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The First 100 Years (Posted On: Monday, October 13, 2008)

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The First 100 Years of Collingwood's Business District. Imagine a place where the streets have just been cut out of the bush, tree stumps still prevail and the roadway at best is dry and dusty, at its worst it has been flooded out.  The houses are built on stilts so that the spring floods don't run through them. No, this is not a developing country; this is Collingwood in the early 1850's.

Collingwood was incorporated in 1858.  Hurontario Street was dotted with stumps and there were no sidewalks.  The principle buildings in town were on Huron and Hurontario streets.

The north side of Huron was primarily saloons and the south side had a bank, drug store, tin shop, tailor and more saloons. 

Hurontario Street was the principle business district with the general store, butcher shop, shoe shop, two drug stores, the Enterprise office, three hotels, two tailor shops, saloons, the livery stable and several independent businesses.  Eventually the stumps were taken out of Hurontario Street and replaced with a corduroy road.

Collingwood continued to grow throughout the 1860's and 70's.  In 1860 the Prince of Whales visited which brought more prestige to this fast growing community.  In 1866 Town Councilors borrowed $1600 to improve the streets.

True Blue House, one of the finest hotels of its time opened on the corner of Hurontario and Ontario Streets (present site of the Gayety Theatre).

The on-going growth of the community now at a population of 2829 (1871) more than doubling in the past ten years continued to emphasize the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Collingwood.

Fire virtually destroyed the business section of town in September of 1881.

The people of Collingwood rebuilt the town out of ashes more vigorously and substantially than before the disaster.  One of the fist businesses to be re-built was Lindsay's Liquor Store where FAD at Peaks and Rafters is now located.

The late 1880's was a period of turbulent energy.  Collingwood became known as a market town.  Hydroelectric power and a water system became available for the first time.  Collingwood Collegiate Institute located at Hume and Hurontario Streets (now the Admiral development) was heralded as the best in the province.  Collingwood's Hospital opened and the community became known as "Chicago of the North".  Concrete sidewalks began to replace the plank boards in the business center of town.

In 1890 at a cost of $25000 (unfurnished) the new town hall opened on Hurontario Street.  During this time the town saw great growth and expansion of business.  A major renovation and reconstruction project took place that encompassed five stores at Hurontario and Simcoe Streets in 1897.

The 1900's brought more growth and development in the central part of town, including a three-story hotel. In 1911 Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier visited.  1914 saw the construction of the Federal Building that was officially opened on February 14, 1915.

The teens and the twenties brought cars to Collingwood.  Saturday night was for entertainment.  There was the Opera House which was situated beside town hall, silent movies at the Empire Theatre located at first and Hurontario or at the Rex (now the Gayety). Cruising the main street was a favourite pastime for everyone.  You came to the center of town to see and be seen.

The late 1920's and 30's saw Coates Ice Cream parlour open just south of the Arlington but the main focus of the kids was on the trays of homemade candy.

An ornamental fountain was erected in front of Town Hall.  It had a trough for dogs, a separate one for horses, a fountain for people and the top was planted with flowers.  As the town did not require all the space of the new building the two front corners were rented out to a drug store and jewellery store.

Saturday nights were still a social night as many people came to town to do their shopping and maybe see a show at one of the theatres.  In 1929 the present terminal building was constructed bringing with it an increase in shipping for the area and an increase in business throughout town.  In 1936 Jozo Weider started Blue Mountain.  As his efforts shaped the mountain it acted as a magnet to ski enthusiasts who came from an ever-increasing distance.

As war broke out in Europe the shipyard hired women in 1941 to help build corvettes required by the Canadian Navy.  The end of the war brought the men home, they went back to work in the factories and business continued to prosper and grow throughout the whole community.  The end of the war also brought back the ski train and with it the resurgence of Collingwood as a tourist destination.

Information for this article from the Collingwood Museum archives.

By: Margot Nicolson-Trott, owner Georgian Frame Gallery

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