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Orillia's downtown area was once the main shopping district for the area - stores along the street consisted of shops like Stedman's (a "five and dime"), Zellers, Woolco, hardware and drugstores, grocery shops (like Fred's Market and at one time a No Frills) and many smaller boutiques, like Pulver's Ladies Wear. Today, larger box stores like Walmart have moved to town, and these have become the "go to" stores when you need an "everything in one place" stop. The Walmart complex in Westridge and the Orillia Square Mall (housing the large Canadian Tire, Zellers, No Frills and numerous smaller shops like Alia) have changed the face of local shopping, and made life in the downtown core much more difficult for small "mom and pop" shops.

Visitors and local residents fill the downtown streets during one of Orillia's downtown sidewalk sales.
Orillia's Downtown Sidewalk Sale (©J. Gracey Stinson)
Visitors to Orillia fill the downtown during summer months, particularly those who are visiting via boat at the harbour; the downtown shopping district is a quick walk from the Port of Orillia. The busiest times in the downtown core are festivals and events, but for a number of years, regular shopping from local inhabitants has fallen off, except on special events, like the sidewalk sales: the city blocks off the main street shopping district from traffic and people can wander through outdoor sales racks along the length of the street, bestowing a festive party-like atmosphere over the whole of downtown.

One of the fine old buildings in downtown Orillia, now repurposed for fine vintage furnishings.
The corner of West & Mississaga Streets. (©)
In the last few years, the downtown has made an effort to reclaim those shoppers and it now houses specialty shops (like antiques) and entertainment/arts venues, as well as some of the old traditional stores that will be active and open as long as the owners remain.

More recently, there is a greater emphasis on revival in the downtown shopping corridor, and it still is one of the more charming areas to shop, moving from store to store along the bricked sidewalks.

I prefer the downtown area's heritage style and slower pace. It has an ambiance that you can't really match in big-box stores, but the stores and shops come and go on a much too regular basis downtown. New shops open and sometimes close within a year (many of the images here are business that have long since closed, but just as many are still doing business on a daily basis).

Rents and downtown taxes are (according to shop owners) a little high, and one needs a little capital to make a downtown business really viable. If you can withstand the first year or two, you have an opportunity to build a loyal customer base, and that's what will keep your business growing in the downtown area.  What I personally find important in downtown businesses are the owners and staff, and their customer service. Downtown, shop owners have an opportunity to build relationships with customers, which keeps them coming back for more.

The front of the Orillia Opera House with it's two towers.
Orillia Opera House (©J. Gracey Stinson)
One of the areas that is thriving in downtown Orillia is the arts community - there are a number of small galleries and artist shops that can only be found downtown, and Orillia has (for her small size) a very rich arts (see the arts page) community with participation of artists from the city as well as outlying areas and neighbouring towns.

The Orillia Opera House is located on the corner of Mississaga and West Streets, and is one of the most recognizable buildings in Orillia. The architecture is a mix of old and new, with the main building and towers having the oldest construction, and the newer addition being at the entrance area. The Opera House has been put to many uses, but is popular for it's musical guests and theatre shows.
Orillia -Tower Garden In Spring
Tower Garden
In past years, the tower Garden in spring boasted climbing ivy and bevy of early flowering bulbs like tulips, and natural plants like Columbine. Each year the gardens at the Orillia Opera House stop passersby for a relaxing few moments of discovery. Here the Ivy is climbing the brickwork of one of the round front towers, while in front the hot pink and white columbine stand tall above the greens of later blooming plants.

Orillia - Spring Garden At Opera House
Opera House Spring Garden
At this edge of the Opera House is a stretch of lawn with nearby benches, and a drinking fountain. Close to the front entrance of the Opera House and looking out onto the corner of Mississaga and West Streets, the garden doesn't go unnotticed.

Throughout the seasons the garden changes; as spring plants finish blooming the summer plants take their place, while in the fall the blooms of ornamental cabbage, zinnia, pot marigold and other fall plants often take their places.

Early spring sees a variety of tulip species, hyacinth, crocus and other spring bulbs along with blooming groundcovers like creeping phlox, snow on the mountain, golden alysum and similar plants. The gardens here almost never seem the same, while some plant varieties age and disappear and new ones are tried.

Ice Storm at the Orillia Opera House.
Ice Storm
Quite a few years back, a winter storm covered the grounds with heavy snow and the trees with ice at the side of the Orillia Opera House. Here one can still see the snow falling, and the fairly heavy coating of ice on the tree. There were once two of these lovely trees - in this photo you can see the top has been cut off of the one due to disease, and since this photo was taken the trees have been removed completely.

At the side of the opera house the view, both summer and winter, is vastly different from the shady nook that was once created by these trees. At the time of their trimming there was a general grumbling through the community about the "butchering" of the trees. Eventually, when the trees came down, there was still great disapproval in the community, but I think many of us found it less difficult to look at the empty stumps than the beheaded trees. Besides, by then, I think everyone actually understood the need to remove the trees to keep people from being hurt.
The Orillia Museum of Art and History is housed in the old Sir Samuel Steele Building.
Orillia Museum of Art & History (©J. Gracey Stinson)
The Sir Samuel Steele Memorial Building - another one of Orillia's landmark buildings, designed by architect Thomas Fuller and built in 1914.

Once housing the post office and customs offices, and later the old police department, it is now the local museum of art and history and has had much refurbishment over the last number of years. From the interior remodelling and refurbishment to the new roof and repair of the old clock in the tower, the building has gone from the "getting a little shabby" era to a wonderful reflection of the historical side of Orillia.

The clock tower can be seen from numerous areas around town, and is instantly familiar to people who frequent the downtown area.

For many years, the bus terminal sat at the four corners (Mississaga Street and Peter Street) of the downtown area, within steps of this building. In the last year the terminal was moved to West and Mississaga, and by most accounts this was not a good move - at least not for the people who use this service, and not for the businesses located at the new location. Still, city council stands by it's decision.
The old firehall in Orillia, located on Peter Street.
The Old Firehall, Orillia (©J. Gracey Stinson)
This is the Old Firehall, located on Peter Street near the corner of Coldwater Road. For some years it housed the legal firm of Bourne, Jenkins, Mulligan. Greg Mulligan (who owned the business) earned a seat on the judges bench (and in my opinion this was a well-deserved appointment - but then I may be biased as he was our lawyer for many years - and by the way, yes we miss him very much.) and a new firm has taken over.

The new firm that has taken over the records and clients of Bourne, Jenkins, Mulligan is Lewis Downey Tornosky & Lassaline (and ain't that a mouthful) are located on Coldwater Street East.

The firehall is designated as a building of interest in Orillia's Municipal Heritage Committee. It was built in 1896 (surprisingly, that was 6 years later than some of millworker houses on Mississaga Street, yet none of them appeared to be considered historical buildings.) by JR Eaton and used as a firehall up until 1970.
The Tiffins Creative Center in downtown ... look for it down a little alley off Peter St. S.
Tiffin's Creative Center - tucked away in an alley next to the Sir Samuel Steele Building (just off Peter Street) is Tiffin's Creative Center, who provide a number of services and products from having your photos and art printed on canvas, custom framing, art supplies and prints, to providing greeting cards and Christian products.
You'll find Tiffin's an interesting place to visit. They also display and sell artwork by local artists, and have gallery showings as well. The building that houses Tiffin's (which fronts on Peter Street with Tiffin's being down the little alley at the side) had a fire a few years ago and both the building owner, and the businesses housed in the building had some losses. The old building was very unstable, and new construction took place a few months later. From what I can recall, there were no physical injuries, which is the most important factor in the aftermath of any fire - things can be replaced. People can't.

The old "Champlain" Hotel in Orillia.
Champlain Hotel, Orillia (©J. Gracey Stinson)
This is a familiar sight to most people who live in or visit Orillia; the long-standing Hotel Champlain (now called the Rodeway Inn Champlain), located just off the waterfront at the corner of Mississaga and Front Streets. While the interior of this grand old hotel has undergone many upgrades and changes (as well as several owners) over the years, the face she presents to Orillia remains much the same - the georgian style columns and portico retain their old world elegance and the brick facade it's sturdy charm.

Some  years ago (38 or 39 I think) I spent a weekend in this hotel. At that time, it was a little shabby - the rooms were small, and the one in which I was installed had a single bed of the old tubular iron variety - possibly c. 1910 or so. The attached bath was small but useable, though plumbing pipes were exposed and still of the old cast iron. This was not uncommon in old buildings. While the fittings and furniture were worn, the room was clean...and it's cost was $9 a night.

Today, a number of restorations and refurbishments later, the charming lobby is still charming and dressed in a style befitting an old matriarch. The floors were reconfigured to create larger more modern rooms. The fact that you are but a few steps from the waterfront, the main street (next door to a larger grocery and a liquor store and the local Royal Canadian Legion doesn't hurt) and other local attractions should keep "The Champlain" (although not named The Champlain any longer, to locals it will always be "The Champlain) filled to capacity on most weekends.

Orillia Central School (©)
Orillia Central School - located on Coldwater Street between West and Peter Streets the Orillia Central School has been standing for many years. In recent years it has been used as an alternative school with daycare.  At the moment, this is now the Orillia Central Day Care Center.

And interesting shop with a little bit of everything, from stained glass to  collectibles, to jewelry.
The Crows Nest
The Crow's Nest - located downtown on Mississaga Street just past the corner of  Peter Street. The  Crows Nest II shop has interesting decorative items, from statues of waiters to artwork and reproductions, stained glass, second hand jewelry (as well as new), collectibles, reproduction items and a host of other oddly interesting, unusual and unique items. A person could spend a fair bit of time discovering fun bits and pieces here, and if one walks from the front of the shop to the back, you can access a large parking area, and the "back doors" of other shops nearby. The original (and first) "Crows Nest"  is located in Midland, a town about 40 minutes from Orillia.

Gourmet cookery items through the window of a downtown shop.
Hudson's, Orillia
Hudson's - an elegant and fun place to shop for interesting kitchen and home items, as well as some cute gift items. Friendly and helpful staff are happy to answer questions and find whatever you need. Located on Mississaga St. at the corner of Peter St.

At one point in time, this shop used to house a business supply store - either Cole's or Bradley's (can't recall which one).

The Mariposa Market, downtown Orillia.
Mariposa Market (©)
The Mariposa Market with a couple of it's sister shops. The market carries some of the best bakery items in town - cakes, breads, tea biscuits and other yummy treats can be found here - both "take home" and "eat in". There is a lovely vintage cafe (upstairs on a mezzanine and on the main floor) and excellent coffee (also sandwiches, so go have lunch there one day), not to mention some of the unique local items they carry. Occasionally you'll find live entertainment here - often on the anniversary of the shop's opening.

Downstairs is another shop called Apple Annies, where, if you happen to be a fudge fanatic, you can find the best fudge in the world...and one of the biggest selections of fudge flavours, and flavoured coffee to brew at home. Delightful candy of many types, including some sugarless varieties too.

Next door is the Mariposa Scent shop (yummy smells from bath salts and creams to candles and oils), and the Mariposa Christmas shop...pretty much what it's all about Christmas stuff.

Orillia - Plum Loco Clothing Shop
Plum Loco
Plum Loco Clothing Shop - one of the most interesting clothing shops in Orillia. You'll find this on the lower portion of Mississaga Street; it's a popular shop with clothing products that reach from vintage pieces to the modern and funky. Something for just about anyone.

Really - just about anyone. Here you can find clothing for women and men, teens and kids - it doesn't really matter what age you are when you shop in this store. They carry some interesting vintage pieces, some older period clothing from time-to-time, as well as thoroughly modern and hip, and the recently "passe".

A shop for nature lovers, the Birdhouse Shop in downtown Orillia.
Birdhouse Shop (©)
If you can't find what you're looking for in other shops, you might have a gander through this one.

The Birdhouse Nature Shop - Mississaga Street. This shop carries products related to nature, including "green" t-shirts and other environmentally friendly items. From unique and unusual birdhouses to garden items, it's interesting to spend time wandering through it's offerings. The window displays here almost always attract my attention. There is much to look at, and much to be amazed at. Very often I find myself looking at a strange or odd item and thinking "I didn't know they made such things". It's a wonderful store to spend time in, especially so for those who are interested in their feathered and furry visitors.

The CC Pant Shop - at least, back when it was called the CC Pant Shop. Located near the corner of Andrew Street (on Mississaga) and facing the "Liquidation World" store (the old "Woolco" building), this shop was popular with the teen to young adult crowd. For many years this has been one of the places most popular with teens.

 It carried all the "must have" brands of jeans and sweaters, and at "back to school" time was packed from dressing rooms to the front door with the younger set (and sometimes their parents) looking for newest, hippest, coolest clothes for the school-aged set.  Today, although they still cater to the younger crowd, it also houses some wonderful clothing for women and men of all ages, and the window displays have changed over the years to reflect their new and elegant lines. The shop is now known as "Bak to Basics" and is still in the same location at 50 Mississaga St. W.
Downtown Shop Windows - these two images are from the same shop, with different window displays. I often find myself stopping to photograph their windows because they have such interesting and eye catching displays.
Orillia Downtown - LibraryWindow
A view through the windows of the old Orillia Public Library at night. This window faced Mississaga Street the lit section used to hold the fiction collection. On the shelves in the window are plants, and a display of masks. The library was eventually demolished to make way for a new, larger library to built in the same place.  During the deconstruction of the old library, and the reconstruction phases of the new library, the library was housed in a rented building at the corner of Highway 12 and Gill Street. This old building once housed the Steelworkers Union Hall, and then a nightclub. Now that the new library building downtown is completed, the old Steelworkers Hall was pulled down, and replaced with Orillia's new and modern Firehall.

Although the new library is actually a beautiful building, to my eyes it doesn't somehow fit in the downtown. Maybe it's the size - the point of putting up a new building was because the old library was crowded, and old, with a lot of little rooms and warrens, and every bit of available space used to house all the growing departments. Orillia only has one library, and it not only serves the city, but several of the surrounding towns and townships as well. Somehow ... it just seems "too big". Oh, I know they need room built in for future growth but it takes up so much more space than I expected it would and ... actually, I miss the old library. No, it didn't serve the community needs because of our growth, so although my brain knows we need the one one, my heart is wishing for the quirky, ugly old building we once had. It also has caused the loss of a fair bit of parking space and the loss of the "Market Square".

The new Orillia Public Library in downtown.
New Orillia Public Library (©J. Gracey Stinson)
Vegetables on display through window of Orillia's "Fred's Meat Market".
Fred's Meat Market, Orillia (©J. Gracey Stinson)
Fred's Meat Market - another local "institution" was Fred's Meat Market, and although they did specialize in meat, this "butcher's" shop also a small grocery section, including some fresh fruits and vegetables, seen through the window. Fred's had been downtown for about as long as I can remember.

There are many buildings downtown that house small apartments above them, and when I used to live in one of those (35 years ago now), Fred's Meat Market was just two doors away when I needed something in a big hurry. At one time, there were other food grocer's downtown, but for quite a few years, Fred's stood alone as a market in the downtown core. One of the saddest things for me was the day that Fred's closed it's doors. His son had pretty much run the store for a number of years, and I'd stop in every few years when I was downtown. We just lived up the street at that point, and walking down to the library, or to the post office to pick up our mail, I'd pass Fred's and stop in. Just as often, I'd buy something while I chatted to see how they were doing. I don't get downtown much anymore. It's a long walk from Westridge, but still ... I miss the though of it being there. There's a hole in downtown Orillia.

Orillia - BMO Financial
Orillia's Bank of Montreal (©)
Bank of Montreal on the corner of Mississaga and West Streets, downtown Orillia. I've been banking with BOM since I was 16 (long, long time ago). They also have a branch in the Westridge area at the Zeh'rs Plaza. Some of the staff "float" between the two banks. One of our bank friends has since retired (Beth McKinnon - loans, mortgages, investments) has since retired, and by all reports is loving retirement. One of the staff who started downtown (also someone we consider a friend) is now the manager at the Westridge branch (Darja Morely) and Lois (one of the best investment counselors I know) seems to float around between the two branches.

Orillia - Ossawippi Dining Cars
Ossawippi Dining Cars - The Ossawippi Express - a popular restaurant that lies at the edge of Orillia's waterfront. Composed of a series of old train cars and an outdoor patio, it is "THE" place to dine outdoors in the summer. Since that time, the Ossawippi closed it's doors and sat idle on it's tracks for a few years. A couple of years back, the cars were all sold off, and hauled away on flatbed trailers to their new location (not in Orillia). Another sad day in the town ... and least it was certainly sad to think that these heritage pieces could easily have been used in some way to form another tourist attraction on the waterftont that would be unique to the local area. Not many places around here had something as interesting as these.

The Kahuna surf shop in downtown Orillia.Kahuna's surf shop in Orillia is favourite haunt of the younger set.
The Kahuna Surf Shop - another popular shop with the younger set the Kahuna carries expensive designers and brand names in sport style clothing, and casual attire for both kids and adults. Located on the lower leg of Mississaga Street about halfway between Matchedash and Front Streets.

A window in a downtown Orillia shop all dressed up for Canada Day.
Canada Day Window (©)
In downtown Orillia along Mississaga Street one of the local shops (The Stork's Nest) puts on a fitting display each year on Canada Day. The Stork's Nest caters to children - young children and is one of the few stores that focuses on providing the highest quality kid's gear at the best prices possible. Sure, you can shop at Walmart or Zellers, but for some of the finer products you need the Stork's Nest. Not just for clothing, but nursery items as well.

Orillia Downtown - Just Elaine's excellent clothing shop.
A nicely setup display in the windows of "Just Elaine's", a popular downtown shop.  Just Elaines carries some marvelous women's wear - quality clothing (though a little pricey, worth the money if you want quality) with some unique and delightful styles. Things you just can't find everywhere in Orillia. The iron flower boxes contain their summer offering of flowers, resting above a vintage style tiled building front and iron decals.
Orillia Downtown - SleepyHill
Downtown Streets
A view of the dark downtown streets before dawn - looking up Mississaga Street from the corner of Matchedash Street. The pre-dawn hours were a favourite time of day for me. Especially if I was motivated to run (um, make that "walk" ... I am never motivated to "run") down to the park with my camera in hand. At that time of day, the streets were very much empty. Rarely were there any cars, nor even any people. On the odd day, you might see a jogger heading for the park trail, but most of the time there was no one but me. It was solitary, but peaceful. The dark skies, the lights shining out from the stores and hitting the pavement ... it gave the whole downtown area a surreal feeling.  It's also quiet; there's no hustle and bustle, and no noise, although sometimes you can hear the call of the geese and the ducks on the lake.

Where I took this photo from is barely a block from the dock where the Island Princess sits. On the left side of the image you can a sign that says "Legendary Truck Event" ... that's the edge of the lot of the old Paterson Pontiac new car showroom, which has been closed for a long time. The property was recently purchased by a developer, who plans for this block (along Matchedash Street from Mississaga Street to Colborne Street) are to develop a building that will house both shops/stores (ground floor), offices (upstairs), and living units (upper floors). Having seen the architectural renderings, I think it's quite lovely, and looks as though it's a building that should have been in downtown all along ... interested? Go have a look at the Matchedash Lofts.

Orillia - A Red Door with oval bevelled glass on the offices of Georgian Dentistry.
A Red Door announces the entrance to Georgian Dentistry (©)
A red door with beveled glass insert surrounded by Georgian style framing. This is the side entrance to Dr. Tan's office (Georgian Dentistry); once owned by Dr. Carroll, this building hasn't changed much over the years, retaining it's old style charm and charcoal gray trim; the front of building faces Mary Street and the nearest crossroad is O'brien Street.