Orillia | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Orillia, Ontario, incorporated as a village in 1867, as a town in 1875 and as a city in 1969, population 33,411 (2021 census), 31,166 (2016 census). The city of Orillia is located on the shores of Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching in central Ontario. The name likely derives from the Spanish word for the bank of a river or shore of a lake, orilla. The name was given by Sir Peregrine Maitland, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada (1818-28), who had served in Spain.


The Orillia townsite was originally a Huron-Wendat settlement. For hundreds of years they trapped fish at The Narrows, a thin peninsula separating lakes Simcoe and Couchiching. The area was later settled by Ojibwe under the leadership of Chief William Yellowhead. The Ojibwe farmed the area until they had to relinquish their lands to European settlers and were relocated to the nearby Rama Reserve (1838-39) (see also Reserves in Ontario).


The fur trade was the first industry, followed by logging and farming. At the end of the 19th century Orillia developed into a summer resort area, stimulated in part by the building of the Trent-Severn Waterway. In 1902, Orillia established the first municipally owned hydroelectric generating station in Canada, on the nearby Severn River. Although tourism is a significant sector of the city's economy, a wide range of industrial, manufacturing and engineering firms dealing with the automotive, petrochemical, aeronautics and plastics industries are important contributors to the tax base.

Cultural Life

Orillia served as the model for “Mariposa” in humorist Stephen Leacock’s satire on small-town Ontario life, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912). The manuscript of Sunshine Sketches and a collection of Leacock's papers are held in his summer home where he wrote many of his books. The home is now the Stephen Leacock Museum, a national historic site (designated 1994). Other famous Orillians include: Franklin Carmichael (Group of Seven), Elizabeth Wyn Wood (sculptor), Sam Steele ( North-West Mounted Police), Leslie M. Frost (premier of Ontario) and James K. Bartleman (lieutenant governor of Ontario). Other city features include the Champlain Monument (erected 1925) commemorating the 300th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s visit, the Opera House (1895) as well as several other heritage buildings, many of them located in the picturesque downtown.

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