Ron Hardy was a Barrie boy, just turned 20. It was 1934. June 26. He had gone into the town clerk’s office to see Mr. Smith about getting a waterlot down on the shore of Kempenfelt Bay. In those days a rough trail ran where Kempenfelt Dr. now runs. Huge trees hung their limbs over the trail and between the trail and the water was the CNR rail line. And on the sliver of land between the rail line and the shoreline were tiny waterlots.
Ron Hardy hadn’t yet made his mark on World War II where he served as a navigator for the air force. He hadn’t yet achieved his engineering prowess that developed into one of Barrie’s most famous businesses in the 70’s. He had finished high school at the Barrie Collegiate and was eking an existence out of the Depression 30’s. He decided he wanted to be able to slip a canoe into the water and just pursue one of life’s great passions… paddling.
Mr. Smith took the issue before town council and the government of the day saw fit to assign a water lot right to young Mr. Hardy. In his written response, Mr. Smith told him to select a lot that suited him and pay his $1 fee. And $1 was a lot of money.
He was a bright young man and as inventive as he was creative. Ron scrounged enough materials to erect a two-story structure on his waterlot. He built a brick fireplace, and put in what windows he could find to look out on the water. A trap door led down a ladder to the lake level. A little wooden bridge connected the embankment to the second level. Ron felt he’d reached heaven!
When Canada went to war five years later, Ron joined the Air Force and made friends who lasted a lifetime. Some came back. Some didn’t.
But when Ron returned, he brought with him young Betty Beaudro from Pt Arthur. They began their married life together and much of every spring, summer and fall was spent at the boathouse. When baby Pam came along, they’d spend hours playing with her in the water. Betty would pack sandwiches and soon both her daughters would invite playmates to join them at the boathouse.
Dr. Turnbull acquired the waterlot next door and moved a war building from Camp Borden onto his site. Dr. Bilkey erected a simple structure on the other side. Dr. McPherson built his little building a few lots along the way. Lucretia Rowe built her boathouse at the end of Puget St. Chris Spanis, Building Inspector, built his along the shore near Nelson Square.
Ron Hardy continued to enjoy the outdoors. He always took his canoe out for a paddle on Christmas Day. His mother and two sisters lived just across the trail of Kempenfelt Dr. and they assumed ownership of the building when Ron and Betty moved to Minesing. You had to be a resident of Barrie to own a building on a leased waterlot.
Barrie was a small town in the 40’s and few people had personal watercraft. They’d rent them from Carley’s Marina at the foot of Mulcaster St or from Delaney’s Marina at the foot of Bayfield. Why, for $8 you could rent a rowboat for the entire spring-summer-fall season! [in the 1950’s]
The boathouse residents continued to skate all winter, on sheer sheets of ice they’d shovelled off. When Ron Hardy and his mother and sisters passed away, his waterlot fell in 1976 to the only Barrie property owner in the family, daughter Pam. Now grown up and with children of her own, Pam took over payment of the annual lease and the land taxes. At this point Ron Hardy’s little boathouse was 44 years old.
For her entire life, Kempenfelt Bay and her father’s boathouse has played a significant role in Pam’s life. Her own boys and their friends have watched the bass family under the dock, learned how to windsurf and sail and, of course, paddled a canoe.
“We were like a community,” she says. “We’d paddle up and down. My mother and sister Penny and I could go down all day long. They were simpler time when people were happy with much less.”
The waterlot lease and taxes last year were $1,500.
Two weeks ago City officials put padlocks and no trespassing signs on every single boathouse. Their owners were told to remove any valuables and not re-enter the property. As you walk along the old rail bed on the north shore today, you’ll see boarded up windows, unwatered flowers, vandalized picnic tables, broken chairs, dismantled stairways and docks.
That’s because the North Shore Trail has a master plan. The master plan calls for some paving material, perhaps lighting, a lookout or two or three so people can sit and look out and enjoy the water view. The master plan says that Kempenfelt Bay will be accessible to everybody.
The master plan, while in theory sounds inclusive and pleasant, may be an unfortunate decision as we move forward and look back. Without that community, that sense of history and that example of simpler times; without the presence of people right there, right beside the trail, I suspect that wonderfully pleasant walk will not be as safe as it is today. I fear that without community, the vandalism that so thoughtlessly destroys so much that is public in our city will simply take over.
While I can’t claim a lifetime on a waterlot like Pam can, I have been walking that path since it was first initiated. It is a magical place, all the more because of the character of the boathouses.
Tearing them down, pulling out that history is another sad gash in our community’s acquiesence to ‘progress.’ I hope it proves right, but I suspect not.
I’m not usually negative in these musings of mine, but this is, indeed, a sad time in our history.