Orillia is commonly known as the Sunshine City; its beautiful waterfront attracts thousands of visitors every year, it also plays host to a wide variety of festivals and cultural attractions, which make this city a great destination.
You may have also noticed that Orillia is home to many different businesses and events that use Mariposa prominently in their name. Whether it’s the amazing Mariposa Folk Festival or the ever delicious Mariposa Market, the name Mariposa can be seen all over Orillia.
Let’s explore Orillia’s history a bit, and we’ll find our answer!
Orillia began as an Indigenous settlement. Archeological sites nearby show signs of trading, fishing, hunting, and various camps that were set up by Canada’s First Nations.
As the French and English began to colonize North America, explorers also sought to settle the area with famous voyageur Samuel de Champlain leading the charge. Champlain lived among the Indigenous tribes in the area (Wendat and Anishinaabe tribes, among others) and visited Orillia, or the area that would later become Orillia, sometime in April 1615.
There’s evidence that the name Orillia was first used in 1820, but where did the name come from? That’s anybody’s guess. Most info suggests that Orillia may come from the Spanish word orilla which means “shore”.
By the time William Henry Smith was constructing his comprehensive text, Smith’s Canadian Gazetteer in 1842, Orillia already had a population of 440 people and was worth over $700,000 (£5,971 in 1842). Check out what Smith has to say about Orillia in 1842:
Now that we know a little about Orillia’s early years, maybe the Mariposa connection will reveal itself sometime after 1850…
Since Orillia’s inception, it has been home to many different amazing events and people. For example:
Of the Group of Seven
Former Premier of Ontario
Elizabeth Wyn Wood
Prolific Canadian Sculptor
Leading Canadian Folk Artist
And, of course, Stephen Leacock,
Notable Canadian Humorist, Political Scientist, Teacher
Even though Stephen was born in England, he immigrated with his parents, Peter and Agnes, when he was 6 years old. Stephen attended the University of Toronto but moved around a bit in his academic career, eventually obtaining a doctorate from the University of Chicago and becoming the chair of the Department of Economics and Political Science at McGill University in Montreal. He summered in Orillia in the gorgeous home that is now known as the Stephen Leacock House.
He’s come under fire in recent years due to his particular brand of conservativism and political views, but ultimately, he’s left a large mark on Canadian literature. Stephen penned the collection, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town which centres around a small town on the banks of Lake Wissanotti called Mariposa.
Stephen drew from his summers in Orillia to create these vignettes; to honor the fictional town of Mariposa and all the other little Mariposas along Lake Superior. Orillians use the name throughout the town to evoke that sense of Canadiana, of small towns with a lot of character.
And there you have it, mystery solved! We look forward to discovering and enjoying more stories which have been carefully crafted by the long and rich history of Orillia.
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