Skip to content

New Summer in Orillia exhibit at OMAH celebrates a sunny past

'I knew that the Orillia area was sort of a summer playground, so that’s what prompted it,' says Orillia Museum of Art & History volunteer who helped curate exhibit

In a summer like no other, the Orillia Museum of Art and History is celebrating the city's warm weather traditions.

Museum volunteers Sheila Davis and Bruce Jones have created Summer In Orillia, an exhibit running in the museum’s foyer until Sept. 20.

“I knew that the Orillia area was sort of a summer playground, so that’s what prompted it: how do we celebrate Orillia," said Davis.

And the many paintings, books, models, and trinkets — even the cracked remains of a historic champagne bottle — tell a story of a lakeside city which has always bustled with energy in the summer months.

From a massive print of a downtown street crowded with local stores, to a painting of the famed Lions Oval grandstand, it’s a portrait of a town many new or young Orillians might not recognize.

Sifting through the archives gave Davis a new perspective on Orillia’s past.

“I probably have more of an appreciation for how rich the history is,” she said.

In a summer where many sports are cancelled the exhibit examines Orillia’s sporting traditions, with baseball and water sports taking centre stage.

“It’s a reminder in some ways of some of the things we’re not able to do this year,” says Davis.

“Everything is different this year — we don’t have certain freedoms that we (usually) have.”

Another piece of Orillia’s history that’s been put on hold? The world-famous folk festival, which throughout the last 60 years has brought some of the world’s biggest folk and roots talent to the shores of Couchiching Lake.

Around the corner from the exhibit, vibrant photos showcase the festival’s younger days.

But there’s near-forgotten history celebrated, too, with shots of “Weary Willes”, a former Fittons Road campground where campers spent sunny afternoons by the lake.

And now, with Orillia’s YMCA shutting its doors, the show’s focus on the sunshine’s city’s sporting life seems especially fitting, she said.

“In some ways you can’t take your history for granted,” said Davis.

“What I think was important was understanding that so many things continue in terms of sports,” she said, gesturing at the baseballs and pictures of rowing on the city's twin lakes.

Orillia’s long history with baseball, rowing, canoeing and more is displayed around the exhibit.

Curating Summer in Orillia caused Davis to consider the city’s changing traditions, too.

In assembling the exhibit, she "became aware of what we don’t have in our collections,” she said, mentioning the Scottish Festival and the popular Streets Alive program.

As Orillia’s downtown changes, Davis said the exhibit is a way to look back and admire Orillia's storied summertime history.

“Enjoy the detail and take the time to look at each piece,” said Davis, “and understand its place in history.”

You can book socially-distanced visits at OMAH through email or phone.