This Week in History


'Sunshine Sketches' of Stephen Leacock

For the week of Monday July 2, 2001

The Stephen Leacock Museum/Old Brewery Bay National Historic Site opened on July 5, 1958. The site commemorates Stephen Leacock, a prolific author and academic, who wrote over 65 books, including 39 humourous works.

Stephen Leacock

Stephen Leacock
© LAC / Attributed to Gladwish &
Mitchell / C-7869

Despite being born in England, Stephen Leacock considered himself thoroughly Canadian. His family immigrated to Canada in 1876, and settled on a farm in Egypt, Ontario, on Lake Simcoe. He and his family spent their summers in nearby Orillia. After attending Upper Canada College in Toronto, he studied at the University of Toronto. After completing his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago in 1903, McGill University in Montreal hired him as a professor. He eventually became chair of the Department of Economics and Political Science.

Leacock excelled in academia, writing scholarly articles and, most notably, Elements of Political Science (1906), a standard textbook for over 20 years in universities around the world. He was invited on many national and international speaking tours. He spoke on topics reflecting common English Canadian views, including beliefs in British Imperialism and the pre-eminence of the British people, and on his more controversial beliefs, such as opposition to women's suffrage and to alcohol prohibition. However, Leacock achieved his greatest fame through humour.

Leacock wrote stories while in university to supplement his income, but once he achieved academic success he renewed his literary career. His greatest achievement was Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912). The fictional town of Mariposa and its cast of quirky characters were based on Orillia and his youth. His book was — and still is — popular in North America and Britain. People identified with Leacock's fondness for small towns.

Old Brewery Bay, an inspiration for his writings

Old Brewery Bay, an inspiration for his writings
© Parks Canada

Orillia was his source of inspiration. In 1908, Leacock purchased 33 acres of lakefront property near Orillia. The first cottages he built were replaced in 1928 by an elaborate 19-room summer home. This house, along with gardens, a farm and orchard, was named "Old Brewery Bay." Leacock was fascinated by his property's history, located near brewery ruins. He also enjoyed the irony in its name because Orillia support of alcohol prohibition. Leacock judged his visitors by their reaction to the property's name. Today, as a museum honouring his life and career, visitors continue to react to it!

Stephen Butler Leacock, academic, author, humourist and small town enthusiast, is a person of national historic significance. His summer home, The Stephen Leacock Museum/Old Brewery Bay, is a national historic site near Orillia, Ontario.

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