Orillia is an interesting town.
A bit of a mix of blue-collar rural town-dwellers, working-class provincial employees, and left-leaning urban-escapee folkies, Orillia is a strange brew – the kind of place where you’ll see a lineup at both the spelt-flour bread stall and the Dairy Queen. Imagine Guelph without the university.My first substantial visit to Orillia came in March. And I must say, even in the drab, dreary days that aren’t quite winter but aren’t quite spring, I was pretty impressed.
Orillia has enacted by-laws to try to keep its downtown quaint and small-towny. And they’ve succeeded. Downtown Orillia is pretty cute.
There are many independent and specialty stores. We visited a specialty kid clothier. A store that sold upscale pet accessories. Apple Annie’s bakery and breakfast that sold french desserts alongside pancakes and waffles. Hudson’s kitchen store that sold everything from fancy La Creuset enameled cookware to cat-themed soap dishes, where I finally found myself a plastic thing to help scoop chopped and diced vegetables. The main street was pretty full, for a good three blocks. I can only imagine that it is cuter, busier, and even nicer in the summer.
Home of the Ontario Provincial Police, Orillia is a town of 32 000 people about 45 minutes north of Barrie on Highway 11. One hundred and thirty five kilometres north of Toronto, Orillia has waterfront on both Lakes Couchiching and Simcoe. Home to the Stephen Leacock Museum, the Orillia Opera House, and the Orillia Museum of Art and History, Orillia also has a nice waterfront park with a boat launch, walking trails, and a boardwalk.
Orillia was founded in 1867 and has been home to eminent Canadians such as author Stephen Leacock and musician Gordon Lightfoot. It was the first North American municipality to adopt daylight saving time. Today Orillia is a retirement and casino community, as nearby Casino Rama draws both gamblers and seniors. It has almost 20 doughnut shops. ___Insert OPP police joke here___
The Orillia Opera House is a pretty impressive building. With two turrets, it stands out in downtown Orillia, and is pretty much unmissable. The Orillia Opera House hosts plays, concerts, and even comedy. In the back, the Opera House hosts a farmer’s market every Saturday morning, that runs through winter (we bought some jam.) The morning we were there, there were about five older men and women standing outside the opera house, protesting against war. For no particular reason, as far as I could tell, except that it seemed like something they probably did every Saturday morning since they moved there in the 1960s. Wrapped in wollen blankets, ready with pamphlets, rainbow flags, and thermoses, these grown-old hippies showed pure dedication, even if they were small in numbers.
Orillia is well known for the Mariposa Folk Festival and less well known for its annual perch fishing derby. There is also a store across from the Opera House that sells bongs, and only bongs. I know that Orillia has the leftover hippie element from its folk music days, but a store specializing in selling technicolour, skull-and-crossbones, flaming ninja bongs? The woman in the store was nice enough to let me take a photo. And this is only one half of the store.
Other than Opera, hippies, folk music and maybe the bong store, Orillia is also known for is Weber’s Hamburgers. This place is so popular that it built its own pedestrian overpass over Highway 11. Sometimes the lineup stretches over Highway 11. This is a popular stopping spot for people on their way to cottage country. I’ve heard of many people who swear by their burgers but with a big lineup and a Harvey’s in Orillia, I’ve never stopped.