Although he came from across the Pond, his name would be linked forever to Orillia.
French explorer Samuel de Champlain visited the area in 1615, as the monument in Orillia, honouring this man of adventurous curiosity, attests to.
Skipping to a man with a totally different outlook, we come across Stephen P. H. Butler Leacock. Seemingly with a finger in every pie, he was a Canadian teacher, political scientist, writer, and humorist. Between 1915 and 1925, he was deemed the best-known English-speaking humorist in the world.
Much of his most creative time he spent in the area once walked on by Champlain.
He so loved it there, he wrote: “When I build my house, I shall make it very plain but at the same time very large. It will become a charming English place. I’m tired of cities and people. It’s a case of goodbye proud world, I’m going home.”
And so he did.
In 1928, he built Leacock House where he fished and sailed on Lake Couchiching. The building now houses the Orillia museum. The scale and ambience of his final plans reflected Leacock’s success and prestige as a world renowned author and a well-respected academic.
The Canadian humorist also had a serious side. When World War I suddenly broke out, he wrote that the War seemed to come out of “the clear sky of vacation, the glory of a Canadian midsummer.” He was by Lake Couchiching, in the summer, when he wrote those famous words.
On the surface, you couldn’t find two more completely different famous people with links to one place — an explorer, and a man-for-all-seasons. But, what they had in common were their links to the Orillia area.
And those links, like a stone skipping across the surface of Lake Couchiching, have their happy effects on all those privileged to live there today.
Stephen Leacock’s Orillia home: Photo credit: Orillia.ca
Simcoe County: Now and Then … and Again
By Rochelle Burns, PhD, social historian