And to think, it lapped the railway tracks!

Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000175 EndHTML:0000013734 StartFragment:0000002590 EndFragment:0000013698 SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/donnadouglas/Desktop/Examiner/6.docWhat a great heat wave we’re having!

As I drove along Lakeshore Dr one day this week, I was struck by our beautiful waterfront and the thousands of people who use it.  People were frolicking in the water and on the water,  walking and riding the bike path, or helping kids up and down slides and swings.  You get the picture.

And then, as I often do, I tripped backwards to the late 60’s when Barrie’s 22,000 residents participated in a dream.

There was no Lakeshore Dr in those days.  No Centennial Park.  No bike paths.  No beach.  No trees.  No picnic shelter.  No marina.  No land, even.  The train track ran around the bay and water lapped up against the tracks.

I remember sitting beside the tracks on boulders with a group of friends during our lunch hour in 1971.  If you can imagine this, the tracks were right next to Fred Grant St at Memorial Square downtown.  The train station used to be there, too, but if you can’t imagine the tracks, then imaging the train station will be impossible.  From our vantage point, we could look out at Kempenfelt Bay and enjoy Delaney’s Marina to the right, almost butt-up against the tracks at the foot of Bayfield St.  The ‘town dock’ was made of wood.  Carley’s Marina was to the left, at the foot of Mulcaster St.  You could rent a rowboat for the season, or launch your own boat for an evening of fishing.

It’s hard to believe how little access there was to the water in the Barrie of those days!

We owe our incredible parks, boat launches, public marina and government dock to Canada’s 1967 Centennial, in fact.  City fathers and mothers, in the spirit of our country’s 100th birthday, were launching all kinds of commemorative projects.  I was finishing high school that year and almost every kid I knew had taken on a personal Centennial project that was taking the entire year to complete.  (that’s another column)

As our country inched towards its 100th birthday, City Council and people of influence all rallied round the same idea… fill in land and create public park space.  They expropriated the two marinas (I think there was some willingness on the part of the Carley and Delaney families), hired companies to dump fill, and made this a community project. Barrie Tannery donated flagpoles for the new park. Lions Club built a picnic shelter.  Washrooms were built, along with a food kiosk.  Trees were planted and I believe it was McDonalds owners, the Gorski family, who donated the first playground at Centenntial Park.  A huge steel slide, a wooden sand structure, swings and climbers… it was wonderful!

Kiwanis Club and Ray Marshall got behind the project and planned the first Huronia Festival of the Arts on the new land.  Today that festival, called Kempenfest, rings miles around the entire bay and draws thousands and thousands of vendors and participants to the event.  In fact, Barrie’s entire Civic Holiday Weekend (to occur in 8 days) is now devoted to this regionally significant festival. Heritage Park didn’t happen until the 80’s.  But Centennial Park and the fledgling public marina, they had their beginnings at Canada’s 100th birthday.

City Hall (supported by service clubs and business) has continued to acquire waterfront land whenever possible, turning private land over to the public so that now 11 kilometers of waterfront ring Kempenfelt Bay and it’s all there for public use! Now, public walkways really stretch from Minet’s Point to Johnson Beach… a ring around our gem.  What we know today as Heritage Park didn’t happen until the 80’s.  But Centennial Park and the fledgling public marina, they had their beginnings at Canada’s 100th birthday.

None of this could have occurred without the initial vision.  Can you imagine that first reaction when one bright light expressed the possibility that water’s edge didn’t have to be the train tracks?  Can you imagine the guffaw’s and ‘impossibles’ that greeted that first suggestion?  But people rallied.  It took political will, business acumen, public donation, and community support.  As you walk today along Centennial Beach and its pathways you’ll see huge boulders with commemorative plaques on them… thanking the leaders who have made this all possible.

Nothing is impossible!  And our waterfront proves that.