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Questions about city's past? 'Mr. Orillia' probably has the answer

'I would say Marcel is the top historian of Orillia and area. He’s just a wealth of information,' says library official of Marcel Rousseau, a go-to source for local history

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Marcel Rousseau has created a priceless tome about Orillia.

For close to 50 years, Rousseau has been hunting down postcards at postcard shows, antique shops, art sales and online. He’s amassed 279 albums, representing a collection of about 30,000 cards portraying Orillia and surrounding communities.

The rarest ones are actual photographs dating back to the early 1900s. “Picture postcards provide an excellent means of recording our early history,” Rousseau said.

The years 1904 to 1914 were the golden years of picture postcards. It was common for families to collect them and create albums, he explained.

Companies hired photographers to travel to various towns and capture downtowns, parks and other landmarks with their cameras. Black and white photos were often sent overseas for card printing and hand colouring and came back for distribution.

When OrilliaMatters debuted in 2018, Rousseau began writing a popular Saturday feature, called Postcard Memories. It ran weekly until a few months ago.

In 2019, Rousseau started the Facebook page he titled Orillia Past and Present, which has more than 8,000 subscribers. People from all over the world with a connection to Orillia follow the page. His posts regularly garner many comments and reflections about a bygone era.

“For the past five years, I’ve been scanning my collection of Orillia postcards,” Rousseau said. “Any images I post on Facebook Orillia Past and Present are free for anyone to copy,” he added.

“The thing about him is he is so generous," said Ted Duncan, a fellow historian and postcard collector. "He shares his information. He passes it along to the Orillia library collection and the Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH) collection.

“And it goes beyond postcards. He collects anything that has the Orillia name on it,” said Duncan, the past present of OMAH and president of the Simcoe County Historical Association.

“He is Mr. Orillia when it comes to historical archival material," said Duncan.

Jayne Turvey, community services coordinator/local history with the Orillia Public Library, said she refers people looking for historical information to Rousseau on a regular basis.

“I would say Marcel is the top historian of Orillia and area. He’s just a wealth of information. If anybody has a question about anything, he will know the answer or know someone who has the answer. It doesn’t matter what the topic is — sports, war time, manufacturing," Turvey explained.

“He’s literally put Orillia on the map historically because of his Facebook pages and everybody knows who he is,” she said.

He’s also organized the page clearly so that searchers can easily find individuals, buildings, places or organizations, said Turvey.

Rousseau volunteered with the library for years before the pandemic, scanning everything from local directories to high school year books to build the collection.

He volunteered at OMAH right from its beginning almost 25 years ago in a research room, collecting things and helping build the archival materials.

Ninette Gyorody, executive director of OMAH, applauds his efforts within the community.

“His Facebook page ensures that local history is accessible and interactive," she said. “This ensures that people are continually learning about the history of Orillia and sharing their stories which in turn adds to the ongoing history.”

In 2023, Rousseau was the recipient of an Orillia and Regional Arts and Heritage award for Education in the Arts, Culture, and Heritage. 

In 2020, he was awarded the Order of Orillia, and in 2015, the OMAH bestowed on him its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Rousseau has also published two books: Postcard Memories of Orillia in 2013 and Camp 26 Orillia Ontario, in 2018, a book about the Champlain barracks, a Second World War training camp built and run in the city between 1942 and 1947 before it was torn down.

Turvey said Rousseau has had a huge impact on the building and sharing of Orillia history.

“I can’t say enough about him.”



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Gisele Winton Sarvis

About the Author: Gisele Winton Sarvis

Gisele Winton Sarvis is an award winning journalist and photographer who has focused on telling the stories of the people of Simcoe County for more than 25 years
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