Jeff Green | Jul 30, 2015

Municipal amalgamation brought the end of an era for many long-serving local politicians. None served longer than Thomas Neal, who sat on Frontenac County Council for 34 years and was reeve of the former Barrie Township from 1967 until amalgamation in 1998. He served as warden in 1972, and sat on Barrie Council for two other terms in the 1950s.

According to Neal's son, Thomas Jr., his father's 34 years as county council member is a record and he was also the only county warden to ever come from Barrie Township.

Thomas Sr. was born in 1913 and moved to Harlowe from Kingston as a young child. He ran the general store in Harlowe, and kept the store going for over 50 years. It closed after he died in 2001, as he had wished.

Among the sundry goods that were sold in the store, they sold moccasins that were made in St. Emile, Quebec.

“We sold moccasins to people from all over the world, tourists from everywhere, and Dad loved selling moccasins. We took deliveries sometimes three days a week,” said Thomas Jr., who now lives in Northbrook. “And he ran the township out of the store. It was the kind of place where people would come in and buy groceries and talk to Dad about whatever problems they were having. For him municipal politics was a seven-day a week commitment,” said Thomas.

In those days there were no paved roads in the area, and under Thomas Neal, a tar and chip program was initiated. He was also able to convince the province, with the help of J.R. Simonett, to build the Harlowe Road to join Henderson Road with Highway 41.

Later on, when the Barrie hall and municipal office was built at Highway 41, the township became more centered around the business center of the township at Cloyne.

“Dad had a lot of help from my mother, and us kids, in the store, which was a real going concern, because he loved being there for the people of Barrie Township. He was also the president of the Legion,” Thomas Jr. said.

When some Crown Land opened up there were lots of cottages built in the townships and Thomas Jr. remembers his father working on the committee of adjustment and helping develop new lots and new cottages in the township.

“A lot of business came into the township in those years. He also sat on all the committees of the county, and eventually they called him the Dean of Frontenac County because he had been there for so long.”

Neal also worked very closely with Kaladar township in Lennox and Addington to bring homes and businesses to the area and build roads and a fire department to support that.

“I remember that when amalgamation came on he wasn't in favor of it. He thought that the way things had been operating would be changed. Under him the township never had to borrow money from the bank; it was always taken from reserves. He would say that way the interest was paid to the township instead of the bank. He also was the welfare officer in the township, and if someone was able to work he found them a job instead of giving them welfare.”

According to his son, Neal also favored joining with Kaladar because of the business and service connections between the two townships, but the province insisted otherwise.

Thomas Neal carried out the final negotiations for amalgamation on behalf of Barrie Township and retired from politics at the age of 85. He kept his business going until his death in 2001.

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