A FOND LOOK AT "EVERYTOWN" ON ITS 100TH BIRTHDAY
Leacock called it Mariposa. But it’s Orillia, Ontario, with a century of memories, tree-shaded streets, old homes, a lake to fish in... and a Champlain Monument. It’s what we were—and are, at heart
JACK BA TTEN
on a lazy summer’s day, a local fisherman drops his line in the lake.
You PROBABLY KNOW Orillia, Ontario, even if you have never come up the 82 miles out of Toronto around the big hump in Lake Simcoe that lead you there. You probably know it anyway because it is much like 100 or 200 other small cities and towns across Canada, and if you are acquainted with one of the others, then you must know Orillia.
“The town has always had the feeling that its ups and downs, its adventures, the ways it has weathered wars and booms and depressions and acts of God,have been an example of what the whole country has gone through in its first 100 years”
In the matter of age the town has a jump on most others. It was incorporated in 1867, the same year that Canada became a country, and for that reason of coincidence, the town has always had the feeling, though most people will not say so out loud, that its ups and downs, its adventures, its business and fun, the ways it has weathered wars and booms and depressions and acts of God, have been an example of what the whole country has gone through during the course of its first 100 years.
That is the thought anyway, and perhaps if you hear the history of Orillia you will recognize the history of other places in Canada, big as well as small. Perhaps it will make you recall other events in other towns, and you may even recognize the same kind of of people. All of them Canadian, of course.
Certainly in the kind of beauty Orillia can boast, it is a typical spot. There it sits on a small slope of land running gently down to a lake with an Indian name, Couchiching, and sometimes when the warm weather begins to come on the town toward the end of April, the good feeling of the lake and the air and the view from the top of the slope turns so strong that you find yourself pulled, practically against your will, right down the hill on Mississaga Street, all the way down to the lake and out to the end of the concrete pier, which is one of the town’s colossal structures.
Well, it is just about breathtaking to stand on that pier in the spring when the ice has gone out of the lake. And if you are a local from Orillia, whichever way you glance you are bound to find a sight that pleases your eye or warms your memory. Over to the left, for an example, there is Couchiching Beach Park, site of regattas and Thursday-night band concerts and as neat and green and gay a spot as any town has built for its holiday fun. And towering into the sky over the park, no less than 36 feet straight up, there is the Champlain Monument, rendered on the order of the town by an artistic little Englishman named Vernon March and which is without any doubt at all the most remarkable work of sculpture north of Toronto.
Cedar Island is the attraction you pause at on the right side of the pier. It rests in the lake entirely on rock fill and sawdust left over from the days when Orillia was one of the busiest lumber towns in Canada. They say there were times back then when a person could hardly make out the water for all the timber floating in it.
And over beyond Cedar Island, set back on the shore of Brewery Bay, you catch the white of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Home. Stephen Leacock wrote a book about Orillia and its people many years ago called Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, only he changed the name of the town to Mariposa and Mississaga Street became Missinaba and the lake turned into Wissanotti. But it was the same place all right, and 10 years ago the town bought up Stephen Leacock’s old summer place on Brewery Bay as a little memory of his good works. In point of straight truth though, the house was bought over a lot of dead bodies in Orillia and there are many around town who will still tell you that it was a damn foolish waste of good money.
Then there is no place remarkable to look except back up into town, and what your eye notes immediately is the regular jostle of tree tops and spires and mansion peaks over in the North Ward. The North Ward is the quietest, oldest, noblest district of town, where the great figures of the past settled in. Tudhopes. Hales. Mulcahys. Ardaghs. Those were men who did things in genuine style back then.
Why, J. B. Tudhope, Orillia’s first automobile magnate, built himself a place on Peter Street in the North Ward that set a tone for luxury that nobody has come up to to this day, neither in Orillia nor probably any place else in the east. J. B. brought in mahogany from South America for the paneling inside his house and he imported limestone from the Longford Quarries across Lake Couchiching for the window sills outside his house. He put it up three stories high, with pillars on his porch as tall as any in Athens, Greece, and he made his billiards room on the third floor commodious enough so that today it will sleep a good dozen people in perfect comfort. Which it may have to do since the Salvation Army took over J.B.’s place for a home for the aged.
The houses in the North Ward go back 70, 80 years or more, some as far back as the day Orillia was incorporated in 1867, though you can hardly tell it by the grand way they have weathered the last century of winds whipping in off of the lake. It is sad enough that houses like the Tudhope place have gone to the Army or elsewhere, but at least they are still up. They are the best reminders you are likely to find, except for the odd old-timer still around, like Teefy Mulcahy, of the great days when Orillia was just getting its start in history.
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“EVERYTOWN” continued front pape 25
The town had a far different look then, you understand, downright exotic in comparison with today. Right off, if you took a stroll down Mississaga somewhere about 1890, you would be passing, not just Henry Holmes’s Livery and Mrs. Goffat's Ladies Wear and Little Harry’s IceCream Parlor and Clarke's Harness Shop, all of them remarkable places of commerce, but also public drinking houses. Now, Orillia has not witnessed the sight of liquor drunk out in the open since the local option of 1908 when the drys won out. But in the 1890s sin flourished all up and down Mississaga in such places as Fraleigh’s Hotel, the American Hotel, the Daly House (Jim Smith, Prop.), the Grand Central Hotel and perhaps half a dozen others the same.
Slide! Here comes Alphabetical Lee!
The town was a perpetual round of gaiety, what with the shantymen down from the woods carrying on at the Grand Central and other emporiums of high living. Just ask Teefy Mulcahy, who remembers it all to this day. Teefy is 86 and has spent all 86 years living in the North Ward except for two summers in his boyhood when he headed out to the Peace River in the gold rush. He didn’t find any gold and he returned none the worse to his father’s dry-goods and grocery business in the Mulcahy Block on Mississaga Street.
Teefy’s pleasure in telling you of the fun of the early days in town is a tonic to the eyes. So are his stories to the ears. Take, for example, the night he was sitting up with a group of Orillia’s young bloods in the back
room of Jim Smith’s hotel, drinking liquor after hours. That was a common event back then. Mr. Smith was called before a judge every second week on some grave liquor violation or other but none of the magistrates, good customers of Mr. Smith’s in their own right, could ever find it in their hearts to convict him.
Well, on the night in question, Teefy will tell you, someone reported Alphabetical Lee. the town bailiff and liquor inspector, snooping around outside the hotel. The young fellows thereupon took their leave down the chute that led from Mr. Smith's back room to his cellar. All managed the slide in quick time until the last man who, by the cruelty of the fates, was the fat accountant from the bank, and he lodged himself tight in the bottom of the chute, the victim of his own large rear end. Into the cellar strode Alphabetical l ee. just as pleased as if he'd run to ground Jack The Ripper himself, and he took his good time about inscribing the fat accountant's name and crime in his black summons book.
Next day. Alphabetical strolled around to the bank to serve his summons. But the manager of the bank, another steady customer of Mr. Smith’s barroom, handed Alphabetical a shock. He refused on his authority as manager of the bank to permit a public official, namely Alphabetical. behind the swinging gate at the counter where the accountant was situated. The upshot was that Alphabetical could not, in any way he could figure, serve his summons in the bank, nor any place else because for 10 clays and 10 nights the fat accountant ate and slept and carried on his life behind the swinging gate in the bank, until the summons just naturally died from not being served.
Every Sunday, Charlie’s cheque: 50c
In point of historical fact, those days when there was so much hilarity around town were also The Golden Age of Orillia. From the time when the World Depression of 1892 was settled until the time the Great War was started, Orillia was a thriving, busy, go-ahead place.
Go-ahead — well, you het!
What, you might ask, was the first town in Ontario to start up a Canadian Club? What was the first town in the whole country to bring in Daylight Saving Time? What town looked after its factories and its ordinary citizens so splendidly that both paid the lowest electric rates of any in Canada, mostly because the town in question built its own power plant instead of waiting on the government to build one? And what town advertised for tourists in New Orleans and Memphis and, what’s more, brought them up here with their Negro retainers and all?
The answer is Orillia every time.
Industry boomed in town for 20 years or more, prosperity was rampant, and everyone had a job who wanted a job. It is true that Charlie Leacock for one, Stephen Leacock’s younger brother, wasn’t especially keen on having employment. Charlie was a card. He used to go to the St. James Anglican Church and every Sunday, toward collection time, he’d tap the fellow in front of him on the shoulder and borrow a pen. Then he would write out a cheque to the church for 50 cents. St. James Church had a fat wad of Charlie’s 50-cent cheques when he passed on. But
everybody loved Charlie Leacock, even if he had no business, and everybody enjoyed the busy and good times.
All over town in those years you could hear the music of the saws at the big J. R. Eaton planing mill buzzing through the afternoon. Tait’s sawmill was running full blast, too, and Vick's flour mill and the Longford shingle mill.
You could take your selection of three local newspapers to read every week, the Packet, the Times and the Newsletter. All reported the same events, generally speaking, but differently according to their individual politics.
Two trains raced up to Orillia every day back then, the Northern from Toronto and the Midland, which cut across Ontario from Port Hope and Lindsay in the east counties, and every Saturday they also ran special coaches that brought farmers and small-town people into Orillia to stock up on the week’s goods. The commerce on Saturday used to be hectic. Mulcahy’s store, which was called the California Store in memory of the years Teefy Mulcahy’s father spent in that part of the United States looking for gold (he found none to speak of, either), used to haul at least three full wagonloads of groceries and dry goods down to the Saturday shopping train every week.
The town was growing and building and shooting up in every direction. Northway’s general store put in the first elevator in town, three stories high, though you could walk it faster, and Andrew Tait built a house on Colborne Street that had a rollerskating rink for a third floor. Mr. Tait thought dancing was a sinful activity for his children to take up. He hit on roller skating as a godly substitute. The Town Hall was constructed about the same time, with more spires than you will see on a Turkish mosque and with an Opera House for general entertainment on the second floor. It is a shame, when you come to consider it. that some hotel people later got hold of the old Tait place and ruined the romance of having a roller-skating rink for a third floor and that most of the Town Hall went in the fire of 1916.
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Question was, would the steamer Enterprise bring you back?
There is no sign left of Northway’s elevator either.
But in the days of the Golden Age people did not think forward to those sad events. They had enough to amuse their minds — lacrosse every summer evening at the old Oval up behind the Catholic church, musical concerts by the Hoy-Vick Orchestra (Boh and Margaret Hoy and their three boys, plus Herbert Vick), war-canoe races, dances, baseball, icehouse fishing on the lake in wintertime and rowboat fishing on the lake in summertime, meetings of The Church of England Temperance Society and the Royal Templars of Temperance and overland trips to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario store in Barrie. 22 miles to the southwest.
And excursions! By 10 o’clock on any fresh calm summer morning the steamer Enterprise, which loomed as majestic as the Lusitania down at the dock, was decked in flags, steamed up and crowded to the rails for an excursion down the lake past the Leacock House and through the Narrows into Lake Simcoe. The Oddfellows, the Presbyterian Sunday School, the Sons of Scotland — all sailed off aboard the Enterprise. Of course, all did not always sail back aboard the Enterprise. There was the time when it broke down off Big Bay Point, where Lake Simcoe runs into Kempenfeldt Bay, and everybody gathered up their hampers of cucumber and lettuce sandwiches and their flasks of rye whisky, their trolling lines and their song sheets and returned to town by Northern railway coach.
It would be a mistake indeed to say that all the events of the Golden Years rolled along in perfect smoothness all the time. You can appreciate that. The day that Daylight Saving Time came to Orillia, for instance, was a catastrophe. The idea of Daylight Saving was introduced to town one Sunday in 1912 by Mayor Bill Frost, the father of Leslie Frost who was
later a premier of Ontario, and even Mayor Frost found himself so confused as to the time of day it was that he arrived at the Presbyterian church service one hour late.
He was not the only one in chaos. The caretaker al the Fire Hall rang the town bell at six o’clock Daylight Time instead of seven. On Monday all the men at the Hewitt Brothers Truck-
ing Stable hurried into work and found themselves one hour early because the Hewitt brothers would not go along with Daylight Saving. You could never tell for days after when a store in town might be open tor business or might be closed at the end of business, and a lot of people went around asking each other. “Are you on God’s time or Bill Frost's time?”
But Daylight Saving worked out fine in the end. as did most things, and what with one enterprise and another,
prosperity just hummed along for years. And a lot of it, maybe most, you are bound to admit, was owed to J. B. Tudhope and his horseless carriages.
The Tudhope family trace back a good many years in Orillia history, to 1831 in round years, when J. B.’s grandfather from Scotland, James, settled a farm a few miles west of where
the town is now. James did not survive Canada long. He had a bald head, like all of the Tudhopes after him, and one day in July 1835 while he was chopping out a road near his farm, the sun beat on it so hard that he collapsed from sunstroke. A doctor, whose training you might question somewhat today, arrived and prescribed a mustard plaster. James expired shortly after.
The youngest of James's nine children, William, known as Satan for his fierce black beard, set up in the black-
smith and wheelwright business in Orillia in 1864. Satan was a sharp businessman and his son, James Brockett — J. B. — even sharper, and their shop spread and zoomed and leaped ahead. They went into carriages in the 1890s and after a while their factory bulged along Colborne Street for a whole block. When J. B. took hold of the business from his father, he manufactured buggies, cutters, farm wagons, tools and furniture that were known by the whole country, and in 1907 he turned out the Tudhope-McIntyre horseless carriage, powered by an American two - cylinder, air-cooled engine.
J. B. had the feel of the modern times, no doubt about it, like Henry Ford or the Wright Brothers, and in 1910 he put on the market his masterpiece of business, the TudhopeEverett, later just the Tudhope, a complete automobile, of sleek lines for those years, powered by a cast - iron block engine, guaranteed against defective workmanship for one year. It was famous all over Canada and it was Orillia’s very own when similar towns had no such renown.
The town showed how much it appreciated J. B. and all the jobs his factories handed around by electing him mayor, electing him member of the Ontario legislature, electing him member of the Canadian parliament and electing his brother, W. H., mayor. J. B. was one in a million, a man with flowing moustaches, a shining bald head, waistcoats with silk flowers, a gold watch and chain and a love for town and country, and when the Great War came on Canada in 1914, J. B. gave up automobiles and went into weapons, signifying the end of the Golden Age in Orillia.
The town gave a lot in the war. In particular, on August 17, 1915, it staged a recruiting rally, and that day an even 60 of the flower of Orillia’s youth, including most of the players on the 1914 championship intermediate hockey team, volunteered to serve King and Country. They marched off to Europe with a lot of other young fellows. Some came back. The ones who didn’t are remembered to this day by the Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital on Colborne Street. It was built in 1922 entirely from funds raised in the township and it surely beats a plaque or a swimming pool or a statue of a general on a horse for a monument.
In point of fact, the hospital was largely the inspiration of Harold Hale, one of the great whirlwinds in Orillia’s annals. Harold was the editor of the Packet for half a century or more and his head buzzed all those years with ways to push Orillia out in front. He started the hospital drive, dreamed up :he Canadian Club, put the bee about Daylight Saving Time in Bill Frost's head, and he and his paper also pushed the town into the Prohibition vote in 1908. That was not really Harold's fault, however. It was hereditary. He had an ancestor who was Lord Chief Justice of England at the time of Charles I and who was such an abstainer that he once refused to drink she health of Charles I because the Jrink was wine. None of Harold’s relatives seemed to recover from the honor of the Lord Justice’s brave deed ind so they never took a drop themselves ever after. Nor did they want others who had never heard of their ancestor to take a drop.
But Harold’s most renowned inspiration was the Champlain Monument. The idea got started in his mind in 1911 when he spent so much time fussing over Lauriers Reciprocity deal with the United States that he had a nervous breakdown. Harold took a trip down to Saint John, New' Brunswick, to get over it and there he saw the famous Champlain statue. Well, you understand, Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, spent the winter of 1615 camping near Orillia with the Indians who were the only ones living there at the time, and when Harold came back from Saint John, there w'as nothing to do but for Orillia to put up its own monument.
You must give Harold credit. He never stopped talking about that monument, never stopped raising money, forming committees, holding sculpture contests (w'hich Vernon March, the
little English fellow, won) until July 1. 1925, when Hon. Rudolphe Lemieux of Quebec pulled the sheet off the statue that is to this day the pride of the tow'n.
The unveiling was not the half of it that July 1 either. There was a historical pageant that would do the Radio City Music Hall in New' York City proud. MacFadden the druggist played Samuel de Champlain. The Orillia Women’s Canadian Club got up the costumes of coureurs de hois,
trappers and French adventurers. Two hundred and fifty men. women and children dressed and painted themselves like Indians. There was singing, dancing, cooking and grinding corn in the old ways. Chief Ovide Sioui of the Huron Indians and President E. W. Beatty of the CPR attended as special guests, and all joined in a spectacle of staggering splendor.
A chorus of 500 school children sang patriotic songs and at night 18.000 people from Orillia and neigh-
boring towns flocked back into the park to watch the fireworks and listen to the Anglo-Canadian Concert Band of Huntsville. Ont. And many of them also gazed on the inscription at the bottom of the Champlain Monument: “A symbol of good will between the French and English speaking people of Canada,” which is the outstanding statement anybody has made about Separatism to this date in Orillia.
Well, just about at that moment, when the sheet came off Champlain, is when a lot of people’s memories of Orillia run out. Though you could not actually tell it then, the town seems to have lost some of its push about the middle of the 1920s. Oh, the sun was as warm as ever on the lake, the fishing stayed excellent, life was easy and the tourists from Toronto started to buy land and spend money around town. But some thought, for instance, that if J. B. Tudhopc had got back to automobile manufacture after the war the town might have blossomed into a regular Detroit, the way Oshawa did in southern Ontario when old Mr. McLaughlin stuck to cars and signed up with General Motors.
Disaster—but a new Golden Age ahead
Anyway, the Depression soon showed up and rocked Orillia as badly as any town in Canada. Poor J. B. saw some of the Tudhope companies go under, and in 1936 he died. His mansion, with the pillars and the billiards room, was put up for sale and it brought only $6,000. Other companies went bankrupt, even the big J. R. Eaton planing mill, and the mayor, .1. B. Johnston, invented public-works jobs for all the out - of - work men around town and invented “Orillia scrip,” paper money printed in town, to pay them with.
It was one disaster after another. The war came and then Barrie, which everyone in Orillia always used to say was just a retired-farmers’ town, got Camp Borden with all the soldiers and their business. It was a hard
thing after the war, too, when the General Electric people took a look at Orillia and took a look at Barrie and then built their big new plant in Barrie. Now when you drive up the highway from Toronto, you pass by the Barrie population sign and it reads “25,000.” Orillia’s reads “19,500.”
Do not think the world has passed Orillia by, however, or that people in Orillia are inclined to mope. Not a bit of it. Especially lately two events are perking the town up like it was another Golden Age. First, the new Simcoc College is coming to Orillia next year, on money raised right in town, and it will mean that the bright young people will not be leaving town for their higher education, usually never to return. Second, in April the town once again voted to go wet, just like it was before 1908. Harold Hale will be spinning in his grave, but you do not need to be told what liquor will mean to the town and its tourist industry.
But even without those events there are always the memories that warm up Orillia. The Monument. The Tudhopes. Stephen I.eacock’s house. The sound of the saw mills by the lake and the sight of the Enterprise, steaming out into the lake. Alphabetical Lee and the fat accountant. They count for a lot and sometimes, if you stand on the pier at the bottom of Mississaga Street, looking out around Lake Couchiching, you can almost feel them all. ★