It’s always a shock when something that seems like forever just stops. That’s the case with Justin Motors. Run by Herb Justin since he assumed the reins from his father, this modest structure that anchors the V connecting High St with Bradford St has more history than many books.
To see a large Auction sign nailed to the outside wall, and to peer through the windows to see empty space is not only a shock to the system; it’s the end to a long story involving motors.
In recent memory, Justin Motors with Herb at the helm was where you bought a John Deere riding mower, or a bag for your Lawn Boy, or a part for your hedge clipper, or a brand new snow blower. Day in, day out, Herb’s easygoing nature found customers who were long, loyal and steady. They were mostly ‘OldBarrie’ types, the kind of shoppers who put loyalty before price, and who counted on Herb to stand behind what he sold.
This business, when it closed earlier this year, had a history that spanned 60 years. When Sydney Justin opened Syd’s Garage in 1944, the corner looked a lot different than it does today. The garage was an Imperial Oil service station on the north side, flanked by an old house on the south side. The back of the convenience store was used for storage. The Barrie Tannery, a dairy, a lumber yard ran to the south. The garage contained a little convenience store and restaurant, with storage at the back.
Syd’s Garage gave way to Justin Motors when Sydney took on its first car dealership in the 50’s. It was an Austin dealership and included Morris Minors. It was the start of Barrie’s post-war love affair with the automobile.
“From there on we couldn’t get enough cars to sell and Volkswagen had been after us to take on their cars, so we did. We sold our first five units in one weekend,” says Herb, retired by a heart attack, but still enthused about the history of the family business.
In 1958 a new VW Beetle sold for $1705. This was a deluxe car, fully loaded, with a radio and whitewalls. Today, a fully loaded new Beetle can put you back $36,000 (considerably more money than we paid for our first house!) For awhile, Justin Motors housed competing dealerships, offering both Austins, Austin Healeys, and VW’s.
Justin Motors started Volvos in Barrie, and then followed with the Pugeot dealership. They opened Toyota in Barrie, as well. What followed that was the American Motors dealership. Remember the Hornet? Gremlin? Matador? Ambassador? The Ambassador was the top of the line…at $6000; the Gremlin cost $2000 in its introduction year.
Herb recalls they had their repair shop across High St at the corner of High and Simcoe. Today the location is still repairing cars, but it’s called Foursons.
“We had major competition in the 60’s with French Motors and Jacksons and Georgian Pontiac and Sadlon Motors… all on Bradford St. When the American Motors dealership moved on in 1973, the Justins decided they’d had enough of selling cars.
Why so many car dealerships? Well, Herb is pretty pragmatic about this… “We were the ones investing the money; the manufacturers were too pushy. We’d just leave and take on another line.”
Herb was 15 when he started working in the business. He ran across the street from BCI (now called Central Collegiate) and toss his books aside to work in the little restaurant. The family lived in a six room apartment above the store. “That apartment is now rundown space that we used for storage for the past 20 years, but for me it was my home.”
When their dealership cleared out, Herb and Sydney decided to sell the car parking area to the city, and move to smaller motorized devices… riding lawn mowers, snowblowers etc. Herb bought the business fully from his dad and as an only child, he moved right into service work on cars and property maintenance equipment. He carried Bolens, Troy, McCullough, Poulin, John Deere, Lawn Boy… volume was the real challenge as garden equipment increased in price and margins fell.
Herb married Doreen Freure from the Collingwood / Stayner area in 1971, and Justin Motors supported their four children to adulthood. Herb and Doreen now live between Midhurst and Elmvale, their home of 21 years.
Employees? Well, Charlie McCausland worked on and off for Justin Motors for 40 years. He helped with lawn and garden equipment, he was the Austin mechanic, he was a long, loyal employee for both Syd and Herb. He passed away several years ago.
And now Herb, at age 73, is retired and the motor mecca of Bradford St is closed. For rent. Or sale.
As he looks at his life and his legacy, he expressed enthusiasm for his kids and their work. Herb and Doreen lost one son a few years ago; another is in the trucking business in Stayner, a third is a musician and their daughter works at Shanty Bay Golf Course.
Herb was a charter member of the Barrie Civitan Club and remembers holding bi-weekly meetings at the back of the Mirmar Gardens. The club did alot of charitable work for the intellectually challenged. It bought wheelchairs, vehicles for Grove Park Home, a fountain for Centennial Park and for years ran Barrie’s annual Fireworks display.
“I’m the only charter member still attending,” says Herb, remembering colleagues John Tribble, Leon Periard, Larry De Wilde, Lou Goedemondt, Al Spence, Rusty Rutherford.
And Herb? He and Doreen hope to travel. Sidelined by health, he says each day his priorities are mind, body, spirit and keeping it all together.
Talk about spirit! Justin Motors was the spirit of this city’s fledgling car industry.