietly, representing excellence in every corner. Ernie Alexander was one of the quiet ones, a backgrounder you might say. And when you measure the contribution of the man, it has affected home ownership in Barrie on many levels for many reasons.

An obituary is a few words, but in Ernie’s case, it doesn’t even touch the surface.

Ernie Alexander represents a slower, steadier time of life, stability of word and deed, a time when a handshake was better than a written contract. He lived his life, all 75 years of it, in Barrie and while his worwas in home and commercial building construction, his community commitment spanned many interests.

A former alderman, and Public Utilities Commission chairman (18 years), Ernie was also one of the founders of the Sheba Shrine Club. He volunteered as president of Ontario Municipal Electric Association, he was a director for Municipal Savings and Loan, and president of the Barrie Flyers Intermediate Hockey Club. His religious life benefitted from his leadership as well as he was on the Board of Stewards for Collier St United Church.

That’s quite a sum of public life, years that spanned five decades of community service. He was rewarded publicly for his vision and tenacity, a recipient in 1977 of a Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, in 1992 with a 125th Anniversary Canada Confederation medal, and in 1994 a Knight of Grace medal.

However, the story of Ernie Alexander lies behind the activities, behind the construction business that he learned from his father and continued with his son.

Ernie represents an era in Barrie when friends did business with each other. One of Barrie’s native sons, Ernie’s best buddies from high school and on into business included Bill Caldwell, Ron Stewart, Terry Harris, Bert Gibb, Jack Wallwin. And with Ernie’s death, half the gang is gone, a lifetime of community excellence in their wake.

Ernie joined his father’s construction firm in 1947, and became the “son” in Charles Alexander & Son. Twelve years later, Ernie launched E.R. Alexander Construction at 150 St Vincent St. It’s now J.J.’s Appliances, the yellow brick building that housed Forbes Grocery Store, and then Beckers and now an appliance store. In 1962 Ernie moved the business to Eccles St. and Ernie continued to develop his reputation as a builder. Custom homes. Fifty in all. Banks. A dozen. And restorations of buildings damaged by fire. It was a niche that nobody wanted because fire restoration is dirty work, but Ernie did it well.

In 1955 Ernie and his high school sweetheart June (Morrison) built their dream home on Codrington St. It was in this back yard, leaf blower in hand, that Ernie sat down to rest and left.

Ernie Alexander built homes in good company in the 50’s and 60’s when post war brides & grooms were selecting building lots and pushing Barrie’s boundaries out past Duckworth & St Vincent, past Wellington and Steel.

Alex Isbrandt, Jack Stollar, Gord Spring, Gord Coutts, Jack Garrett, Gord Pratt, Doug Homer and Charlie Alexander… they all built homes–good homes–and they played a remarkable role in the development of new streets for new families. There were many homes Ernie felt proud of building, but perhaps most significant was his assistance in founding the Barrie Builders Association. Along with Gord Pratt, Gord Coutts, Alex Isbrandt, Ernie helped promote the building industry by starting an association that gave a voice to contractors, suppliers and the auxiliary industry. The Barrie Builders Association lobbied the Ontario government, culminating in the creation of the Ontario New Home Warranty Program… a program that to this day guarantees every aspect of every home for five years from building completion. Builders have to register with the program and that guarantee of quality has been significant for new home buyers in Ontario.

While both Ernie’s sons worked with him in the construction business, his eldest son, Rob, moved into employment services and recently son John, with a lifetime of construction with his dad, closed the company, went back to school, earned his teaching certificate and is headed into a school classroom in the fall.

“Building of homes has changed so much,” notes Rob. “It’s not like it used to be; the industry has changed so much.”

As Rob shared parts of his dad’s life this week, he remembered some of the tradespeople so important to his dad’s business. Carpenters Ivan Reevie and John Huyer, plumber Charlie Columbus out of Elmvale. Sheet metal by Pratt, electrical work by his friend Jack Wallwin.

Fellows like Ernie Alexander who see a need and quietly go about fulfilling it–they’re the core of what a community stands for. And as Ernie’s life focussed on his wife, June, their sons Rob and John, their daughter Barbara, the three remaining buddies who schooled together and worked together–Bill Caldwell, Jack Wallwin, Ron Stewart–must surely feel the loss of their third friend in as many years.

The lesson in it all is easily learned. We don’t need a brass band to herald our achievements. We can see a need, meet it, make a contribution and move on. We can maintain good friendships, keep our word, give great quality, and raise our kids. We can walk the dog.

Ernie Alexander… 38 years of meetings about a growing city’s public utility… looking to the future. keeping an eye on the roots… and doing it all from the back room. A legacy from a quiet giant.

Thanks, Ernie.