What is now the Simcoe County Historical Association began on a Friday afternoon in November 1891, at a meeting of prominent male citizens of Simcoe County in the Barrie town council chambers. The purpose of the meeting was to establish an organization that would preserve and promote the county’s history and the stories of its early pioneers. It appears the creation of such a society had first been called for in August 1888 in a letter to the editor of the Northern Advance by Andrew F. Hunter, an avid local historian, amateur geologist, and founder of the Barrie Examiner.
After a thorough discussion, the Simcoe County Pioneer Society was created. Membership in the new organization was restricted to those who had lived in Simcoe County since before Confederation or their descendants. Federal senator and former district judge James R. Gowan was named honourary president and county judge William D. Ardagh president. Other executives included Andrew Hunter, Orillia Times editor C. W. Lawton, Barrie mayor F.E.P. Pepler, and early pioneers William Hewson and Samuel Lount Soules. Later executives of the society included local judge and former Barrie mayor William F. A. Boys, Vespra pioneer George Sneath, Orillia Packet editor George Hale, and early pioneer John Warnica. In 1908 the society published the Simcoe County Pioneer Papers, a collection of accounts by the early pioneers and their descendants that remains valuable to local historians today.
In the early 1940s, the society was reorganized as the Huronia Historic Sites Association and the organization’s mandate of promoting local history in Simcoe County was expanded to include promoting tourism development as well. The association published several local histories and tour guides and was also involved in the installation of historical plaques across the county.
The association was reorganized again in 1971 when it was given its current name, the Simcoe County Historical Association (SCHA). Initially, the mandate was to promote local interest in heritage preservation and to work with the county archives to preserve out-of-print local history books and valuable archival materials. Activities during the 1970s included contributing to local history segments for cable access television. The SCHA administered a local history essay contest for students from the 1970s into the 2010s and continued installing historical plaques into the 2000s.
Today, the mandate is to preserve, promote and appreciate the history and heritage of Simcoe County. The organization continues to offer regular history speakers’ events, just like in 1891, and the association’s newsletter has been keeping members informed of local history events since 1972.
The SCHA marked its 125th anniversary in 2016. Although its name, mission, and activities have changed over the past 125 years, the SCHA and its predecessors have shared a common goal: to preserve and promote public knowledge of the history of this region.
Photo: Andrew F. Hunter, an early historian of Simcoe County and co-founder of the Simcoe County Pioneer Society, the ancestor of the Simcoe County Historical Association.