Although technically a town (around 32,000 inhabitants), Orillia has all the personality and warmth of a small town. The town center is very accessible on foot, with a charming streetscape of Victorian red brick storefronts. Located between two lakes, Orillia offers year-round outdoor entertainment on land and water. It is a 90-minute drive from Toronto, ideal for a day trip.
How to get to Orillia by land
From Toronto: Take Highway 400 North to Barrie, then Highway 11 to Orillia, at the north end of Lake Simcoe. From east Toronto, Highway 12 to the east side of the lake is shorter.
The Ontario Northland bus service connects Orillia to Toronto, as well as Sudbury and North Bay on two different northern routes. Check the timetables and book in advance.
How to get to Orillia by water
Boaters love Orillia because it is a natural stopover on the Trent-Severn waterway system, between two navigable lakes, Simcoe and Couchiching.
The Port of Orillia operates a public marina with over 200 slides. The shore-based service building has toilets, showers and changing rooms. In season, the waterfront is full of people who fish, walk, cycle, swim, and generally take advantage of the grassy expanse of lakeside parks.
The marina is a short walk from the Metro grocery store, LCBO (liquor and beer) and Main Street, Mississaga Street, with its boutiques, pubs, restaurants, art gallery, museum and restaurant. opera.
Kayak rentals are available in Orillia. There are several private marinas in the area for information on all things boating.
Music has a history in Orillia
The Orillia Opera House is a historic building adorned with a pair of round castle-style towers with conical roofs. At the corner of West Street and Mississaga Street, the main auditorium of the opera house seats 677 people.
The year-round programming includes concerts, theater and comedy performances. It is the long-standing venue for the Orillia Concert Association, which also uses the nearby St. Andrews Church.
A musical legend with a close connection
In front of the opera house, you can’t miss the bronze bust of Gino Cavicchioli from local legend Gordon Lightfoot, unveiled in 2017.
Born in Orillia in 1938, the world-famous musician has performed in opera and in the choir of St. Paul’s Church as a boy soprano.
The Lightfoot Trail, named after Gordon, is a dual pedestrian and bicycle path along the partly paved shore of Lake Couchiching. Walk for about half an hour from the foot of Mississaga Street and you’ll reach Tudhope Park, 65 acres of lakefront green space for family fun. Here, the Golden Leaves statue by Timothy Schmalz shows Lightfoot in a cloud of maple leaves, a symbol of Canada.
A grandfather of folk festivals
The Mariposa Folk Festival, founded in Orillia in 1961, bounced back in Toronto for a while, then returned home. Since 2000, it has been an annual meeting in Orillia.
Held in Tudhope Park, Mariposa celebrates “song, history, dance and crafts” for 3 days every July. Expect renowned headliners, established artists and emerging talent. It is a fun and lively gathering, and a true community event supported by many volunteers.
For a look at the Mariposas of the past, where it seems like every famous folkie had their turn on stage, check out this collection of videos.
Book early for tickets and accommodation.
Roots Music to welcome spring
As fishermen drag their huts across the ice of Lake Couchiching and the snowmobile trails melt, it’s time to enjoy spring in Orillia. The Roots North Festival has been postponed due to COVID in 2021 but is expected to continue in the future. Based on this video, the live festival will be full of great music in the historic St. Paul’s Church.
Outdoor summer concerts and city orchestra
Orillia has a municipal orchestra that gives concerts indoors and outdoors.
Fingers crossed for the return of the Sunday night big band concerts at Couchiching Park.
With so much interest in music, as well as access to the huge pool of living and touring talent in southern Ontario, Orillia is a place to watch for future festivals and shows.
Biggest game in town
The nearby Casino Rama, with its 5,000-seat venue, is an established Ontario entertainment destination with ever-evolving star performers. Watch shows like rockers Chilliwack and Streetheart, traditional Irish Rovers, pop Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, comedians Bill Engvall and Russell Peters, country star Travis Tritt and local favorite Gordon Lightfoot.
The Casino has a hotel, spa and a selection of restaurants.
Lots of choices for eating and drinking
Popular for its atmosphere and menu, The Common Stove is close to the Opera House. Across downtown, Fionn MacCool’s at the Champlain Hotel has local artists live on select nights. Taste craft beer from Couchiching Craft Brewing Company and Brewery Bay. Check out the Hog N ‘Penny for a British pub experience.
Bakes by the Lake, a gluten-free bakery and teahouse, as well as the Shine Juice Bar and Cafe both feature plant-based foods.
Away from Mississaga Street, Theo’s Eatery on Memorial Avenue is a good spot for a leisurely dinner with tried and true favorites: pasta, Caesar salad, chicken parmigiana, garlic shrimp, and steak.
Across the street, Thai Plate offers Thai food prepared by a Thai chef for a Thai owner. Receive the message? I had take out and dined there and have been very happy each time.
Nearby, Uncle Perry’s Fish & Chips, Steak and Seafood serves good fish and chips. I would stay there again.
A little out of town, at Orillia Rama Regional Airport, you can watch the seaplanes and have your delicious meal just steps from the plane at Tailwinds Bar & Grill.
Books, comics, collectibles
I’m not a comic book lover, but I know someone who is. Christmas shopping for him would be easy if I lived in Orillia because of Dr. Comics on Mississaga Street and MVP Cards and Collectibles on Atherley Road.
Manticore Books is “the largest independent bookstore north of Toronto” and well worth a visit if you are a reader. It features mainstream selections, books of local interest, top prize nominees, a healthy repertoire of Canadian literature, and books dealing with topical issues.
I love the cozy board game cafe, Cards and Coasters for coffee or lunch. I’m not a gamer, I just enjoy the feel of this little place.
Museums, Art, History
Orillia is located in a place of cultural and historical significance. At Atherley Narrows, the channel connecting Couchiching and Simcoe Lakes, is a national historic site, the Mnjikaning Fish Dams. Its use dates back to at least 3300 BC. It is a special place whose deep meaning is part of the local indigenous culture. The wooden piles of the weir are mainly underwater and not always visible.
Downtown, the Orillia Museum of Art and History is home to the Arts District, a collection of galleries showcasing local work.
Just off the lakeside Lightfoot Trail between downtown and Tudhope Park is Stephen Leacock’s Former Home, a National Historic Site with an adjacent museum and cafe. Leacock (1869-1944) was the best-known comedian in the English-speaking world from 1915 to 1925. Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charlie Chaplin were among his admirers. Leacock’s fictional town of Mariposa bore more than a fleeting resemblance to Orillia.
Tips for enjoying Orillia
Wear comfortable walking shoes to get the most out of exploring Old Orillia and its many heritage buildings.
Couchiching and Tudhope Parks both have playgrounds. Older children love the skate park.
Buy something unique? Check out The Northern Joinery, Makers Market and Long Way Home furniture.
In winter there is a lot of snow. Try cross-country skiing on the Lightfoot Trail.
Last thing: sooner or later everyone meets at the Mariposa market for a coffee and a cake.
Other small Canadian towns to consider: