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Barrie experienced tornadoes during the Barrie tornado outbreak of 1985 and the June 16–18, 2014 tornado outbreak during which an EF2 tornado spawned and caused minimal damage to southern Barrie but affected the nearby town of Angus to a greater extent.

Notwithstanding these major employers, Barrie has increasingly been perceived as a bedroom community for those commuting to Toronto, which is approximately 90 km (56 mi) south of Barrie.

A private school, three churches and a brick courthouse and a limestone jail (built in 1842) were in operation. Steamships ran from Barrie to the Muskoka Territory, Orillia and other communities and stages were taking passengers to Penetanguishene.

The city was named in 1833 after Sir Robert Barrie, who was in charge of the naval forces in Canada and frequently commanded forces through the city and along the Nine Mile Portage.

Barrie was also the final destination for one branch of the Underground Railroad.

In the mid-19th century, this network of secret routes allowed many American slaves to enter Barrie and the surrounding area.

This contributed to the development (and name) of nearby Shanty Bay.

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