Classic Orillia Moments Showcase Its Enduring Spirit

Classic Orillia Moments Showcase Its Enduring Spirit

Posted on July 11 by Randy Richmond in News
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There are moments that can be called classic Orillia, and the reasons why I will always love the place.

Its leaders and ordinary citizens have always striven to make their hometown unique, and that’s led to inventions and movements ahead of their time.

But that same spirit has led to some amusing battles and derailed the ordinary achievements that other cities accomplish with less effort.

In the second edition of The Orillia Spirit: An Illustrated History, the classic Orillia moment comes with the battle to build a long-sought recreation centre.

The city spent fifteen years and millions of dollars just to go in a circle.

Politicians chose a site for a recreation centre and spent millions of tax dollars to clean up the toxic mess in the soil.  Just as that land was cleaned up, politicians chose another site. Then they decided to build on a third site, just across the road from the contaminated first site. Finally, with exasperated citizens demanding something be done, the politicians decided to build on the first site after all.

Only in Orillia, as commentators said.

But that battle, as silly as it seems on the surface, also touched upon many successes of the past twenty years in the city – none of them likely without the same fierce love of Orillia that colours life there.

It’s the kind of love that makes an author unwilling to give up his ties to the place.

When the first version of The Orillia Spirit was published in 1996, I had planned to live in Orillia for the rest of my life.

But changes in the leadership of the newspaper where I worked,  and a chance to move to a larger newspaper in London, Ontario, prompted a move.

About a year ago, just as I was wondering if there should be an updated version of The Orillia Spirit  some day, the smart people at Dundurn Press contacted me to point out that 2017 was not only Canada’s sesquicentennial but Orillia’s as well.

It seemed a perfect time to revise the original. That took more work than I expected. I knew I’d have to write at least a chapter to cover the past twenty years. But throughout the original, there were references that suggested time had basically stopped in 1996. They had to be changed.

I was also uncomfortable with the opening paragraphs. Instead of focusing on Champlain’s arrival as the start of the city’s history, I reached a little farther back to the origins of the area as a meeting place for indigenous peoples as well.

Of course, most of the work involved figuring out what happened in the past twenty years and how those events were driven by and reflected the Orillia spirit.

It was entertaining research that made me proud to have been an Orillian. The city has reclaimed its Mariposa Folk Festival, realized a dream for a university, rebuilt a hospital and library and art gallery/museum, and reclaimed much of its waterfront.

Of course, this being Orillia, not all of that went smoothly and without a fight. One-hundred and fifty years after the community was incorporated, its spirit shows no sign of waning.

Randy Richmond

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014
Randy Richmond photo

Randy Richmond

Randy Richmond is an award-winning journalist living in London, Ontario. He is the former editor of The Packet & Times in Orillia, where he wrote the first Orillia Spirit, married, and had three children. He is the coauthor of Colossal Canadian Failures 1 and 2, also published by Dundurn Press.