Orillia's Famous Figures

Orillia in Black and White Artistic Views of Orillia Orillia's Famous Figures

Snapshots of a few of Orillia's historical figures.I suppose almost every city or town has produced a couple of people of fame (or, infamy as the case may be), and Orillia is no exception. Although I've been aware of quite a few of the people who hold some "historical" fame (see "Orillia's Hall of Fame") that have some connection with Orillia, as I continued to research this, I came across quite a few I didn't know about. In a way, it can be a little startling to find names of people you know, and it surprised me to realize that I wasn't aware of what direction their futures had gone in.

Almost everyone knows that this was where Gordon Lightfoot grew up, or where   Stephen Leacock spent his summers, and those who have even a passing interest in art know about  Franklin Carmichael and Elizabeth Wynn Wood; some sports fans might remember Rick Ley, and the Gaudaur men (both "Jakes", Sr. & Jr. of Tiger-Cats and Argonauts fame), but do you know who Marnie Woodrow or Jeffrey Aro are?

Well, neither did I until I started digging through books, newspapers, and the great world wide web. Some of them are pretty hard to find unless you know their names.

Several political figures include James K. Bartleman, a former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario; Leslie Frost, Premier of Ontario (1949-1961), and, other notables in the local arena are Arthur Shilling whose artwork graces many local buildings and whose life inspires artists everywhere, artist Dave Beckett whose work is very popular in this area, Pete McGarvey, journalist, author, and radio personality; Bob McDonald, CBC chief science correspondent, and radio personality;  Richard Scott (NHL - New York Rangers) and Patrick Clark, who played 5 games in the 1927/1928 season for the Boston Bruins.

The cover of the 25th Anniversary print edition of the Orillia Hall of Fame booklet.
Also worth noting is Dough Leigh, who has coached many professional figure skaters (some local), and hockey players, and although he wasn't born in Orillia, he arrived here in in the early 1970s at the Orillia Figure Skating Club, after having won a silver in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in 1966. He was inducted into the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1997.

While we could include local Mayors and other local figures ... if I did that, the list would be far, far too long. Orillia has been the home of many writers - both those of local newspaper fame and those who have produced several books. Local notables are probably more well known than some of the people I've included on my list below.

Oh yeah, one more ... no list for this area would be complete without Chief Yellowhead (Mesqua Ukie) who served with the British in the War of 1812, and settled his band in Orillia around 1830, and who has a part in our town history.

So why are some of these "less well knowns" added to my list of those considered famous? I suppose it isn't so much a matter of name dropping, as it is to give those Orillians their due. Their accomplishments (in some cases) can be considered outstanding, even if their names aren't well known. The citizens of Orillia should know, so it seems like a good idea to reveal them.

After all, they too deserve their place in Orillia history, right? As far as I know, there currently isn't any place where these are all grouped together in one spot, making them a little easier to find. And I am entirely certain that I haven't found them all yet, either, so I'm still digging.
Gordon Lightfoot
- musician, singer, song writer
- loved around the world
-Maple Music home
-tour dates
- several bios exist, so pick 
your choice: by Valerie Magee,   
by Fred Haber on IMDb,
on CORFID, by Dave Bidini
One could actually post dozens
of links to Lightfoot's life.

Elizabeth Wynn Wood
- sculptor, artist, many works
still gracing museums, halls
and grounds
- see galleries here and here
- Orillia public library has a  
bust of Stephen Leacock
by Wood, and a bust of
HER by husband Otto Hahn
- leaping deer sculpture in
Victoria Park is by Wood
- in Orillia Hall of Fame

Franklin Carmichael
- artist, painter
- member of  Group of 7
- works are part of the
  McMichael Collection
- notable artworks in several
large galleries including
Tom Thomson's.

Marnie Woodrow
- writer/author
- researcher for TV and radio
- instructor, U of T
- her site can be found here
- information on her here

Jeffrey Aro (nee Ong)
- actor
- stuntman
- stunt co-ordinator
- Bio and Info here
- notable series include
Toxin, Fringe, and many    

Sara St. Onge
- writer
- director
- Bio and Info here
- grew up in the US,
current lives in
Vancouver, born in

Paul Mathers-MacLeod
- producer and director
- sometime actor
- Bio and Info here
- series X-Weighted
- Intervention (short)
(pretty sure I know/knew Paul
when he was a kid - my kids
would have known him too)

Kirstin Rae Hinton
- actress (G+ Page)
- Bio and Info here
- performed with Orillia's
Park Street Players
- many notable films,
including Silent Witness,
-series guest: Sue Thomas
FBEye; the Jay Leno Show
Molly Atkinson
- actress
- Bio and Info here
- sang in Orillia with the Sun
City Kids
- recurring role in Road to
- several other series like Haven
and Copper

Walter Henry
- boxer
- see this article
- Biography here
- Olympic competitor
- medalist PanAm Games
- well known in the boxing
world as a legend
- married to former Chief of
the Rana First Nations (14 yrs),
Sharon Stinson-Henry

Rick Ley
- professional hockey
- played in NHL, WHA
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- New England Whalers
- coached in IHL and IHA
- coached Hartford Whalers
and Vancouver Canucks
- early information here
- stats and other links here
- local here

Bleeker Ridge Band
- in this case, not just one person,
but several in the group
- popular Canadian rock band
- performed in many places
- Information here
- Facebook page here
- several albums released

Growing up Toronto, it was normal to party with those of "some" fame because ... they were everywhere. In Orillia, I've seen seen Cybill Shepherd boarding a float plane at the town dock, and, I've met Gordon Lightfoot. At a local auction of a house he and his sister inherited. I didn't know he was going to be at the auction, we went to see the house because we were interested in bidding on it. Back then, I wanted nothing more than to live in and refurbish an old house. I would call him friendly - just a regular guy. We didn't talk about his fame.

My husband wouldn't consider entering a bid unless he could see the interior. Gordon Lightfoot himself took us inside for a tour. We talked for a few minutes in the hallway, he introduced us to his wife and young son and his sister, and he laughed when I mentioned my mother and aunt had talked about him a lot when I was growing up, referring to him as "little Gordie".

He took us around the house, pointing out things and recounting stories about growing up, showed us his room. He took us up a narrow staircase to the attic. It was large, with sharply sloping roof lines, but completely unfinished, and full of cobwebs. It obviously had not been used in a long time. As my husband did the man-thing and checked the rafters and beams, I stood near the stairs with Gordon, just chatting about nothing in particular. I'd been leaning against one of the cross beams and when I dug in my jeans pocket for my auction bidding card (I'd asked him to autograph it) he brushed the cobwebs off my back. As I turned, the now-clean beam drew my attention. There, in pencil, was Gordon's name, and a date. When I pointed it out and asked about it, he was surprised it was still there.

In the end, we did bid on the house. We lost out to someone else that day, but a week later our agent called. The bid deal wouldn't close, and we had been the second highest bidders. I was pretty excited. We signed the offer, with a waiver to give us time to sell our current house. A day later, we had the signed offer back from Gordon and his sister (Bev). Two days after that, we received a notice that someone else had put in a higher bid and we had 2 days to lift our waiver.

We could get a bridge-mortgage for a couple of weeks. We had talked to our mortgage lenders about it. But we had no idea how long it would take us to sell our current home. We didn't feel as though we could pay two full mortgages if it took a while. So, we sadly let go of the Lightfoot house.