The Craig of men’s wear was a world authority on jazz

It was September, 1973. Tuesday. And the 24 kids that called Weldon Crescent home were rounded up, tall at the back, short at the front. Smiles showed the missing teeth of a 7 year old. Smiles hid the fear of a new Kindergarten student. They were all headed off to Codrington School. And behind his favourite Pentax Spotmatic, photographer and father and neighbour George Craig caught the excitement of the first day of school.

Year after year, George rounded up the Duncan kids, the Irvin kids, the Quinto kids, the Howden kids, the Mills kids, the Janes kids, the Hinton kids, with Mrs. Clark peering out the window at the ruckess in the neighbourhood.

Was the neighbourhood there because of George Craig, or was George there because of the neighbourhood… new, young families in a small crescent of late 60’s homes, nestled in what used to be the apple orchard of the Weldon farm.

On Tuesday this week Collier St Church was overflowing with people whose lives were touched by his gentle giant of a man.

Husband to his lifelong sweetheart, Jane. Father to Jeff and kathleen. Brother to Judy and David. Friends equally to a downtown street person and the top politician. Clothier to many, following in the footsteps carved out by his grandfather, continued by his father. J.F. Craig & Sons is still minted in the building now housing Tropical North in downtown Barrie.

George Craig died the day after his 69th birthday, on September 4. As people reflected on the impact of this special man, it was to celebrate the solidarity of a life lived totally in one community. As a kid on lower Toronto Street, George played shinny with his buddies, Clark Seymour, Bill McCullough, Don Valley, Bill Empke, and Jim Harris. At the family’s summer cottage out at Big Bay Point, his long lazy days and an emerging love of golf were shared by Ed Faulkner, Greg Smith, Jim Baker, Chuck Cancilla, Bernie McCann. During his high school student days at Barrie Collegiate, his friendships expanded to include Millet Salter, John Cutler.

And on and on…

But if George Craig stood for something other than family, and the ability to capture life on film, it was for jazz.

Some of you might remember when Earl Cox had a gardening show on CBC. Earl and his wife Helen took young George with them for a show taping in Toronto one day and it was a day that changed George Craig, and subsequently the jazz world, forever. George took in a jazz concert being recorded for CBC and listening to that live jazz music changed his life. He became an encyclopedia of jazz, called upon continually for this statistic or that band member. George was one of the original groupies. He spend his first month of retirement driving to California for an international jazz festival that involved not only live music, but discussion sessions on the impact and legacy of jazz artists.

Safe to say that Stan Kenton had the greatest impact on George, but his jazz collection of LP’s, CD’s, magazines, photographs, and memorabilia is as exhaustive as it is legendary. It’s rivalled only by George’s mental recall.

And while George’s passion involved jazz, photography, and family, his community was huge. He was a loyal Downtowner, spending his resources with the shops of his neighbours. He bought his film and processing from Vi and Joe Waterer at Camera Craft, long after he could have had instant printing elsewhere. When he sold the Craig building and closed the 97 year old clothier business, it gave him incredible freedom. At age 56 he was released from the pressure of Barrie’s new malls and the struggle that was pressuringBarrie’s old downtown stores in 1991.

George was an enthusiastic member of the Lions Club–president in 1980–his friends there included the Tylers, Byers, Oakleys, and Skinners.

Today, Barrie is poorer for the loss of George Craig and his unilateral smile. But we’re richer for his exampled enthusiasm, his ability to relate on equal terms to the essence of any person he met, no matter what their circumstances in life. His memory, his humour, his incredible mental and pictoral catalogue of Barrie’s cultural, sport, historical life, his memory of characters met and loved. We should all be so blessed.

Thanks, George.