THEN AND NOW: Barrie’s Queen’s Park has a history as a community center

Archibald Thomson donated six acres of land, which would become Queen’s Park, to the city in 1867

This ongoing series from Barrie Historical Archives Curator Deb Exel shows old photos from the collection and one from the present day, along with the story behind them.

Queen’s Park

Archibald “Arch” Thomson was a lumberjack, landowner, city councilor (1870) and one of Barrie’s first families.

Before moving to Barrie, Thomson and his family lived in Angus, where he ran a lumber business for about 15 years. Its large tracts of woods were where the village of Angus would be built.

Thomson purchased the former Eccles property – a large piece of land west of Bayfield Street between Elizabeth Street (now Dunlop Street West) and Wellington Street. His house overlooked the six acres of land he would donate to the city of Barrie in 1867 for municipal purposes as well as a site for an exercise shed.

The previous year, Lt. Col. Dennis of the Federal Department of Militia had traveled to Barrie to select a location for a drill shed for a county battalion. Although Place Saint-Vincent was chosen because it not only provided space for exercises but also a fairground, the drill shed was eventually built, in 1868, on the six-acre plot given by Arch Thomson. The wooden building burned down in 1886 and a new drill hall was built on Mulcaster Street two years later.

The rest of the six acres became a public park: Queen’s Park.

The new park, named for Queen Victoria, was bounded on the north side by Ross Street, part of the historic Nile Mile portage and one of Barrie’s oldest streets. On the east side was Toronto Street, on the south was Park Street, which was named Queen’s Park, and on the west side was Small Street, which would be renamed Parkside Drive.

Arch Thomson continued to expand his land holdings, laying out the town lots in 1873 that would become Florence Street, named after his eldest daughter.

Thomson’s two daughters married lumberjacks: Florence married James Lindsay and Emma married Martin Burton in 1876. The Burtons’ elegant home was on Toronto Street, on the east side of Queen’s Park. Martin and Emma’s daughter Olive was to marry High Street Dyments’ Nathaniel Dyment. When Emma Burton died, her funeral was held at Rowanhurst, Olive’s home.

The Thomsons continued to help their community as members of the Presbyterian church, in civic politics, and at social events.

In the summer of 1887, the Barrie Mission Band, in the presence of the Barrie Brass Band, gave a promenade concert on the grounds of Mrs. Thomson’s house with an admission of 10 cents. When Barrie General Hospital outgrew its new location just five years after opening, it was Thomson who offered two and a half acres on Ross Street for just $650 so that a new, larger hospital could to be built. The Royal Victoria Hospital opened in 1903.

Queen’s Park, surrounded by hospitals, fine homes, stately homes, churches and leafy streets, has seen both growth and gatherings: the construction of a new armory (1914); a Grand Trunk Railway employees’ picnic in 1922 with over 1,000 people; the Kiwanis club, with the help of the organist and choir director of St. Andrew’s Church, organized the first community song in 1923 with 1,200 participants; 600 schoolchildren attended an organizational meeting of the Just Kids Safety Club in 1928; the Rotary Club built the first wading pool in 1955; and, in 1999, the turf was shot for the Barrie Skateboard Park.

Countless militia and cadets have held drills on the lawns of the park and many generations have enjoyed the ball games and playgrounds of Queen’s Park.

Land that once belonged to Arch Thomson is now a large part of the Queen’s Park Historic District and we can thank Thomson for giving us their crown jewel – Queen’s Park.