Barrie Uncovered

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Barrie Benches, Coffee and Conversation

He called himself Vincent.  “Is it okay if I don’t give you my real name?  I’ve always liked the name Vincent.”

I met with Vincent on one of the many benches in Barrie.  He didn’t want his photo taken and he was a little nervous.  I asked Vincent if he was okay with our meeting, and did he realize that I was going to publish his story?  He turned his head towards me and said, “I can help others, even if just one person, then I have to do this”

Vincent has spent some time living the life.  He’s been a good son, a good friend and a great worker.  But then something happened.  “I wish I could tell you it was a girl, or drugs even.  But what it really was, was…..well……me.  I happened. I mean, there was alcohol and yeah, that happened. But suddenly I was in my late 20’s and I was like….SHIT!  What am I doing?”

Vincent had been working in the Fast Food Industry since he was 16.  Part time work turned to full time and he was good with it.  He was living at home, always had extra cash – hung out with his friends on the weekend.  He is a familiar face on the downtown strip on weekends – partying on the Dunlop.  He didn’t want more and was okay with what he had.

Know your demons

“alcohol poisoning is a real thing.  You aren’t in the game if you don’t chug when your friends are yelling at you to chug! OMG, my friends tho.  I’ve been buddies with some of them since 7th grade.”   Vincent became silent when he said this.  Since I have no pictures, let me describe this moment – He was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.  He was shaking the fingers in his left hand, as if playing an imaginary piano.  In my own mind, I imagined a room full of guys yelling, CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!

“I did it to myself.  I drank waay too much.  I passed out.  I don’t remember much of it….I remember waking up at the hospital.  My Mom crying, my Dad PISSED.”  Vincent had his first drink at 12.  Oh sure, it was a sip of his Dad’s beer under his Dad’s watchful eye.  “it tasted like shit.”  At 13, he decided to sneak something before school and discovered hard liquor.  “Just a capful at first.  Then I’d go brush my teeth.  I felt sneaky and funny thing – I felt powerful. One capful, then two.  At one point, I was watering my parents booze.  At 16, I realized I had a problem, so I got a job.” 

Vincent’s problem was that his daily consumption of alcohol was becoming too much to hide.  He had to get a job to support his habit.  So he did.

“Most of the guys only binge drink on the weekends.  I suppose you could say I do or did (pause) the same.  I drank every day, but got wasted AF on the weekends.” 

Vincent told me that it was in November of last year when he slammed a fifth of whiskey.  (chugged a 750 ml bottle)  It didn’t end well.  His friends called an ambulance and someone texted his parents.  He doesn’t remember most of it.

That’s when I knew

“It was time to stop.  Like shit man, it was time way before this.  I got a membership at the gym, lost 40 lbs, mostly from biking.  I ride my bike everywhere, except Bayfield street. (haha) Oh and I’m going to Georgian in September!  Yeah, fast food is not the future of me.”  And neither is alcohol, I tell him.  “yeah, neither is alcohol.”

So what is Vincent’s message to you?  What does he want you to know?  “Get out before you get in.  Do things in life – play, make friends, exercise.  Experience life and I want you know that the only thing that makes you cool is the way you act and treat people.  Not anything else.  Being a dick isn’t the shit.  You won’t find answers being stoned or drunk.  You find answers when you search for them.  So get out and search!”

Thank you, Vincent.  Now that’s something I could chug.

If you feel you are experiencing Alcohol addiction issues, we have treatment centers in Barrie that can help.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Barrie Addiction Treatment Centre

Road to Recovery Health Clinic

Written by: Sharon Johnston | Images by: Stephen Elliot and Sharon Johnston

Barrie Benches, Coffee and Conversations is a new weekly feature that will highlight Barrie Citizens.  We will share the stories of locals in an effort to make our big community just a little smaller.  If you’d like to share a story of hope and inspiration, email me at [email protected] Perhaps we can sit together on a bench sometime.

Barrie Benches, Coffee and Conversation

How often in life do you meet a real and true, Anne of Green Gables?  Mind you, she didn’t have red hair and freckles – actually, she’s from Columbia.  But she’s really Anne of Green Gables in disguise, though.  “Whatever is not positive, I don’t maintain in my life.  If it creates negativity or stress, I get rid of it.  In the end, I feel stress affects your health.  I get rid of that.”

Carolina moved to Canada in 2007.  She was born in Columbia and her father worked in the mining industry.

“I’ve lived all over and we were always moving.  I loved it and had no problem with it.  I actually enjoyed making new friends, seeing new cultures.  It all stopped when my Dad passed away.  I speak Spanish with my Mom – she lives here.  We’ve gone thru economic ups and downs.  I have 3 half sisters but consider myself like Cinderella.”

I got to know Carolina sitting on a bench in Barrie.  We sat and talked and I walked away feeling like I’d been uplifted.  Carolina explained to me how important perspective is in life and shared a bit of her youth.

The Power of Positivity

“I was bullied when I was 16 thru social media.  It depends on how you deal with it; you move on.   Learn a lesson from actions.  I also feel like you attract who you are.  On Social Media I don’t try to portray myself as something different.  When I wake up, I always wake up on my right foot.  You are never promised a tomorrow; you never know what will happen from one second to the other.  I don’t feed on negativity. 

My social media is all about positivity.  Like today, it’s Monday!  A lot of people think Mondays are shit but to me, it’s a fresh start to a new week.  I look forward to getting on with it.  I like to portray positivity and surround myself with it.  Some people think I’m too happy go lucky.”

Talking to Carolina helped me to realize that perhaps being happy go lucky is this secret skill that has somehow eluded me in life.  Maybe even eluded many of us? How do you let go when you are accustomed to having a plan A and a plan B?  I asked her what could help?

“Nature plays a huge part in my life.  If it rains, it drives me nuts when people complain, plants don’t get green if it doesn’t rain.  Everything is not just pink and happy, its thanks to things like the rain that something green happens.  When I drive to work, I look at something and get mesmerized by nature.  Like music too, I love music!  I listen to a lot of Latin music because its upbeat and happy.  I’m not gonna lie, there are moments when I sit and think and miss my dad, or think of memories.  Everybody has their ups and downs, and that’s when I listen to more mellow music.  Then I’ll be like, okay, I’ve had my moment and go back to fun music. “

Carolina’s father passed away when she was 23. She believes she’s a lot like her father. Carolina did many things while she was young, like buying a house when she was 20.  That’s something that her father taught her.


“I have a lot of both my mother and my father.  Mainly, my Dad. My Dad was very chill, very laid back and didn’t stress a lot.  My Dad didn’t know about tomorrow so he’d go do it today.  If it meant buying a new car, he’d buy a new car today.” 

“I’ve jumped on chances.  My father was ill for many years and it taught me that things can disappear this fast.  If you don’t jump on the train when its going by, its going to go.  Its your choice.  You can’t blame anybody else if you don’t jump on that train and make the move.  The worst thing that can happen is a “no” or “rejection”.  There is nothing wrong with asking.  I don’t want to ask myself What If.

Make Lemonade!

Doesn’t that make you think?  How many times have you asked yourself that very question?  “What if?”  It was pretty clear after sitting with Carolina for just the first 5 minutes that she is a woman with a plan.  She is the kind of person who makes lemonade from lemons and then shares it around.  She works for what she has and then reaches out to do more.  Are we missing that today?

“Not everything is replaceable.  You can’t just break your phone and get a new one.  Have an appreciation for what you have.  Don’t just throw away and buy new.  Show an appreciation for what you have and take care of it.  A lot of people don’t know how to sew.  If I have a rip or a button missing on my shirt, I can sew it myself and I choose to do that.  I used to make Barbie clothes when I was little.  Sewing, crocheting and knitting from a very young age is a great brain activity.  You learn how to organize.  You should look up the benefits of knowing how to knit from a young age.  I work with kids and I love them.  Seeing them always being so positive and happy shows me the way.  I go home fulfilled.”

Maybe somehow, we are missing the ability to cherish what we have.  The world is getting cluttered because so much is cheaper to replace than fix.  Are we missing out in life because we aren’t grateful enough for what we have?

It starts with exercise

“I exercise every day.  I go to the gym everyday, I bike, I’m also a black belt.  I did karate for 18 years.  I had my own Dojo in Peru.  I did many tournaments with karate, you name it, tennis, high jump…I love sports.   Up to 4 months ago, I was doing ballet.  But then my knee got really sore. So, I dance at home.  I dance at home a lot.  I can do a little bit of salsa. We may not have all the money in the world but we don’t need that to be happy.  Gratitude is huge.  If you live mindfully and gratefully, it makes a big difference.  If you are mindful, it makes you live the moment more.” 


Carolina shared with me that having a positive attitude encourages her to do good things. Yet, the power of positivity is becoming more challenging as the world is evolving.


“When I was younger, I felt like I didn’t fit in or I wanted to fit in.  It didn’t last very long. After thinking about things, I decided that I wouldn’t change who I am.  My parents were very involved in my life, I’ve always been close to my family and they’ve always been very supportive.  If I were to do something different, my parents would question me about not being true to myself.  I got to hang out with a lot of adults because I was an only child.  My maid of honour is 23 years older than me.  I feel like being an only child forced me to mature faster.  I went to private school and I loved it.  It taught me that there are rules and that you just can’t do what you want.   It shows your respect for hierarchy.”

Funny how it all seems to come together.  Carolina is a strong, positive woman.  As I was talking to her, it was very obvious that she was comfortable in her skin.  She had a “this is me” attitude.  She also came across like she was tough as bones deep within.  Some of us search our whole lives to find that. 

“If you want to tell me that I’m a horrible person, I’ll listen to you, but I’m not changing who I am.  The door is right there. There are people who love to complain and love the drama or attention.  I’m not gonna change who I am, it’s my life and I’m the author of my book.”

I’d read that book. Anne of Columbia in Barrie.  Hmmm, well it isn’t catchy, but it’s the truth.  A quote from Anne of Green Gables really finishes this all off nicely,

“It’s not what the world holds for you, it’s what you bring to it.”

Thanks, Carolina, for reminding us and making us think.  😊


Written by: Sharon Johnston | Images by: Stephen Elliot and Sharon Johnston

Barrie Benches, Coffee and Conversations is a new weekly feature that will highlight Barrie Citizens.  We will share the stories of locals in an effort to make our big community just a little smaller.  If you’d like to share a story of hope and inspiration, email me at [email protected] Perhaps we can sit together on a bench sometime.

Barrie Benches, Coffee and Conversation

“My brother and I are polar opposites. He was born on the summer solstice, the longest day of sunshine, which is fitting because he is like a ray of sunshine.  Literally a ray of sunshine. 

Ummm…well he was. 

He always made people smile and laugh and could make friends with anyone. It was great being with him, growing up, because he did all the talking.  We would sit together and laugh.  I appreciated that.  He was very talkative and very joyful.  Nowadays, I’m trying to find productive things to do with my time.  I’m trying to spend more time in nature.  It’s beneficial for your mental health.  I like to help people and I’m a first responder. “

I met Caleb four days before what would have been his brothers 24th birthday. We sat together at a bench in Barrie and well…..just talked.  We are strangers to each other.  I am in the prime of my years and Caleb, just beginning to find himself. 

Something about him was different

Sometimes when you talk to someone for the first time, you tend to look for similarities, mutual likes and dislikes.  You try to sort – sort – match the person, until you find where they fit into your groove. Surprisingly, it really wasn’t like that at all with Caleb.  He had something.  Something that I just can’t put my finger on.

Let me describe him for you as I saw him.  He was the essence of youth and vitality.  He sat calmly and told me of things, with legs crossed and hands folded quietly in his lap.  His voice was warm and soothing as he talked of his method of dealing with the passing of his elder brother.  He did not fidget.

“I took a 10-week meditation course from the Center for Freedom.  It’s covered by OHIP. I suggest it to everyone who wants to be calmer.  It takes time to make these practices a thing in your life.  But be patient.  During the day, I check in with myself and focus on my breath.”

Social Media does not define

Caleb’s brother committed suicide just a short month ago.  The passing of his brother has altered his perception of what’s important in life.  The wound is still raw. He’s trying to make his life for the better.  And has had to think long and hard about what “better” really is.  He realized that he hasn’t been spending a lot of time with his family and with his friends.  “I’m wasting too much time on social media and getting caught up in the electronic world.  Life is so much more than that superficial world.”

I asked Caleb what was important to him?  What is it that you want to tell the world?  “Remember how fragile life is and how lucky we are to be alive.  When we look at the lives of others, it makes our own wanting. Our desire to turn other people’s success into our own judgement is flawed due to incomplete data.  Look around you. Look at those you have in your lives and tell them you love them.  We suffer because we seek.  Stop seeking and be present.”

Caleb has deleted much of his Social Media since his brothers passing, in an effort to be present in life.  He’s not sure if the internet is good for us.  “Banding together for a cause, doing good things and being inspirational is meaningful.  Be mindful of how you use technology.”

Caleb is just one of the 141,400 citizens in our beautiful city of Barrie.  You may have passed him walking through Sunnidale Park.  You may have seen him at Johnson’s Beach.  Those are two of his favourite places right now as he focuses on his mental health.  “With grief, most people support you during the very beginning.  The way that grief works, its like a protective mechanism.  In the beginning, I was numb and didn’t feel anything.  As things became more real to me, most people moved on – which is life.  It’s weird but you need the help so much as time goes forward.  When you lose a sibling, you realize how mortal you are and how close death is.  It makes you think.”

Caleb has thought much about the delicate details of life and has started to make a conscious effort to recognize the beauty around him. 

“my definition of beauty has changed – something beautiful is something that creates more joy and happiness in the world.  Find meaning in your life”

Ahhhh….that’s it.  Now I understand. That’s the something that Caleb has that I just couldn’t figure out.  Inner peace. We sat and talked and he was so comforting, so soothing.  Caleb projects a very sincere calm inner peace.  He’s read a few books that has helped him through this tragic time – “Grief Recovery Handbook” and ”12 Rules for Life”. He recommends those books very strongly. It’s one thing to read a book, but its an impressive accomplishment to put those books into action.  Caleb is going a step further by sharing his story and inspiring others.

“Happiness is not the end result of a sum of our accomplishments.  Even the people who do well, has his or her own struggles.  Look around you, at those you have in your life and tell them you love them.”

Before Caleb and I parted ways, he said he had some words of advice to share.  His words aren’t only for those who have lost a sibling or a family member or a friend. His words of advice are to all who read this.  This is important so I would suggest to even read this last part out loud in your softest whisper.

“Be kind to each other. Be accepting.  Treat everyone the same.  Try to give people shit when they aren’t being nice, but that’s hard.  You have to be courageous.  Sometimes I’m not courageous and that’s scary.”

Oh Caleb.  You are more courageous than you know. 

I promise to be kind. 

I promise to be accepting.

 I promise to treat everyone the same.


Written by: Sharon Johnston | Images by: Stephen Elliot and Sharon Johnston

Barrie Benches, Coffee and Conversations is a new weekly feature that will highlight Barrie Citizens.  We will share the stories of locals in an effort to make our big community just a little smaller.  If you’d like to share a story of hope and inspiration, email us at [email protected] Perhaps we can sit together on a bench sometime.

I’m gonna pop some tags!

What? What? What? What?

Oh you know you loved that song until you read the lyrics! (ok correction, until *we read the lyrics, haha!) Life has changed. Well, some things have. Life has changed from the days of the Sally Ann and the days of the musty used store in a seedy little town.  Even the word “used” has been spruced up into positive sounding descriptors.  “Second Fiddle” “Twice Around” …..even bargain stores get new handles among the crowd, “Giant Tiger” becomes “G.T. Boutique”, “Value Village” becomes “Double V”.  Yes, life has changed in some ways, but when it comes to looking good, we all still want to achieve the best killer outfit on a budget.  Sure, minimum wage went up – but so did everything else.  fffffff!

Now we all know many thrift stores in Barrie – Value Village – the new Talize and a handful of small ones around, but none of those are quite like Stuff.  First of all, Stuff was started with plenty of love for Barrie.  No, seriously.  Barrie Uncovered spoke with owner, Chad Smith and he told us, “I worked for Goodwill for 25 years and both my wife and I got laid off when Goodwill closed down, it was the only thing we knew……we started Stuff and hired many of the employees who were laid off, just like us.”  Chad worked really hard to get Stuff going and does many of the displays himself, as well – when a customer needed help carrying out a table – we watched Chad carry it himself.  There’s something about that sort of small town feeling that many just don’t experience anymore.


Barrie Uncovered recently did a shopping challenge with a couple of great girls, Amanda and Mary.  We challenged them to find a bunch of outfits in Stuff.  We had a hilarious time and would you believe we spent hours in the store?  There is so much to look thru!  All clothing is organized according to size, short sleeves, long sleeves, men and women, etc., etc…’s very easy to walk through and find a find.  Stuff is an upscale Thrift Store that is cared for with a passion for Barrie.  The store is bright, smells like rainbows and if you are lucky and go on the right day, you may also find yourself a unicorn!  (for reals, *wink) Don’t forget there are two locations – one on Bryne Drive in the old Goodwill, and the other on Dunlop St – a quick walk from the bus depot if you want to take a look around in between bus rides.  (Do it!)


Check out the video of our shopping extravaganza at Stuff

And one more thing, show us what you find!  Tag #barrieuncovered when you get that great outfit, or cookie jar or even unicorn!  Heck, even tag #stuffshoppeinc !  Your next shopping adventure awaits! 

Go pop some tags!
What? What? What? What?

Written by: Sharon Johnston | Images by: Stephen Elliot