|◘ Orillia Trivia||◘ History of Orillia's Power||◘ The Wilder Days||◘ Vintage Summers|
While much of the wild going's on during Orillia's history seem to have taken place between the 1830s and 1900, it most likely began when whiskey started to be imported into this area. Back in 1802, a trading post was opened up at the area we call Orchard Point. This trading post served areas surrounding Orillia too, and allowed for trade between the aboriginals and the "whites". Unfortunately for everyone (at least I think so), one of the commodities used as barter was the whiskey. Back then, it appears to have been quite cheap, and apparently "fashionable", and wasn't restricted to any particular class of people. It affected everyone, from the local natives to the pioneers and settlers, and even the religious.
|c. 1890 (Public Domain Image Available from Virtual Reference Library)|
Between the 1830s and the 1900s, it seems that Orillia had more taverns (what we consider bars today) per capita that we've ever had. In a historical study by Larry Cotton (Whiskey and Wickedness - I recommend reading this if you get a chance. Available here for sale, and at the Orillia Public Library.) he notes:
"Orillia had 24 legally licensed hotels and shops in 1873 for a population of 2500."Judging by what I've been reading in other accounts, it was probably pretty close during the earlier years as well (not always at the same time, it seems it was an on-off business as hotels opened, closed, and opened again), but apparently, some was available even at unlicensed shops.
There were accidental drownings (some perhaps not so accidental), and the women and men of the temperance league lived in fear and trepidation. Not only did the threats come from the local drinkers, but during some periods of the year, the influx of "lumbermen" coming into town to relax after leaving the harshness of the lumber camps for a little fun usually ended up with fist-fights, arguments, and threats.
Later hotels and inns bore such names as "The Prince Albert", "The Victoria Hotel", "The Green Bush Inn", "The Narrows Hotel" ... according to Larry Cotton's book, there were eight taverns/inns in the community, which only numbered about 320 inhabitants in 1851.
Orillia's liquor problems most likely weren't helped by the fact that over the course of these years, there was a large brewery located on Couchiching Point (I would guess this is where the name "Brewery Bay" came from), and a smaller one (different owners) located in town. I wonder how many people know that Orillia had her own breweries?
The Orillia Steam Brewery on what is now Couchiching Point was (believed to be anyways) started by John Thompson (c. 1845), and sold to Wm. Jackson who ran it until 1874, closed it, and reopened in 1875. By late 1876, it was taken over by Henry Allen and Montgomery Revell.
The smaller brewery on Mississaga St. was opened by H.S. Fairhall, sold in 1883 to Melville Herbert and Herbert Clark (weird, huh?), and sold again in 1891 to H. Graham and J. Clark and ran as J.A.P. Clarke Brewery. In 1912, Albert Wright bought it. I think this brewery was located where Fred's Meat Market was (corner of Mississaga St. and Andrew St.) until it closed (2014?). Most folks in town will remember Fred's.
The town earned some infamous monikers during it's early days:
- a newspaper in Barrie said it was worse than Sodom and Gomorrah
- a Toronto newspaper said it was one of the most notorious towns for wickedness and drunkenness
- a Constable of the town (Sam Cotton) called it "an awful town" (see Larry Cotton's book)
|Orillia, 1872 - Sketch by George Harlow White (Public Domain - Available at the Virtual Reference Library)|
What I do recommend is if you have an interest in this long-ago period in Orillia's life, that you set out on your own journey of discovery. I can give you several books and links for what I'd consider recommended reading. Sometime's you'll find a tiny tidbit of information in the most unlikeliest places - a recollection from an old-timer noted in passing, or memoirs and diaries of family. In trying to find out the date the Orillia Hotel burned down, I discovered that in a book composed of photos of old Victorian family homes in Orillia ("Beautiful Old Orillia"; Sue Murdoch, Orillia Museum of Art and History).
Beautiful Old Orillia, Sue Murdoch/Orillia Museum of Art & History (Orillia Public Library)
Whiskey and Wickedness (Vol 1 & 2), Larry D. Cotton (Orillia Public Library)
Secrets from the Lakes (Lakes Simcoe & Couchiching), Monica Frim (Orillia Public Library)
Men of Colour, Gary E. French (Orillia Public Library)
Online Books & Papers
A brief History of Orillia: Ontario's Sunshine City, Dennis Rizzo
Aboriginal History in Ontario's Cottage Country
Old Province Tales
A History of Simcoe County
Recollections of J.R. Hale