The Way Wasaga Was

by Joe Bickerstaff

From the early 1920s when businesses first opened up on Main Street in Wasaga Beach, we enjoyed a vibrant and busy shopping area up until the mid-1970s. The stretch of Main Street between the bridge and Beach Drive was a true “downtown” and was the focal point of business in The Beach.

For many years, as vehicles crossed the Main Street Bridge, traffic lights gave drivers the choice of making a left to continue on Mosley Street (Provincial Hwy. 92), turning right to access Spruce Street or continuing straight through to Main Street towards the beach (Beach Drive). This section of Main Street provided curbside parking and both sides of the street were lined with busy shops, restaurants and services. At one point in time, Wasaga Beach enjoyed a movie theatre on Main Street, when the Joyland Arcade was converted to the Centennial Theatre to show feature films.

Locals enjoyed the Main Street experience and visitors and cottagers would plan on stopping in Wasaga Beach to shop on the way to their accommodations. The ease of on-street parking and the variety of shops meant visitors could stock up on all of their vacation needs and even enjoy a meal at one of the several restaurants. There was a Chinese restaurant and the popular Georgian Inn on Main Street to feed the hungry travellers.

In 1972, it was decided to block vehicular traffic to our busy Main Street, in order to turn it into a pedestrian mall for the 1973 summer season. The intersection at the west side of the bridge was changed and the traffic lights removed. The curve to Mosley Street was widened and the access to Spruce Street was improved to provide access to Beach Drive. As folks crossed the bridge, Main Street was blocked to vehicles with a sign that simply said “The Mall.”

Over the next few years, visitors and locals who once enjoyed the busy Main Street as a shopping and meeting spot found they missed the real “town feel” of the street and the ease of store front parking. Shoppers found it easier to do their shopping on the way to Wasaga Beach and head directly to their accommodations. Soon the stores missed the regular business of visitors and locals, and many closed or moved their businesses elsewhere. Empty and vacated buildings were leased or sold and began selling nothing but beach toys and bathing suits for the short summer season.

Until the massive fire that destroyed most of the buildings on Main Street in November 2007, we were still able to walk the street of neglected storefronts and imagine it as a busy and exciting shopping area. Sadly, we must now rely on memories, stories and pictures to know what once was the Main Street of Wasaga Beach. ❧

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