25th Trillium Award

On Writing, with Daphne Mainprize

Share |
Daphne Mainprize

If you find yourself looking for a good way to spend a summer's day, Daphne Mainprize has a suggestion for you: take a walking tour of beautiful Orillia, also known (to fans of the great Stephen Leacock) as "Mariposa." Be sure to bring a copy of Daphne's new book, Stephen Leacock's Mariposa: One Hundred Years of Sunshine (Dundurn Press), which will provide you with maps, local anecdotes and historical facts to enliven your journey through the both the town and the Leacock stories. Daphne talks to Open Book about this book, her important work at the Stephen Leacock Museum and why she's proud to be a reader and writer in the town "where the humour began".

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Stephen Leacock's Mariposa.

Daphne Mainprize:

Stephen Leacock's Mariposa: One Hundred Years of Sunshine provides readers with an in depth look into Mariposa one hundred years ago, with highlights of a few Mariposa citizens of today.
In 1912 Stephen Leacock began the serialized publication of Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. Within the pages of the stories he immortalized Orillia, Ontario and its citizens. One hundred years later Orillia, "The Sunshine City," still answers to the name Mariposa. The impact and legacy of Leacock's work continues to inspire and define the Orillia of today.
The book begins with a foreword by J. A. (Pete) McGarvey. Pete introduces the evolution of the Leacock legacy. He brings into focus the scope of that legacy on the world stage. Carl Spadoni wrote the introduction. His piece delineates the accepted notion that when Leacock wrote Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town he was indeed referring to Orillia.
The book begins by outlining the history of Orillia, bringing the story forward to the turn of this century and Stephen Leacock's Mariposa. Highlights of the book include: historic landmarks in Orillia; the characters from Sunshine Sketches, their homes and businesses; the waterfront of Orillia; today's Mariposans and of course the Stephen Leacock Museum, and finally a walking tour of Leacock's Mariposa.


Where did your interest in Stephen Leacock begin, and why did you want to write a walking tour of "Mariposa" (Orillia)?


I became curator of the Stephen Leacock Museum in January of 1995 after several years as assistant curator. I immersed myself in the life, times and works of Stephen Leacock. I understudied with Jay Cody, the previous curator. It was an exciting time. We were embarking upon a number of projects aimed at enhancing the museum's profile both in Canada and around the world.
Visitors to the museum would ask if there was a tour of Orillia that included the characters and locations from Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. I thought about writing the book many times over the years, but running the museum and raising a family where my priorities.
Until now, with this new book, Stephen Leacock's Mariposa: One Hundred Years of Sunshine, little work has been done to researching the characters and locations and putting it to paper. Carl Spadoni, a Canadian Leacock scholar, had begun the work with his edited edition of Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (Broadview Press, 2002). His book defined Orillia as Mariposa and confirms the characters from Sunshine Sketches and the real Orillians the characters represented. There is an exhibit at the museum which does identify some of the characters from Sunshine Sketches.
This book is a much needed guide to Mariposa. It gives citizens and visitors an overview of Orillia's history and provides a wealth of information about Mariposa. The tour component of the book takes visitors on a journey through Mariposa, identifying the buildings, locations and stories of Leacock's town.


Do you have a favourite landmark in the book?


The Stephen Leacock Museum National Historic Site is central to any story about Stephen Leacock and Mariposa. This is my favourite landmark. During my time at the museum, which involved long hours, it became somewhat of a second home. My children "grew up" there and were involved in many museum events and activities.
During my tenure the museum was designated a national historic site; the Swanmore Hall interpretive centre was built; Leacock's boathouse was reconstructed as a 48-hour barn raiser with thousands of volunteers; and the strategic plan "2000 and Beyond" was prepared.


Tell us about the Stephen Leacock Museum. What should visitors expect to find there?


The Stephen Leacock Museum National Historic Site, affectionately known as "The Old Brewery" and "a name that could rouse a thirst as far away as Nevada," began as a pipe dream for Stephen Leacock.

During his Rhodes Scholar tour of the British Empire in 1907, Leacock began to envision his future in Orillia. He wrote home about a piece of property on the shores of Lake Couchiching in Orillia. Why Orillia? Stephen and his wife Beatrice were very familiar with Orillia. His mother, Agnes Leacock, and her younger children had resided there since 1895. Stephen had developed a network of friends and family and was involved in the local cricket club, when not sailing the lake.
The property Leacock purchased in 1908 was bush and shoreline. The first summer he built a cookhouse on the shore. Over the years he built a low summer cottage which hugged the shore. In subsequent years he would add onto this cottage as needed. He then expanded the out buildings by added barns, hen houses, a woodshed and ice hut.
The Muskoka-style boathouse, built in 1919, was used for guests, but also served as a "retreat" for Leacock amidst all the summer fun and family activities. He would arrive at the boathouse at 5 a.m. ready to write. His daily quota of 1500 words completed, he would regale his summer guests with his stories.
He began to imagine a "dream home" overlooking Lake Couchiching. He achieved his dream when, in 1928, after years of planning and designing, his summer home was constructed in record time. Designed by Kenneth Noxon of the Toronto architectural firm, Wright & Noxon, the summer home featured a large living room, dining room, library, study, four bedrooms with balconies overlooking the lake, servants? quarters, a kitchen, and summer kitchen. The two-story, stucco home, on a rise overlooking the lake and point was completed by a large verandah that ran along the front of the cottage.
The history of the summer home and its transition in the 1950s into a museum can be read in J.A. (Pete) McGarvey's book, The Old Brewery Bay, A Leacockian Tale (Dundurn Press, 1995) and The Leacock Picture Book by J. A. (Pete) McGarvey and Daphne Mainprize (Dundurn Press, 1998).


Stephen Leacock's work is appreciated internationally. Have you met any visitors at the museum who came from quite far away or who made a particular impression on you?


I recall a number of visitors who upon entering the front door just stood there. They reminded me of my visit to Wordsworth's cottage. I was so in awe and had always imagined being there. Then I was and it was like a dream. So I understood a little of how visitors might feel having waiting a lifetime to visit the home of their much loved author, Stephen Leacock.
It seemed important to let them savour the moment so often I would simply wait in the dining room for a minute or so before approaching them. Indeed, many of them had read Leacock as a child or studied him in school and had an image in their mind about his home and Mariposa.
I would generally engage them in conversation and find out where they had travelled from. The most common points of origin for visitors who experienced the "magic of Mariposa" were Great Britain, Australia, China, Europe and the whole of Canada and the U.S.
Stephen Leacock lectured throughout the world. His books have been translated into nineteen languages. His writing has been part of the curriculum in schools around the world, particularly the British Empire.
It always impacted me when a visitor arrived and had a profound experience upon entering Leacock's home. I was reminded of the responsibility I was entrusted with, to interpret the life, times and works of Stephen Leacock. It can be easy to get caught up in day to day operations of a museum and lose sight of the visitor.

The other experience that I recall is when the bus tours would arrive. Often the bus would be full of visitors from China. Several of Stephen Leacock's books had been translated into Mandarin. I traditionally gave a reading to bus groups. I knew when I entered the interpretation centre to do a reading to a group from China that many of them would not understand a word, but I soon learned that that didn't matter. They laughed with me all the way and were thrilled to be in Leacock's Mariposa.
There is a thirst for Leacock that is still resonating one hundred years after he wrote Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. He has inspired so many with his ability to take us on a journey in our mind where we turn sadness into sunshine; tears into laughter, and he has given us the opportunity to look at ourselves with a healthy sense of the humour. Humour highlights a common thread of the human condition and Leacock's writing provides a piece of enchantment that weaves the thread of humour into our life.


What do you love the most about being a reader and writer in Orillia?


Orillia, or shall I say Mariposa, does have its own brand of magic. As you will read in my book, the geographic location of Orillia held a special place for the First People of Canada. On the shores of Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe, Orillia is truly a place of sanctuary. That is what Stephen Leacock understood and perhaps how he found his inspiration for the many stories he wrote.
I love that this is a place where humour began &mdsah; one of the biggest exports this country has known. Think about the most famous humorists and comedians in the world. Many of them come from Canada. Who created and marketed the Canadian essence and our brand of good-natured, light-hearted, slightly ironic and satirical humour? Stephen Leacock.
As a reader and writer in Orillia I recognize that Mariposa is the place Stephen Leacock chose to celebrate and through that tell the world about Canada, Ontario and our way of life. Having served as the curator of the Stephen Leacock Museum National Historic Site I know the impact Stephen Leacock had on the world and consider myself privileged to have been a part of interpreting his legacy. As a writer I appreciate the inspiration that Stephen Leacock has given writers around the world.


Do you have any other books in the works?


I have a couple of books in the works. Stephen Leacock wrote a number of plays, some whimsical and directed at The Old Brewery Bay Players, the young boys and girls who were friends and neighbours of the Leacock family on Old Brewery Bay. Stephen Leacock liked the Ibsen drama, a form of dramatic prose created by Henrik Ibsen. In that vein, Leacock wrote several plays. I am exploring the playwright Stephen Leacock and the forms of drama he set to paper.
I am working on a book that highlights the arts and letters around the lake. Leacock's life was influenced by Lake Simcoe as well as Lake Couchiching. In fact, Lake Simcoe has been the home to many celebrated Canadians authors, artists and musicians. I am researching the history of arts and letter along the shores of Lake Simcoe.

Daphne Mainprize is the curator emeritus of the Stephen Leacock Museum, a National Historic Site in Orillia, Ontario. She is the co-author of The Stephen Leacock Picture Book with James A. ?Pete? McGarvey. Daphne lives in Orillia, Ontario.

For more information about Stephen Leacock's Mariposa please visit the Dundurn Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Advanced Search