Bruce Peacock and petroleum… synonymous in Barrie’s history

It’s a good thing Bruce came back to Barrie. Born and educated here, he grew up on the Peacock homestead in Midhurst. The Peacock homestead was right beside the train station where Bruce’s parents ran one of two corner stores in the Midhurst area. Bruce went through school, did his fair share of antics and revellry and entered the petroleum business with Regent Petroleums. When Regent was bought by Texaco in the early 50’s, Bruce Peacock was one of the company’s young, bright lights.

And in 1955, at age 29, he returned home. The entrepreneurial flame that was burniing inside him found him in a Texaco office in Belleville and called him back to make his mark on the home front. At first he managed a Texaco station at the northwest corner of Anne & Dunlop streets. And then he bought property way out of town, on the northeast corner of Dunlop and Ferndale. And that’s where Peacock Petroleums was born. His vision was a string of gas stations. His first one was on that corner. He named it Comet. Gas sold for 36.9 cents a gallon… roughly 8 cents a litre.

He’d come home to reconnect with his childhood friends who were also building businesses at home… Ron Stewart with Stewart Wholesale; Jack Wallwin with Wallwin Electric, Bill Caldwell revolutionizing the toilet seat industry with Moldex, J. V. Burn running Barrie’s bus terminal and Jim Morley selling for Labatt. Bruce Peacock and his wife Helen returned to Barrie with their young family and did what their friends were doing.

With humility, humour and the ability to see the best in his fellow man, Bruce Peacock lived a simple life and built a simple business, founded on service. Peacock Petroleums, Comet gas stations (where Full Service was the ONLY kind of service), Petro-Chemical Waste, Comet Chemicals, Jug-a-lug milk stores… it sounds like it happened with the blink of an eye. But, it didn’t.

They went to work each day, Helen running the books and her family from the house on Wellington St. Helen was the victim of multiple sclerosis and passed away much too soon. Comet gas stations sprang up, 36 in all, some franchised, some owner-operated, some corporate stores. Then, he recognized the need for people to pick up bread and milk while the gas jockey was filling up the car… and Jug-a-lug stores, attached to Comet gas bars, came into view. Bruce decided to supply ice, too, and the Ferndale location sports an entire row of ice-making machines. Peacock kids and Comet workers filled up the bags, tied them off and delivered them to Jug-a-lug stores. There were more than 130 employees depending on the Peacock name for their weekly paycheque.

At the same time, Peacock Petroleums was a logical extension to car and truck fuel. Peacock tanker trucks were on the road, delivering heating oil all over the region.

During the 80’s, Canada’s fuel industry was experiencing real change, multi national companies gobbling up regional stores almost overnight. Price margins drove the industry and people would drive from one end of Barrie to the other to save one cent per gallon.

As margins pressured the business, Bruce and now his son, Barry, began to focus on their corporate stores, and increase volumes. They sold their operating stations to Sunoco in the mid 80¹s.

It was equally logical from a fuels point of view, for Bruce to go into partnership with friend Jim Stewart and Comet Chemical was born. Designed to provide a variety of chemicals to industry, Comet continues today, anchoring an industrial area in Innisfil, to be an industry player.

With the quiet vision that lead to excellence, Bruce saw a need for somewhere for petroleum and chemical waste to be gathered before being hauled for permanent storage or reduction. He purchased property on Snow Valley Rd in Midhurst and Petro-Chemical Waste (CPW) was born. A waste transfer station, it was a new service as environmental concerns found their way onto the federal agenda. Bruce, and his staff, weathered political criticism, social and media attention with this service that was so needed, but so mis-understood.

Bruce was one of a score of community leaders who gave much more than they ever took from the community. Bruce¹s friends all tell the same story… he was generous, he was first in line to give and first to disappear when the cameras showed up.

Shriners. The RVH building drive. Politics. Bruce was a man who put his energy behind his beliefs and chaired four federal Progressive Conservative campaigns. When his friend, Ron Stewart, ran federally in the mid-80’s, Bruce brought the team together. He put that same energy into P.B. Rynard and D. Arthur Evans. His political involvement earned him the nickname ‘The Senator.’ He mobilized the Barrie Country Club to buy new land in the middle of nowhere, between Barrie and Midhurst on St. Vincent St, leaving 80 acres of golf course behind. That became, of course, Sunnidale Park. He enjoyed a series of small boats, after the family moved to Shanty Bay. He learned to ski and vacationed on the slopes in Utah. No big deal, except he was 65!

After Helen’s death, Bruce married Georgina and together they moved into retirement. Bruce, by all accounts, was funny, driven, focussed, and usually on the mark. He knew how to work. He knew how to play. He knew how to be a dad and a husband. He knew how to make sure his community was better for his being in it. He introduced himself to any newcomer with, ‘I’m Bruce Peacock… that’s peacock like the bird, but without the plummage!’

Bruce passed away last week, giving up his earthly address as his body progressively let him down. His sense of humour intact til the last, he was heralded and humoured by his community this week. Tears. Laughter. Reminisence. Sentiment.

Bruce would have hated it!

When we look at our huge metropolis today, with its many districts, it’s hard to imagine a time when a local boy from a local neighbourhood could just get an idea, buckle down and make it happen. But that’s exactly what this community is founded on.

Thanks, Bruce.