Orillia Attractions You Shouldn't Miss: Museums, Markets and Festivals
THE STEPHEN LEACOCK MUSEUM: You’ll notice the name Mariposa, which is Spanish for butterfly, used quite often in Orillia. This is because of a famous novel written by Stephen Leacock, “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town”. The book is set in a mythical town called Mariposa, but was based on Orillia, where Leacock summered. You can visit his former home, built in 1928, which has been preserved as a museum. One of the very popular Orillia attractions.
THE ORILLIA OPERA HOUSE features live theatre and concerts year-round. One of the two performing spaces is named the Gordon Lightfoot Auditorium after the famed musician/local-boy-made-good. This historic building is the real heart of Orillia’s downtown and the anchor of its main shopping street, Mississauga. Its cheery red walls and cone-shaped turret lend a nostalgic note to the business district, which still boasts many 19th century storefronts.
THE ORILLIA MUSEUM OF ART AND HISTORY (OMAH) will appeal to those interested in social history. The building itself is a bit of a tourist attraction; in fact, it’s featured in the handsome WALKING TOUR PAMPHLET OF HERITAGE SITES that you can pick up from the Tourist Office which lists and illustrates other Orillia attractions.
The museum is small but tells the story of the development of the area. You’ll find ancient objects of Native origin as well as tools from the earliest non-Native settlers. One of the most unusual objects I saw was a cup and saucer and candy dish with painted depictions of the Asylum for Idiots (circa 1910). The Asylum, which went through several name changes over the years as public sensibilities changed, used to stand where the beach is now in Couchiching Park. A plaque marks the spot. The museum also hosts temporary exhibits of work by local artists and artisans (seems to be a very creative community!). Its shop sells books about the area, postcards, as well as local artistic works and crafts.
THE ONTARIO PROVINCIAL POLICE MUSEUM: Another attraction, just out of town on the highway, is the OPP Museum. It’s really only one large room but there’s so much information and artifacts cleverly crammed into the unusual space-saving display cases (that pull out in trays) to occupy your curiosity for an hour or more. The mug shots of the late 1800s don’t look like mug shots at all. They resemble regular photography studio photos. Criminals appear in full frontal view from head to toe, standing or sitting or leaning against a piece of furniture. The photos aren’t numbered and if you came across one, you wouldn’t be able to tell it was a mug shot at all. The museum uses vintage billyclubs, handcuffs, uniforms, badges, radio equipment and photographs, among other items, to tell the story of the development of the OPP and its role in enforcing liquor laws and traffic laws and the border between Canada and the USA. Also interesting is a display on the OPP’s role in Ontario’s labour history; for example, one-third of the entire force was posted to Hamilton during the famous 1946 strike at Stelco, essentially to defend the company against its workers. The exhibit addresses the role of visible minorities and women in the work force (female officers first appeared in the 1970s). One of the most eye-catching artifacts in the collection is a restored and gleaming 1931 OPP motorcycle.
THE MARIPOSA MARKET is housed in another lovingly restored heritage building on Mississauga Street. It’s a multi-level shop/bakery/restaurant combo with pretty good food for a cafeteria-style outlet. I had my lunches here. You can find all kinds of gourmet goodies to take out for a picnic, as well. You can also buy fresh produce, baked goods, crafts, and flowers at the FARMERS MARKET behind the Opera House (days and times vary according to season).
FESTIVALS: If you’re in town during the summer, you might catch the stilt-walkers and musicians at the MARIPOSA STREET FESTIVAL which takes place all along Mississauga Street. They put on quite a jazz concert when I was there. Check out those one-of-a-kind banners hanging all around town. They were made by local residents and they each express some favourite aspect of their home town. Other festivals include the Stephen Leacock Literary Festival and the Scottish Festival.