A look back to the beginning.

How 15 people, 50 years ago, built a “home” for this community. This is an excerpt from the upcoming April 2018 snapd Barrie publication.

There is a saying, “From small acorns, great oaks grow,” and that has been true of Grove Park Home. Starting with a vision acted upon by a small group of people, and then an entire community, what we celebrate took shape, and grew, and became a place that continues to care for the elderly and do this in an exemplary way. The culture of caring has always been at the center of life at Grove Park Home; the focus has always been on those who live here. Free of a profit motive—Grove Park is a “not for profit” home—everyone’s efforts have been directed towards making better the sometimes difficult time towards the end of life.

Grove Park Home opened on May 4, 1968. The population of Barrie was 25,000; the mayor was Bob Bentley (1968–69), who was preceded and followed by Les Cooke. The trains still ran frequently through Allandale Station. The year before was Canada’s Centennial year and construction had begun that year, by Allandale Construction, which would also build the additions made in 1983—the Home grew from 68 to 83 residents—and 1986 when GPH grew to 93 residents. The Vietnam war dominated the news in the spring of 1968; the front-page story on May 4 was, “Cong Offensive Wanes after Day.”

The name “Grove Park Home (for Senior Citizens)” grew out of its connection to the congregation next door: offspring. As John Henderson told me, he and Wesley Jones were planting a hedge in front of the church building in the mid-60s. In 1964 the idea of a retirement home had already been conceived and the question emerged about what it would be called. The church was called “Barrie Church of Christ,” so, would the home be called “Barrie Retirement Home?” This seemed an uninspired name, so the two tree planters decided to call the church, “Grove Park Church of Christ,” and, when the home was built, it would share that name, “Grove Park Home.” This was fitting on both counts because they share a location on Grove Street. On the east side of Grove Park Home and the church is Cook St. In 1968 it was the edge of town: there was nothing much east of it, apart from a farmhouse or two.

Minister Wesley Jones used to come to the Georgian Bay area and hold “gospel meetings” in the summer when I was a boy. He liked it here and moved to Barrie, where the church next door began in 1962, moving into its building in 1964. Wesley was a talented speaker with a fine, mellifluous voice. He was active in the community and, as such, hosted a phone-in radio program on CKBB, called “Who wants to know?” A continuing theme from callers was that of the need for a home for seniors. The only facility in the city at the time was the IOOF Home for the Aged that, as a 40-bed facility, moved from Toronto to Barrie in 1940. As a result of these calls, Wesley and church member Clarence Rittenhouse, who later became the Home’s first Administrator (1968–70), approached the provincial government and asked what they needed to do to build a Senior Care Centre. They were told that they needed a piece of land debt free and willing hands. As Wesley recalled, the church had fifteen members at the time. So, with government funding, this small group of people set out to build Grove Park Home. A Board of Directors was formed and met for the first time in March 1967. Its members were: Norman Matthews (church member); David J. Carruthers, Chair (local teacher and church member); Wesley Jones; Blenus Wright, Toronto lawyer; Clarence Rittenhouse. See the plaque on the wall, inside the front door. None had ever operated a home for seniors.

The initial stage of Grove Park Home was built with a government loan of $650,000. Architect Leonard Huget—who designed later additions—offered his services gratis. GPH received a government grant after construction was started. Robert Lackie of Allandale Construction shaved down costs. The community contributed—$30,000 by May 4. And that’s how it was done. From the time it opened, this Home has received support from local service clubs—I mention the May Court Club, which entertained, took seniors to cottage picnics; churches; and businesses.

For the first twenty-five years of its existence, Grove Park was a retirement home. In 1968, sixty-five or seventy years of age was considered “old.” Not now, of course. But, for those years a resident who made application to the Home was expected to be ambulatory and be able to take care of him- or herself. In the early 90’s this all changed. Facilities like Grove Park were brought under the wing of the provincial government and application was made through Community Care Access Centres (CCAC). This changed everything, to meet an emerging need for long-term care residences. Through that decade the last of the “retirees” began to pass away, such people as Elsie Cotton, who had lived at the Home for some twenty years; and Ruth Blevins, who had lived here (almost) nineteen years. Lengthy stays were not uncommon.

I came in the fall of 1985, as minister of the church next door and, with that, chaplain one day a week at Grove Park Home. During the next few years I enjoyed boat trips out of Midland, many picnics at Centennial or Springwater Park, fall “colour tours” to Jackson Point … lots of good times. Such outings became less and less common as residents became more elderly and frail. The ministry of caring continued unabated but there was a long time of transition and change. In 2002–2004 the new building was constructed and the remainder of the home renovated—Mulberry Lane Retirement Living emerges from this period (2004)—under the leadership of administrator Darryl Culley, who took over after David Johnson’s long, productive tenure. When I came, Helen Warnica still lived at the Home. She and husband Burt had moved here together and brought their rose garden from Painswick: their rose garden became “our” rose garden.

When Darryl left to pursue other dreams (“Emergency Management & Training, Inc.”), Board member Terry Codling became Administrator—after a long association—and led us well until retiring, and then Paul Taylor arrived, really our first Administrator to come with training specifically in long-term care. The tone is set at the top, and through many changes, this Home has retained its essential character as a facility that serves others. It is such an amazing place: staff stay for long periods; people who move away, return; those who retire, return, or come back as volunteers. To cite a dramatic example of long service, Marvin Johnson was on the Board for how many years? —45, and Chair for 40.

Today people live longer than they used to, and stay in their own home as long as possible; there is a variety of retirement living options; but a great need remains for places like Grove Park Home—safe, secure, caring lodging for our parents, grandparents, relatives, and friends, where there is stimulation for bodies, minds, and spirits. Remarkable people continue to come to Grove Park to live and a remarkable group of people—that includes nursing, maintenance, kitchen, and life enrichment … a special collection of skilled people—continue to provide outstanding care.

Grove Park is now old enough that we have second generation residents! That’s right! In fact, this began already in the mid-1990s. At 50 years… from a small beginning, rooted in a vision, great good has come.

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About the writer:

Claude was born in Meaford, on Georgian Bay. Has been chaplain at Grove Park Home since 1985 and is adjunct faculty at McMaster Divinity College (since 1983). Married to Elaine (Webster); they have three children: Michael, Jason, and Laura.

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