The Stephen Leacock Museum, officially known as the Leacock Museum National Historic Site, is located on the banks of Brewery Bay in Orillia Ontario.
Stephen Leacock was a Canadian author and academic who was famous during his life for both his political textbooks and his humorous writings. Today he's best known for the comic collection of short stories, "Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town". If you went to high school in Ontario, chances are you might have read that book, or one of his short stories, or seen one of the hilarious short, animated NFB films based on two of his stories.
The Stephen Leacock museum was once Leacock's summer home, and it has been restored to the period when he lived there, and contains memorabilia belonging to or relating to the author. If you visit, you'll learn more about Leacock and see how a man of his social status lived during this era.
Leacock had this sprawling summer cottage built for himself, his wife and his only child Stevie in 1928, when he was at the height of his success as a literary author and academic. The place was designed by Toronto architects Wright & Noxon, Toronto; Leacock wanted (and got) a charming English country home. Despite its large, comfortable size, the house is unpretentious, full of sunshine, books and comfy easy chairs. Here's one of several libraries in the house (it's a writer's paradise):
Here's the living room with its piano that was used in many of the plays that Leacock put on for his family for friends and neighbours:
In the corner of the living room you'll find a table with his pipes: a touching scene when you recall that Leacock died of throat cancer.
At the back of the house is my favourite part, the sunroom. Leacock did a lot of his writing here at the table and it's set up to look as if he's just stepped out and will be back any minute to greet you. Here you'll find a beautiful photograph of Leacock by the famous photographer Karsh propped on an easel. It's such a cheerful room and it runs across the whole length of the house.
When you step outside, you have the veranda, with its great view of the water, the lawn and gardens.
At the edge of the bay is a boathouse. This is a replica of the one that Leacock built. He also wrote here, because he loved to be close to the water.
The Stephen Leacock Museum is about 3 km out of the main downtown area and you can reach it by walking trail or car, taxi or bus. (The walking trail along the water is lovely but not recommended if you’re on your own, as it’s a bit isolated by trees for most of the way.)
When you enter the grounds you'll see a modern building that houses the admission office where you can buy tickets for the museum, a small giftshop, the administration offices and a café/performing space. This is where the Leacock Summer Festival is held and where the award for the annual Leacock Medal for Humour is announced.
The museum's web site is http://www.leacockmuseum.com.
Leacock Summer Festival
The Leacock Summer Festival is a reading festival, somewhat similar to the International Festival of Authors in Toronto but on a much smaller scale. It sounds like a festival devoted strictly to the study of the books of Stephen Leacock, but it's not. Authors from around the country are invited to read from their latest works. The festival is held over several days at the Leacock Museum. I went in 2008 and was pleased to have the chance to hear one of Canada's funniest authors, Drew Hayden Taylor, who had the whole audience in stitches during his readings from his plays and essays about Aboriginal humour. Terry Fallis, the most recent winner of the Leacock Medal for Humour, read from his prize-winner, as well.
The festival features both humorous and serious books, fiction and non-fiction. Most sessions include readings by two or more writers. For information about the festival, call the museum.
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