Deep roots, wide spread – a tribute to Bill Barrie

There could be no finer memorial to Almonte resident Bill Barrie than to plant a tree.  Bill was a person whose influence spread far and wide, not unlike the canopy of a large tree. A quiet man with a spirited sense of humour, Bill  left a lasting legacy for his community.

Bill’s military career through the Second World War was something out of a vintage movie.  He was one of a select group that developed radar for the allied forces. North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Europe were only the starting points for Bill’s adventures, which finally took him to India as a  specialist in radar technology.

When Bill returned to Canada, his wife Betty soon followed, and in 1946 they were married in Galt, ON. The next few years were extremely busy, with  Bill studying  Radio Physics in London, ON, the basis for his ongoing love of communications. Bill was never happier than when he was surrounded by electronics: radar parts, radio tubes, antennaes, all contributing to his inventions of amplifiers, sound systems and radar equipment. He worked on the “Cold War” project to design the Arctic Radar detection system to detect trans-polar Soviet aircraft advancing on North America, later called the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. A year in Alaska was a far cry from Pakistan!

A little known fact that’s closer to home: Bill designed the sound system used to this day in the Senate Chamber of Canada to allow full audio access to senators. The system was inaugurated by the Queen in 1957, the same year Bill moved to Ottawa to develop a communication lab that morphed into space work that included the Canadarm with Spar engineering. From here to the moon could have been Bill’s motto!

Retirement for Bill and his wife Betty didn’t include a life of indolence. With a lively family, a cottage at White Lake, and myriad interests, Bill never lost his love of radio. Keeping up with his radar acquaintances, amateur radio enthusiasts, and his community, he embraced modern technology, computers, and a laptop to stay up to date on everything.

Almonte was the richer for Bill’s involvement. Besides his membership in the local amateur radio club, he was an active choir member for many years, could play a mean harmonica, loved to cross-country ski, and was active in a think tank group of colleagues. He was involved in research projects tracking Canadian military, especially those unsung heroes who were involved in secret work rarely mentioned. He was a contributor to the Pier 21 project in Halifax, and RCAF histories which are on display at the Canadian War Museum.  He immersed himself in local projects, including the plan to bring Syrians to the community.  Bill could speak several languages, and didn’t hesitate to launch into conversation with strangers who warmed to him immediately.

The move to a retirement home offered Bill a new opportunity to share his enthusiasm for life with all who knew him. He was a gracious loving man who rose to the challenges of new adventures, no matter if they were major world-changing or small moments of joy.  His sapling tree will grow and flourish like Bill himself to spread its canopy of influence over many generations while it settles deep roots in this community that was fortunate to have been Bill and Betty Barrie’s home in their last years.

The family and all who knew Bill and Betty Barrie are grateful that Orchard View on the Mississippi has seen fit to develop a memorial garden to honour beloved local residents.