Stephen Leacock

Stephen Leacock's humour is well known, but the Funny Man had a serious side.

If Stephen Leacock had only written one book – “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town” – it would have been enough to guarantee his place in Canadian literary history. This collection of comical short stories about a fictitious town (rumoured to be based on Orillia Ontario) was a bestseller when it came out in 1912 and is still in print and read with pleasure today.

But Leacock (1869-1944) did more than write one of the classics of Canadian literature. He wrote dozens of books, and countless magazine articles and short stories, most of them satiric in nature. His titles included: “The Arcadian Adventures of the Idle Rich”, “Literary Lapses”, “Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy”, “Too Much College”, and “Further Foolishness”.

Despite his huge popularity as a humorist, there was a serious side to Leacock too. In addition to biographies of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, and a great book called “How to Write”, Leacock authored “Elements of Political Science” (a university textbook) and other works on political and social problems of the day. He also toured about giving public lectures on the subject of the British Empire, both in England (his birthplace) and in Canada. Not everyone remembers that while this folksy Canadian humorist was busily entertaining the general public, he was also teaching politics at McGill University. If you’ve ever been on the McGill campus, you may recall a hideous concrete skyscraper named after him; this was the school’s way of honouring (or cruelly paying back) their prestigious but trouble-making professor, who fought the institution over compulsory retirement way back in 1936.

Another building (much more attractive) named after Leacock is his sprawling summer cottage in Orillia Ontario. Some years after his death, fans of Leacock restored the property which includes the cottage, garden and boathouse, and turned it into a museum. The Stephen Leacock Museum welcomes visitors who want to learn more about Leacock and Canadian literature. It also hosts special events such as the Leacock Summer Festival every summer where big name Canadian authors come to read from their latest works, and an annual award ceremony for the Leacock Medal for Humour. This medal and its cash prize, awarded to the best Canadian book for humour each year, was established in Leacock’s honour in 1947 and is an enduring and important legacy of a great literary figure.

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