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So, what’s with the “big” square houses?

December 2020

When the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) opened their brand new District 7 Headquarters on Rose Street, beside the newly-built Highway 400 in Barrie, Ontario, in 1958, it replaced the office in the basement of the Barrie Municipal building on Collier Street that OPP officers used during the decade they policed the town.

Starting on 1 July 1946, the OPP took over policing the Town of Barrie from the Barrie Police Force. After a decade of seeing OPP cost rise, service levels drop, and the OPP adopting a new policy of withdrawing from contract policing in towns of less than 2,000 residents, the Barrie Police Force was re-formed and resumed their duties on 1 January 1956.

Barrieā€™s Chamber of Commerce Industrial Committee were keen to keep an OPP presence in the town, and as part of the deal, housing would be made available to the OPP officers at what became the Barrie OPP Detachment. Government-owned homes had begun to spring up at military bases across Canada for service personnel during the decade, but housing was usually only provided for police officers assigned to far-north OPP and RCMP detachments.

In the 1950s, police officers weren’t as well paid as they are today, and low-cost housing in Barrie had been a problem in Barrie for several decades. As a result, eight houses were built along Newton Street, a short walk from the new station, for the use of OPP officers.

These square, two storey houses certainly stood out on a street that already featured small, one storey, post-war bungalows.

Today, two storey houses, many over 2,000 square feet, mixed in with smaller bungalows, are quite common, but these “monster” homes generated considerable controversy. Homeowners already living on the street felt they were too big, and didn’t belong the neighbourhood, even though their over-all square footage wasn’t that much bigger than the established homes.

The only extravagance seems to be the small, detached, one-car garage beside the house, something that not all of the already established bungalows had for their owners.

The homes were ordered from a catalogue (Sears, The Bay and Eaton’s all sold catalogue homes), and are hardly opulent. They are of wood construction, originally with white wood siding that has since been replaced by vinyl siding.

When the houses were declared surplus to the OPP’s needs in the 1970s, they were sold-off, some to OPP officers who wanted them.

In addition to upgrades like new siding, and likely better insulation, two of the homes now have covered front porches. They are all well-maintained by their current owners.

Just like the homes before them, the OPP has divested themselves of the Barrie OPP Detachment, relocating to new facilities on University Street in Orillia.

Special thanks to Ian McInroy, an award-winning photographer and journalist of more than 30 years, for writing the original article (and doing most of the legwork) that inspired my article.

Sources: https://www.collingwoodtoday.ca/local-news/barrie-opp-detachment-may-be-closed-but-square-officer-housing-remains-7-photos-3173442, https://www.livabl.com/2015/03/mail-order-house-history.html

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/so-whats-with-the-big-square-houses/

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