17Barclay - Star trekI swear that I’m not a Trekkie.  Really, I’m just a casual fan.  It was a nice part of a childhood Saturday night – maybe we’d get a bit of pop with our supper, if we were lucky we’d make a pizza, and then we’d watch Star Trek before settling in for Hockey Night in Canada.  That nostalgia may be the reason that every time I see the word “Barclay”, immediately this guy springs to mind.

OK, back to the content.

Barclay is another one of the dots on the map along Highway 11 that contribute to the municipality of Innisfil.

There is some other stuff in Barclay – the Innisfil municipal hall, a gas station, the Innisfil recreation centre that the Ontario Gaming Corporation has been promoting the heck out of in a not-so-subtle bid to convince Torontonians to build a casino downtown.  But to my recollection Barclay is more a smattering of services than a little village that hugs Highway 11, like Churchill or Stroud.

Barclay is also home to the southern-most woodpile that I saw along Highway 11, although I think it was a result of someone logging their back forty rather than being a permanent local fixture like the woodpiles in that dot more northern communities.

Barclay, Innisfil, Ontario highway 11 feed and grain elevator

You know you’re in rural southern Ontario when the village has a feed and grain elevator…

Barclay, Innisfil, Ontario, speedway on Highway 11

…and a motorsports facility…

Model home centre, Barclay, Innisfil, Ontario, Highway 11

…but is still under pressure to accommodate suburban residential development.

Ontario Highway 11 Innisfil Recreation YMCA OLG

Innisfil’s super-swish YMCA, of OLG commercial fame.

Barclay speedway, Ontario, Innisfil, Highway 11

Whenever I see a speedway, I just feel so country.  I expect to see Brad Paisley jump out at me or something.

Barclay, Innisfil, Highway 11 Ontario feed

Barclay, Ontario, feed and grain elevator, on Highway 11


Innisfil is the town in Ontario.  Innisfail is its namesake out in Alberta.  I’m going to get that out of the way and try my best not to make any typos and avoid any negative emails.  For this site, typing Innisfail would be an epic fail.

Highway 11 Ontairo, Innisfil,

For years, David Wilcox was never invited to play my hometown’s summer festival because the organizers thought that his crowd (baby boomer dads?) was “too rowdy”

Innisfil is pretty well-known throughout southern and central Ontario for its beach on Lake Simcoe and its outlet malls on Highway 400 near Cookstown.   After driving down Highway 11 south of Barrie, however, I gotta say that I’m a little confused.

I knew that, administratively, Innisfil encompassed a collection of villages and hamlets south of Barrie and along the western shore of Lake Simcoe.  But, I always thought that there was a specific settlement named Innisfil on Yonge Street / Highway 11.  That may be the case, but it wasn’t apparent during my recent trip on Highway 11.  My map reads: St. Paul’s, Stroud, Barclay, Churchill, Fennell, Coulson’s Hill, and then Bradford.  No Innisfil in sight, other than in block letters over the region.

Innisfil has changed a lot since its first settlement in the late 1800s.  After more than a half-century as a farming region, Innisfil has slowly become more commuter-focused.  At one time, almost every house on Lake Simcoe was a recreational property.  Today, more than 90 percent are year-round permanent residences.

Though the Ontario Stock Yards moved here from Toronto in 1993, Innisfil has gradually become less agricultural.  It lost land to Barrie in 1967, 1982, 1993, and 2010 despite pressure to facilitate development for commuter residents bound for Barrie or Toronto.  Book-ended by Barrie’s 135 000 people and Newmarket’s 80 000, Innisfil’s 32 000 (spread over over seven or eight communities) are facing the squeeze of urbanization.  Contrast this to the depopulation problems faced by communities an hour or two further north and you’ll have a good sense of how Ontario’s diversity can be a challenge in creating political and societal consensus province-wide.

Innisfil, Ontario on Highway 11 farming

Farms outside Innisfil, Ontario on Highway 11 (Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

I don’t often advocate leaving Highway 11 for 400-series highways, but in the case of Innisfil you have my blessing.  Not only if you’re going to the beach, but also if you’re looking for antiques.  The Roadshow 400 Antique Mall is located right on Highway 400.  And it is really fantastic, open during the week and weekends, with some of the best selection of antiques available day-in-day-out in Ontario.  (It gives Southworks in Cambridge a run for its money.)  And the yellow-and-black chip truck in the parking lot has a pretty decent poutine.

Antiques in Innisfil, Ontario

Don’t get distracted by the neighbouring flea market, focus on the antique mall at the east end of the complex.

The other reason to head off Highway 11 in Innisfil is Herbert’s Western Boots and Western Wear.  One of two cowboy boots stores on Highway 11, Herbert’s has the best selection in western boots in the area, and I can attest that staff are helpful and low-pressure – willing to help you for hours if need-be, even if you can’t find the pair for you.  (Keleher’s Western Boots and Tack, also in Cambridge, has a slightly larger selection.)

Innisfil, Ontario, Cowbow Boots Herbert's Western Wear,

Uhh, yup we’re not in Toronto anymore.


Stroud, Ontario - southern farming on Highway 11

Naturally, this did not excite me as a kid

Oh, I was mad at Stroud for a long time.

It all began one day in April when the parents of some kids that we played with down the street came home with a motorboat.

This was completely foreign to us.  Our parents might come home from work with a chocolate bar.  Or a roast chicken.  (We always wished for a puppy.)  But a motorboat?  We didn’t know what to think.

At the time, we didn’t consider the broader implications of a family down the road buying family-sized pleasure watercraft.  We weren’t terribly concerned that our playmates were now rarely able to play on hot, boring weekend afternoons.  We weren’t super bothered that their stock amongst the rest of the neighbourhood kids shot up astronomically, increasing competition for playtime with these new-found all-stars on the block.  No, we were pretty young.  We were much more single-minded than that.

We just really really really really wanted to go on that boat.  And we waited.  Patiently.  Politely.  Never asking.  Never hinting.  We watched them hitch that boat to their Ford Windstar, pile into their minivan, and drive-off early Saturday mornings their smiles broad and toothy.  And we waved back like two siblings wishing their parents bon voyage for a second honeymoon on an oceanliner.

And then, one Friday morning, it happened.  One of the girls asked, off-hand, if we’d like to spend the next day with them out on the Grand River, as if it were nothing more than a trip to the park.  At home, we heard the phone call, their mother running the plan by our mother.  The click of my mom putting down the phone was our cue.  We raced down the stairs, beaming, excited, delirious with anticipation for the one thing we had waited for all summer long.

We’re going to look at houses,” stated our mom, rather matter-of-factly.  It wasn’t immediately apparent to us that this was the royal “we”.

We’re all leaving early in the morning.  On Saturday.  We’re going to Stroud.


We couldn’t believe it.  To go from a boating extravaganza to a two-hour-plus trip in the searing August heat of our non-airconditioned Chevette to the middle of nowhere?  Fueled only by home-made sandwiches, a handful of piecefruit, and two cans of pop sweating all over your hands from their time in the cooler, all shared across the four of us?  To look at dusty subdivisions of half-constructed model houses that even us kids knew that we were never going to buy?

We were furious.  So it’s safe to say, we pouted the whole time.  A further boating invite was never forthcoming.  And more than twenty years later, as I drove into Stroud, I noticed that, in some ways, not a lot has changed since my childhood visit to the place that denied me a long-anticipated boat trip.

Sure, Stroud is much more suburban than it was twenty years ago, but hasn’t lost its rural nature.  Like an old country town, it still has its cluster of road-side houses and businesses on Yonge Street and it is still decorated by goofy business names you’d expect from a small town, in this case Doo or Dye (hair salon) or Killer Inkstink (tattoo parlour).  Subdivisions are tucked off the main drag in a way that lets you know they’re there without making you feel like you’re in Mississauga.  There’s the local bar, Tapps, with karaoke on Friday nights, and the standard Chinese place, always “famous” for its food.  (I can assure you that The China Inn is too far south to offer authentic Northern Ontario Chinese Food.)  In sum, Stroud seems to have been able to balance multiple pressures:  population overspill from Barrie, demand for recreational properties for Toronto weekenders, and everyday needs of a rural farming community.

Stroud, Ontario plaza on Highway 11

The plaza at the north end of town definitely wasn’t there some 20-odd years ago.  (I’m not sure what part of my brain says “Yes, take a grainy photo of that plaza!“)

Although I can’t speak for my sister, I’ve largely gotten over my beef with Stroud.  Boats are expensive and inconvenient.  They get old fast and once you’ve lost the love they’re difficult to offload.  You’re better-off renting one.  Or, even better, staying on land.  When you’re in the suburbs, you’re better off using the space you’d need to store a boat to park your third, fourth, or fifth car.  In short, I no longer pronounce the word “Stroud” with same invective as Jerry would say “Newman…(!)“.

And today, as a parent, I realize that my parents probably pulled that trip to Stroud right out their ears.  Not only to keep us from an activity that they couldn’t supervise but to avoid a flat-out “no”, which would have been inexplicable to us and insulting to the other family.  If so, well done Mom and Dad.  Well done.

Highway 11 Ontario, Stroud, Ontario

Highway 11 just north of Stroud, Ontario

St. Paul’s

St. Paul’s is a hamlet just south of Barrie on Highway 11.

I was at a public town hall meeting discussing my former community’s development prospects many years ago when the guy I was sitting beside leaned in and whispered in my ear.  “Look,” he said, pointing at the screen.  “Every subdivision is named after the things that the houses just eradicated.”St. Paul's Ontario, Highway 11

I looked for this phenomenon in St. Paul’s.  Why?  Because St. Paul’s marks the end of Highway 11’s southern agricultural interlude.  St. Paul’s still has its farms, its little circle of country houses, and its Anglican Church.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been paved over a la Brampton.  And sure, there are suburban and estate developments in nearly every dot on the map along Highway 11 as it runs north of Newmarket.

Wow.  This is one intimidating name for a fruit farm.  Carpe diem, carpe fructum.

This is one intimidating name for a fruit farm. Carpe fructum, my friends.

But it’s in St. Paul’s where you start seeing more and more subdivisions off the side of the road.

You have to assume that this development creeped into the local community long before Barrie annexed St. Paul’s from Innisfil in 2010, as mandated by the province.  It all made me feel kind of bad.  It’s not that suburban development is necessarily bad; I grew up in the burbs and for me, I couldn’t have wished for anywhere better.  But I’m sure that for long before Barrie‘s suburban boom starting putting the squeeze on its neighbours, people sought a home in smaller communities like this as a means of enjoying the best of rural life, with the conveniences of the city nearby.

Change is never avoidable.  And I don’t want to give the impression that St. Paul’s is some concrete jungle – far from it.  It’s still small and rural.

But after escaping the suburbs of York Region and enjoying the mental and physical space afforded by the rolling farm hills of Bradford and Innisfil, St. Paul’s was a warning that when you’re in southern Ontario, urban reality always lies just around the corner.

St. Paul's, Yonge Street, Ontario Highway 11

It’s still called Yonge Street even 85 km north of Lake Ontario.