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OMAH looks to find a way to honour legacy of Gordon Lightfoot

'There is an opportunity to do more to properly honour his international impact and the positive sentiments so many have toward his life and work,' says OMAH official
Gordon Lightfoot is shown visiting the Orillia Museum of Art & History in 2016.

The Orillia Museum of Art & History (OMAH) is looking for the community's help to honour the legacy of Orillia's favourite son.

After seeing the outpouring of love in the wake of the May 1 death of Gordon Lightfoot, the museum is looking to bring together interested organizations to determine how best to honour the late Canadian icon in his hometown of Orillia.

"We want to open up a discussion," said Ninette Gyorody, OMAH's executive director. "We want to be a player at the table and we're looking for partnerships."

Gyorody said "it makes sense" for Orillia to lead the way when it comes to honouring Lightfoot, who was born and raised in Orillia, honed his singing skills at St. Paul's United Church and maintained his ties to the city throughout his career. 

A public memorial service at St. Paul's drew thousands of people from around the world. He is buried beside his parents and his sister at St. Andrew's-St. James' Cemetery.

"I certainly knew of his music and his writing and his deep connection to Orillia, but it was impressive to see the love that was shown to him when he died," said Gyorody. "And I think many people were surprised to learn of the depth of his ties to Orillia."

At a recent OMAH board of directors meeting, ideas — including permanent, temporary, and virtual possibilities — were discussed. The board has tasked Gyorody to investigate potential options.

“There are already some homages to Gordon Lightfoot within our city, but there is an opportunity to do more to properly honour his international impact and the positive sentiments so many have toward his life and work," said Stephen Davids, president of OMAH’s board.

"We are interested in discussing this with potential community partners and funding entities,” said Davids.

While it remains uncertain how the city might honour Lightfoot, Gyorody said a virtual option may make the most sense.

"There are no permanent exhibitions at OMAH and physical space is always difficult to obtain," she explained.

"It would be nice to have a starting point. I love the opportunity of moving around the community connection points," she added, referencing the bust of Lightfoot outside the Orillia Opera House, the Golden Leaves statue at Tudhope Park and St. Paul's, where he first began to perform.

She said the idea of honouring Lightfoot is not only fitting but could provide a unique approach to teaching history.

"So often when we think of history, we think of the history in ancient terms," Gyorody said. "Lightfoot's music and writing resonates with so many different generations."

It also opens the door to less traditional approaches. "It doesn't have to be just static. It could include virtual reality, use of QR codes ... there is so much we can do," she said.

And while she is anxious to start the conversation, she said OMAH wants to wait until after the Mariposa Folk Festival to really begin the process. Lightfoot has been connected with the festival since its origins and will be honoured at this year's July 7-9 event at Tudhope Park.

She said officials will also reach out to Lightfoot's family to gauge their interest in the idea.

Representatives of organizations that are interested in discussing ideas and developing a plan should reach out to Gyorody via email: [email protected]


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Dave Dawson

About the Author: Dave Dawson

Dave Dawson is community editor of
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